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April 2024
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Morag Mathieson, DTM

Meet Morag Mathieson, DTM

The 2023–2024 Toastmasters International President from Germany shares her post-pandemic vision for the organization.

By Paul Sterman


Talk to Morag Mathieson, DTM, for a while and you notice certain phrases pop up more than once. Phrases like “helping people to make tomorrow better than today.” They reflect her emphasis on helping others, whether it’s checking in with a friend who looks discouraged, offering a useful speech evaluation to a fellow Toastmaster, or leading in a manner that ensures members feel heard.

Another favorite phrase: “Never close the circle.” In other words, don’t leave anyone out—make sure everyone feels welcome and included in Toastmasters events and activities.

Mathieson, a native of Scotland who now resides in Moehrendorf, Bavaria, Germany, is the 2023–2024 Toastmasters International President. A 17-year member, she belongs to three clubs, including an online-only one she started two years ago (it includes members from different countries).



In this Toastmasters Podcast episode, hear from the new International President, Morag Mathieson, as she shares her vision for the organization leading up to Toastmasters’ centennial milestone.


The new President, who worked as a longtime manager and executive in the pharmacy industry, is embracing the challenge of leading Toastmasters International at this unique time—as the world starts to recover from the global pandemic. She frames it almost like a psychological journey: the organization emerging from a precarious period, bruised but resilient, charting its future path.

The Toastmasters organization “had to make lots of changes [during the pandemic]. We made decisions and turned the ship around a lot quicker than probably most of us thought we could.”

—Morag Mathieson, DTM

“I think we’re at a time where there is an appetite to move forward and to understand our post-pandemic selves,” Mathieson says in her spirited Scottish lilt in a recent interview over Zoom.

“[The organization] had to make lots of changes in that time. We made decisions and turned the ship around a lot quicker than probably most of us thought we could,” she adds.

 

David and Morag Mathieson joined Toastmasters together in Germany in 2006. Both have earned the Distinguished Toastmaster award.Toastmasters International President Morag Mathieson speaks at the Annual Business Meeting during the 2022 International Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.David and Morag Mathieson on their wedding day.Morag Mathieson on a club-building visit to Ajman University in the United Arab Emirates. David Mathieson and the couple’s dog, Jana in the car.Morag and her niece, Hazel Anderson (also a Toastmaster) pose for selfie on the beach.
 
 

 

And though we’re not yet where we want to be in terms of membership numbers, Mathieson says, and we’re doing some things differently than we were before, she’s excited about what will come next.

“I’m looking forward to this season of hopefully rebuilding confidence in what the organization has to offer. It is my job to reassure people that we can do this. And I believe that we can do this.”


A Husband-and-Wife Journey

Mathieson moved to Germany from London, England, in 2006. She and her husband, David Mathieson, DTM, have belonged to Toastmasters since they joined together that same year. She says it’s been special to share the journey together. (While Morag serves as International President this program year, David will be Club President of the Fräenkly Speaking Toastmasters, an advanced German- and English-speaking club they’re both in.)

She vividly recalls attending her first District conference, in 2007. Walking into the venue—a hotel in Vienna, Austria—she looked up at the gallery in the hotel lobby to see many different Toastmasters club banners all around. “What a really powerful moment! That was the point where I suddenly thought, I get it. I’m part of something so much bigger than myself.”

Mathieson says her ideal Toastmasters club is one that combines a sense of professionalism with the ability to have fun. The same could be said of Mathieson herself. She is certainly a high achiever, having scaled the leadership ladders in both the corporate and Toastmasters worlds. But she is also quick to laugh, and her face lights up talking about certain topics.

These include her cuddly black rescue dog, Jana, who Mathieson says is very well-behaved. That is, if you discount the time Morag and David took their canine friend to a Toastmasters conference—and, well, let’s just say that a few unused voting ballots did not survive intact.

Other subjects that spark a smile: tending to her garden at home, walking the hills and forests of Bavaria with David (and Jana), writing poetry, and reading voraciously. (Learn more about her literary endeavors in the sidebar.) Mathieson grew up in a small mining town in central Scotland and though she loves living in Germany, she says Scotland will “always have the tug of home.”


Embracing Leadership

From an early age, Mathieson leaned in to leadership. “David and I met when we were youth workers a long time ago and organizing events for young people in Scotland. We would regularly organize conferences for 300 young people to come together.”

Almost as soon as she joined Toastmasters, she took on club and then District officer positions. She played a key leadership role in the surge of membership growth in Europe.

As a member of the Toastmasters Board of Directors, she helped lead the organization during the COVID crisis. In an October 2022 webinar for District 71, Mathieson spoke about the challenges leaders face during uncertain and anxious times. That’s when it’s even more important to be open and authentic, she said—to “dare to be vulnerable.”

And to show humility and empathy.

“Empathy as a leader is taking a genuine interest in the people around you, finding out what makes them tick, what inspires them and the way they feel.”

Collaboration and building community are also high among her leadership ideals. Mathieson, who also lived in Belfast, Ireland, for a number of years, remembers a simple remark from a member once that spoke volumes.

At the time, she was District 59’s Lieutenant Governor Education and Training (the role we now call the Program Quality Director). She was speaking at a 2011 Toastmasters event in Poland that drew hundreds of members. Some of the sessions were in Polish and some in English. (Translators were provided.)

“I delivered my first session in the morning, and then it came to lunch, and I sat at a table with a group of women around me, and some of them spoke English and some didn’t. And there was a lady sitting opposite me, and she just kept looking at me and looking, and then she said something to her friend, and then she leaned across the table and she said to me, ‘You’re just like us, aren’t you?’

“And that for me was one of the most beautiful moments—that realization that, yes, you come from somewhere else, yes, you’ve taken on leadership responsibilities, but deep down, we are just people helping people to make tomorrow better than today. That’s what we are at our core as leaders.”


Next Steps

Mathieson now works as a professional development consultant and does college coaching, mentors MBA students, and chairs the board of the child sponsorship charity Living Water Germany e.V. The nonprofit raises funds to provide food and healthcare for children in Guatemala and Albania. It’s a challenge she doesn’t think she would have tackled 15 or 20 years ago.

“I don’t think I would have had the confidence to take on being the chair of the board of an organization here in Germany, and having to deal with all the authorities, the lawyers, the finance department, and so on. But somehow or other, you find that confidence through Toastmasters.”

When Mathieson first became a member, all of continental Europe was represented by just one District. She remembers how geographically spread out District officers were because of this. For example, when she served as District Governor in 2012–2013, she was in Germany and her Lieutenant Governor Education and Training was in Portugal.

But she and other Toastmasters leaders there presided over a dramatic period of growth. Eventually a second District was added to continental Europe, and then Mathieson spent one year chairing the committee that oversaw a trailblazing reformation in 2018: the expansion of two Districts into six. The move reflected the epic progress of Toastmasters in Europe over a couple of decades. Today there are eight Districts in Europe—and there are now just about as many Toastmasters outside of North America as inside, a remarkable evolution in the organization’s history.

After Ted Corcoran (Dublin, Ireland) in 2003–2004, Mathieson is now Toastmasters’ second-ever International President from Europe. She’s also the first female one from outside North America, a particularly meaningful milestone to her. She says it’s important for women in Toastmasters to see other women in top leadership roles.

“When I think of each step I’ve taken in leadership, particularly going beyond the District, like becoming Region Advisor or serving on the Board, there would always be people who would come up and say to me—people from Europe, and also from other parts of the world—‘Because you’ve done it, we know it’s possible.’” And I think that’s a huge thing.

“Whether they ever do it or not [run for leadership positions], that will be up to them. But it’s that feeling of, It’s possible.”


Some more musings from Mathieson:

On what excites her about leading Toastmasters International at this time in its history:

This will be our 100th year, heading up to the 100th anniversary [in October 2024]. So it is a crucial time for the organization. To be responsible for the stewardship of a 99-year-old organization, and building on the legacy of all those giants in Toastmasters who have come before us—men and women who’ve done amazing things to really push the boundaries at times, and they’ve each faced their own challenges in 99 years of history, I’m sure—it’s something I’m really looking forward to.


On what she would tell a Toastmaster who is considering taking on a leadership role:

I would say, Think about saying yes before you say no.

Often when the opportunity comes up, we attempt to say, “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,” because we don’t believe in ourselves. We don’t think we have the time or the skill, or we think it’s going to be too much work, or too much responsibility.

But I would say to anyone: If that opportunity comes up, understand what saying yes would mean. “How could I grow through this?” “What doors would it open for me?” “What joy would I get in taking on this role?” Think about the “what could this mean for me?” before immediately defaulting to the no.


On what continues to impress her about the impact Toastmasters has on people:

When you see people take on the Toastmasters program and adapt it within their local culture, their local context, and then they are able to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities or their countries, it never ceases to amaze me.


On the enjoyment she gets from meeting Toastmasters around the world:

I love it. When I get to meet people anywhere, I think it’s just one of the great joys of life. When you’re an international officer and you go on a visit to a District, I like just being available to everyone. I want to see the leaders and spend time with them, but I actually just want to speak to everyone, because there is nothing quite like the impact you can have with a member who perhaps is new, someone who’s kind of feeling like, This is my first time here, and I’m not really sure how all this works.

And it comes back to that idea of not closing the circle. Giving people the sense of, I want you to feel a part of this. And I don’t need you to know what my title is—I just want you to feel a part of this with us.



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