When I think about my last four years, the first thing that comes to mind is college—not the traditional academic one, but my college of growth and transformation in Toastmasters. I joined Toastmasters in 2019, seven years after receiving my master’s degree, with the simple goal of refining my public speaking skills. Unlike many others, I wasn’t afraid of speaking in front of people; in fact, I got excited about it and tended to go off on rants and rambles. But I knew I needed structure and a way to harness my personality and extraversion into a polished skill if I wanted to achieve my dream of giving a TEDx Talk or a commencement speech.
In this Toastmasters Podcast episode, hear more from Philip Wilkerson III about what he's learned on his Toastmasters journey.
Little did I know that my journey with Toastmasters would be so much more than just becoming a better public speaker. It was about becoming a leader, too. Only six months into my Toastmasters adventure with George Mason University (GMU) Toastmasters in Virginia, my mentor, Regina Faulkerson, DTM, approached me with an opportunity to pursue a role in club leadership.
Unsure of what to expect but eager to serve, I took on the role of Vice President Public Relations (VPPR). The following year, inspired by then-Club President Christie Michals, I became President of GMU Toastmasters.
Soon, the idea of becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster and an Accredited Speaker gradually seemed within reach. I pushed myself to deliver speeches consistently and sought out opportunities to speak at various events in my community, like local high schools and Rotary clubs. I registered as a public speaker on my employer’s website and the District 29 website. I started to confidently stand up when people asked me to speak in meetings and at large gatherings. The encouraging words of my mentors further fueled me to continue finding opportunities to talk.
As I stretched myself as a speaker, I also expanded my leadership journey. As a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (the first Black collegiate fraternity, founded in 1906) and inspired by the legacy of great orators like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was also a member, I felt the desire to create a space for fellow Alphas to practice public speaking. I love my home club, but I also wanted to create a legacy of chartering something new within Toastmasters and Alpha.
As I look back on these four transformative years with Toastmasters, I can’t help but feel like I’ve earned an unofficial degree in public speaking and leadership.
I reached out to fraternity brothers across the country, and together, we chartered a club that focused on the goals of both organizations—developing leaders and honing public speaking skills. Alpha Toastmasters 1906 was charted this past March as a virtual club, and we have nearly 40 brothers from all over the country.
Connecting with leaders like Immediate Past District 29 Director Rick Taylor opened up new opportunities for me, and I accepted the role of Area 24 Director, which further enhanced my leadership abilities, resulting in me receiving the 2022–2023 Area Director of the Year Award for District 29, as well as the Presidential Area Distinction Award. I am currently Area 21 Director and continue to enhance my leadership skills and learn more beyond the club level.
As I look back on these four transformative years with Toastmasters, I can’t help but feel like I’ve earned an unofficial degree in public speaking and leadership. There were challenges along the way, but they only made me stronger. I’ve grown so much—from exuding confidence on stage to leading with precision and organization.
If I hadn’t attended that first meeting in 2019, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The Toastmasters community has embraced me, supported me, and nurtured my dreams and aspirations. As I eagerly anticipate the next four years of my journey, I know that whatever challenges lie ahead, I am equipped with the skills, passion, and unwavering enthusiasm to conquer them and continue this incredible adventure of growth and achievement.
Philip Wilkerson is an employer engagement consultant at GMU Career Services. He is a member of GMU Toastmasters and Alpha Toastmasters 1906, and Area 21 Director for District 29. He hosts the podcast Positive Philter, which focuses on well-being and Toastmasters. He lives with his wife and two sons in Fairfax, Virginia.