Before Covid-19 led us to move our Toastmasters’ meetings online, I had the opportunity to attend my very first club contest. My Toastmasters Club, Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters of Mountain View, hosted an International and Tall Tales club contest. If you are unfamiliar, thousands of Toastmasters compete in the Humorous, Evaluation, Tall Tales, Table Topics and International speech contests annually. Competition begins with club contests, and winners continue competing through the Area, Division and District levels. Winners of the District-level International Speech Contest proceed to the region quarterfinal level. Following region quarterfinals, winners advance to the semifinals for a chance to take part in the World Championship of Public Speaking. The other speech contests conclude at the District level.
In an International contest, contestants present a five-to seven-minute speech on any subject they choose. Contestants in my club stretched the boundaries here with speeches encompassing key lessons learned from childhood, humorous reflections on life, and much more. For the Tall Tales contest, contestants present a speech on a topic that is highly exaggerated and improbable in theme or plot. Again, contestants from Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters compelled us to think outside of the box with this contest. Speech topics ranged from alternate realities to mythical creatures to time-traveling. I found these contests to be highly engaging, and I was able to pick up a few pointers from distinguished speakers along the way. I also learned that there are additional contest categories – see below:
- Humorous: Contestants present a humorous speech that must be thematic in nature (opening, body, and close), not a monologue (series of one-liners)
- Evaluation: Contestants observe a five-to seven-minute test speech and then present a two-to three-minute evaluation of the test speech
- Table Topics: An impromptu speech in which all contestants are assigned the same topic, told to them when they are introduced by the contest chair
Although the club contest I attended was in person, I have recently discovered that several clubs have hosted virtual contests during this time. If you are interested in learning more about club contests, you can attend the upcoming District Conference from May 30-31. The Conference includes the District-Level competition, which you can register for and learn more information about at https://d101tm.org/conference/. This year’s Conference is 100% free and completely online! You can hear tantalizing tall tales and exciting entries for the International Speech Contest!
In addition to virtual contests, many clubs are hosting their club meetings online. Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters recently switched to online meetings. While we were initially hesitant that the transition from in-person to virtual meetings would be challenging, we found that the switch was actually quite seamless! In fact, virtual meetings help you refine an entirely new skillset: being engaging over video. At Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters, we discuss several video-focused topics such as having engaging gestures on camera, having adequate lighting in your background, being in frame while speaking, increasing audience participation, and many more. For both contests and meetings, guests are always welcome to attend. Below are links to a list of online meetings in District 101 as well as helpful tips for your club to follow while meeting online:
Meetings and contests are definitely worth attending to hear top-notch speakers! Additionally, if you are new to Toastmasters and/or curious about what it entails, now is a perfect opportunity to visit several clubs’ virtual meetings (from the comfort of your home!) to determine which is the best fit for you. Despite the uncertainty during this time, Toastmasters continues to serve as a place of consistency. Not only can you practice your public speaking skills, but you can also find a sense of community, positivity, and support.
Written by Ramya Ramachandran of Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters Club
Rita Barber, Former District 4 Governor, D101 Toastmaster of the Year 2018-2019, & DTM
Rita Barber is an accomplished executive presentation coach of over ten years. She advises groups and individuals about effective communication to empower them to reach their potential as leaders. Rita is also an experienced Toastmaster, serving as District Governor for District 4, which includes over 6500 members of community and corporate clubs in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Monterey. Under Rita’s leadership, District 4 was classified as a Select Distinguished District, the largest district in North America, and among the largest in the world. Rita is a talented public speaker, having earned the District 101 Toastmaster of the Year award in 2018-2019. In 2016, Rita was selected by Toastmasters International as a recipient of the Toastmasters International Presidential Citation Award for her work in promoting communication and leadership excellence. Rita currently serves as Vice President of Membership for Aptos Toastmasters Club, a President’s Distinguished Club. Today, Rita continues to promote Toastmasters, as she works towards her third Distinguished Toastmaster distinction, and seeks out ways to help her community.
Q: When did your Toastmasters journey begin?
A: A friend recommended Toastmasters to me after she attended a program I was volunteering at for high school students. Throughout the program, I had been comfortable leading workshops, but I wasn’t comfortable speaking publicly. On my friend’s recommendation, I joined Toastmasters and found that I really liked the people and the highly organized meeting structure. I stayed with Toastmasters because I enjoyed the sense of community. Throughout my journey, I strove to say “yes” to requests, learn on the spot and figure out tasks later. People helped me grow in ways I never expected.
Q: What were some of the biggest takeaways you gained from Toastmasters?
A: My biggest takeaways were not necessarily related to public speaking. In Toastmasters, I gained experience with taking on different personas and learning how to approach professional and personal situations in new ways. I also gained a strong sense of support from my club community. One of my club members, Ron Goodman, was a particular inspiration for me. Ron had a very positive attitude and was constantly rooting for others. I have since moved away from the Toastmasters club I started with, but I still consider it to be my main club today.
Q: You have achieved the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) distinction not once, but twice. You are also working towards your third DTM. Can you explain how you attained these distinctions?
A: Regarding my journey towards each DTM, there were so many choices I was interested in that I was like a kid in a candy store. I continue to work toward this distinction repeatedly because I want to explore many different learning paths and DTM projects. Because there were so many choices, it was easy to complete both DTMs. I am currently just shy an HPL for my third!
Q: How do you come up with topics for your speeches?
A: My kids are my biggest inspirations. I learn from them and see how they navigate different situations. I want my kids to consider who they are and not let someone else consider them to be less than who they are. Many of my topics stem from this belief. I also enjoy exploring how I can provide hints for my kids to guide them towards making their own choices in certain circumstances rather than outwardly telling them what to do. This exploration is also a subject I explore in my speeches.
Q: You currently work as an executive presentation coach. What compelled you to pursue a career in executive coaching and mentorship?
A: I love watching people grow and change. I love seeing an individual getting excited about something he/she has accomplished and then sharing that with me. For example, one of my clients recently received a huge promotion at work. After receiving this promotion, he called me and was ecstatic over the phone. He told me that he gained so much from our interactions. When people love seeing what you do, they come back for more. The way my client was able to move up in his company was a reflection of him trusting himself. Seeing changes in my clients, like the example I just mentioned, motivates me to keep pursuing my career as an executive presentation coach.
Q: Of all the lessons you’ve learned through Toastmasters and your career, in your opinion, which is the most important?
A: Bad things may happen to you, but don’t put yourself in a place where you can’t recognize good things as well.
Q: Do you have any final words of advice for our members?
A: When it comes to attending Toastmasters, there is no reason why you should not. Toastmasters is not just about communication and leadership. It is about confidence and trusting yourself. Toastmasters provides people with the opportunity to be more self-reflective, so that they can do things in life that are most beneficial to them. I have met so many people who have changed their career paths because of joining Toastmasters. Through Toastmasters, these individuals came to know themselves better and felt more comfortable to switch career paths. Toastmasters offers members a playground. It does not stand there in judgement of you. In the real world, things judge you. When you are in Toastmasters, you can really stretch. As far as you think you can stretch yourself, you can always stretch further.
Q: What is next for you?
I would like to write and produce more content. I would also like to dive into publishing. Additionally, I want to give a Ted Talk and pursue career opportunities in San Jose and Almaden Valley. Overall, I want to help others and actively work on that.
Written by Ramya Ramachandran of Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters Club
Dr. Anita Jindal, Timmy Award Winner
Dr. Anita Jindal joined Cupertino Toastmasters, a President’s Distinguished Club for 19 years in a row, in September 2012. Anita currently serves as Area Director for C6 and is striving to obtain the Distinguished Toastmasters distinction by June 2020.
Q: When did your Toastmasters journey begin, and what compelled you to join Toastmasters?
A: My journey began in September of 2012. I was very focused on my career. I knew about Toastmasters, but I had never explored it. I was in a meeting, and my manager told me to join Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills. Not knowing much about the organization, I Googled it, and found the Cupertino Toastmasters Club. I attended my first meeting as a guest and ended up joining. I found that Toastmasters was a great platform, and I realized that I should have joined earlier. I discovered that the value you gain from Toastmasters depends on how much time you engage with it. I made good use of my club, practicing speeches.
Q: I saw that Cupertino Toastmasters Club has been a President’s Distinguished Club for 19 years. Can you talk about what that distinction means and how you earned that distinction for the club?
A: The distinction reflects the high energy of the club. The distinction is also a reflection of the officers. The officers are motivated and work well with different club members to help them achieve their goals. The club offers a very supportive environment as well. It is not about chasing after members and asking them to give speeches if they are not comfortable. It is about letting people give speeches at their own pace, but at the same time, thinking about how to grow the club membership. Because the club was so energetic, we invited many visitors, and several guests converted to members. We can clearly see how members have improved over time. The club officers and how they work one-on-one with each member to achieve his/her goals is why the club has received the President’s Distinction for 19 years. Our club is like a family, and I have remained with it for 8 years. Everyone in the club is from a different background (not just technology), so you can learn from many different perspectives.
Q: Seeing as you have been with Cupertino Toastmasters for 8 years now, is there a speech that you gave that stands out to you?
A: I gave a speech about how Toastmasters has impacted me personally and what my journey means to me. Sometimes we shy away from starting the journey or trying something new. My journey started with a nudge from my manager asking me to work on improving my public speaking skills. I went and joined Toastmasters to enhance my personal growth. I wanted other people to understand how I have grown myself and why they should invest in Toastmasters.
When I joined Toastmasters, I used to have a lot of run-on sentences. I used to include several “ahs” and “ums” in my speeches. Because of the constructive criticism I received from a whole community of friends at Toastmasters, I have become a better speaker. Now, I am more confident when I speak at conferences. I have completed interviews and podcasts, and they have been amazing opportunities for me.
Q: I saw that you are a distinguished leader in technology in the Bay Area. How has Toastmasters helped you as a woman in technology?
A: As a woman in technology, I am very passionate about how I can share my ideas and experiences with others who are navigating their own careers. I try to share my experiences of how my journey has been as a woman in technology. I used to be the only female engineer on my team and in leadership circles. There were not too many women in the engineering ladder.
When I talk to women in technology, I find that there are a lot of women who are facing the same situations as me when I was charting my own path. I was trying to solve my own problems. I had to make my own career decisions. I share my own personal stories about my first job, how I was introverted and did not ask for a raise. I did not receive a raise for several years, and when I received it, it was only a miniscule salary bump. I share stories like these with others, so that they do not have to learn things the hard way. These individuals can use my lessons to chart their own paths and be more informed. We did not have women in technology forums when I joined the industry. There is a lot more awareness now, and women have a lot more opportunities.
Q: Is there one piece of advice that stood out to you and helped you as you made the jump from more technical roles to leadership roles?
A: One piece of advice that stood out to me was about risk-taking and trying new things. When I was a woman in engineering, I just wanted to stay technical. I did not want to enter management roles. My leadership team saw value in me and wanted to offer me a management role, but I was very skeptical. Why should I go into management? I love technology. Eventually, the idea grew on me. My management team reassured me that if I did not like management, I could have the opportunity to return to engineering. When I eventually tried management, I saw a completely different perspective, which opened my eyes to strategic thinking, big picture visualization, networking, and influencing. A whole set of soft skills opened up for me, which I would not have learned had I remained solely technology focused. Because of my experience, I always talk to people about risk-taking. There are many projects that I take on, which are laden with risks, but I always approach them as learning opportunities. There is always a learning opportunity in everything you do. There might be certain areas, which are new or risky, but go try it out because those are the best opportunities for learning.
Q: You recently won two awards in your community – a Timmy Award for Best Manager and an IDG CIO and CIO Executive Council 2020 Ones to Watch Award. Can you talk about the nomination process for the two awards?
A: The Timmy Award is for best managers in different areas across the US. My award applied to managers in the Bay Area. My management team nominated me for the award based on my contributions to the company and how I was leading teams. After I went through the nomination process, I was announced as one of five finalists. I was Director of Engineering, but there were a lot of individuals competing with big titles. There was a category for community favorite, for the who was most popular in his/her community. I was selected as community favorite after several members from the engineering community voted for me through social media platforms.
The second award that I won was the IDG 2020 Ones to Watch Award. This award is for people who are strong in their technical areas and have potential to grow. I will be participating in the IDG award contest this March in Florida, where the award will be presented. My leadership team nominated me, and then my nomination went through the IDG team for review. Individuals were nominated across the US from multiple companies.
Q: What is next for you?
A: Aside for the conference I will be attending in March, I like to speak at women in technology forums. I have submitted a proposal to speak at Women Transforming Technology, which is an event that will be held at VMWare. I will be participating in a Pecha Kucha session at the event. A Pecha Kucha is a type of presentation in which you have to talk about 20 slides in seven minutes. Each slide can only contain one image, and you have to cohesively tie the images together to tell a story. The theme for the Pecha Kucha session is rising. Based on the theme, I have to put together an appropriate slide deck.
Q: Are there any other pieces of advice you would like share?
A: If you have not started using Toastmasters, I encourage you to as it is the best platform to practice your public speaking. The feedback you receive from your fellow Toastmasters helps you become a better speaker. I have found a lot of value in this platform. Whatever skills you’re building, you can use Toastmasters. Speaking is not just required professionally, but everywhere because you have to speak everywhere you go! No matter what, Toastmasters can benefit you.
Written by Ramya Ramachandran of Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters Club
Elaine Lung has been with Toastmasters for over two decades since joining the Xilinx Xpressionists in September of 1999. Given her tenure with Toastmasters, one may presume that Elaine has always had a strong passion for public speaking and presenting. However, this is not the case. Elaine began her journey hesitantly. For much of her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, Elaine described herself as someone who was comfortable with letting others speak on her behalf. Today, Elaine is the owner of her self-founded business, Elaine Lung & Associates, which centers on enhancing speaking skills for business professionals. She is also a certified speaking coach, President of her own Toastmasters club, Silicon Valley ImprovMasters, and a recent winner of the District 101 Speech Evaluation Contest. How did Elaine transform from a fearful fly-on-the-wall to a businesswoman with a career centered around public speaking? Read on:
Prior to joining Toastmasters, what was your experience with public speaking like?
I grew up in the Midwest (Ohio) in the 70s and 80s in a household with two outspoken brothers, where speaking up was never fully encouraged nor expected of me. Women were just beginning to rise in the workplace, and speaking up as a woman was more challenging. I felt comfortable not speaking up in social situations. Despite my shyness, I was a good student and always had plenty of stories and ideas brewing in my mind. In school, I excelled at reading and writing, which refined my skills as a storyteller.
When I entered high school, I took a leap of faith and decided to participate in a high school speech contest. Entering the contest, I did not understand how the judging panel would be evaluating me. Per contest rules, the judges were to remain impassive during all participants’ speeches. Since I did not realize this rule, I panicked increasingly as I spoke and was met with a stoic audience. I fumbled through my speech, making several mistakes along the way. After I finished speaking, I walked out of the room with my shoulders slumped. As I left, feeling ashamed, I made eye contact with one of the judges. The judge gave me a shocked look, as if she could not fathom how I could have failed so miserably. That look stayed with me for 20 years. For two decades, sentiments of not feeling “good enough” stayed with me. In my mind, I constantly reinforced the thought that what I had to say was not important enough. I stayed quiet through school, college, and my initial years in the workforce. I kept my head down and worked hard, but I increasingly saw how my social anxieties were holding me back in advancing my personal life and career.
When did your Toastmasters journey begin?
After 7 years of working as a CAD engineer at Xicor, I transitioned to a new management role at Xilinx in 1999. As an engineer, I was able to stay quiet, as long as I worked diligently. When I joined Xilinx, I found my role to be quite different and realized that I needed to make a change. One day, coworkers mentioned that Xilinx had its own Toastmasters club. I was anxious to attend a meeting; even the prospect of observing other speakers and not participating myself seemed overwhelming. With my coworkers’ encouragement and mutual participation, I attended my first Xilinx Xpressionists meeting.
What were your initial experiences with Toastmasters?
When I started attending Xilinx Xpressionists meetings, I initially hid in the back of the room. Despite my hesitations, I found the club members to be very inviting and warm. Soon, the Vice President of Membership helped me complete my membership application. During my first meeting as a member, I was called on for table topics. I don’t recall anything from that experience because my mind blacked out. However, that initial experience of others caring about what I had to say was the beginning of a new, transformative journey.
After joining Xilinx Xpressionists, you worked your way up to leadership roles in various Toastmasters clubs. Can you elaborate on this journey?
At Xilinx, I received great support from my company with regards to my public speaking journey. The club officers created an environment within which I felt safe. About 6 months after joining Xilinx Xpressionists, I was approached by the club Vice President of Education who asked me to run for his role in the next club election. I became the Vice President of Education, followed by Secretary, culminating with President. Eventually, I left Xilinx and became involved with district leadership. With the help of friends, I went on to found three Bay Area Toastmasters clubs in succession: Silicon Valley Storytellers, San Mateo Storytellers, and Silicon Valley ImprovMasters. The people in these clubs truly enabled my success. I experienced firsthand the power of networking, and I found that Toastmasters is as much a networking group as a self-improvement group.
You currently serve as President of Silicon Valley ImprovMasters, which you founded in 2015. Can you talk about how your club differs from a standard Toastmasters club?
Our club focuses on honing the improv mindset. Through this club, I have gained more confidence with speaking on the fly as well as listening attentively to ask educated questions after speaker presentations. Life is without a script. Improving your improvisational skills will not only help you become a better speaker, but will also help you move through life more effectively.
Of all the speeches you have now delivered, which one of yours is a personal favorite?
One speech that stands out to me is a story about forgiveness. In my speech, I reminisced about a time I had paid for an expensive dinner that I had been looking forward to eating all day. I had just sat down to eat when the doorbell rang. After opening the door, I returned to the dinner table to find that my delicious meal had disappeared! My brother’s dog, Petey, had eaten my dinner! In the moment, I was furious with Petey. The speech traced my journey of coming to terms with my lost meal and forgiving Petey.
I woke up one morning to demo the speech at a 7 AM Toastmasters meeting at a new club 50 miles away. During my speech, an audience member started crying. She later told me that my experience with Petey reminded her of the journey of forgiveness she was seeking in her relationship with her son. In that moment, I realized that not every person in the audience would hear the same thing when I told a story. My 50-mile, early-morning trek had been worth it. I went on to tell that speech to other audiences. Another individual approached me one year after I had delivered the speech at a different event to describe how the story had resonated with her. These experiences were very memorable to me!
Do you have any final words of advice for our members?
For anyone who grew up letting someone else do the talking for them, or for anyone who has felt too shy to speak up, it is never too late to become the person you have always wanted to be. Toastmasters can help you along your journey.
Written by Ramya Ramachandran of Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters Club
Ranking highly among my passions are traveling the world and Toastmasters – That means that being a Club Ambassador and the associated mission is such a great fit and comes naturally to me! It may also explain why I took on the role of Club Ambassador Chair for District 101 in 2018-2019. In March 2019, I had an opportunity (a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity if you will) to travel to a pristine and beautiful place, the “last continent” – Antarctica!! I was traveling there with 100 other runners on to complete an important personal milestone of running at least one full marathon across each continent and joining the exclusive 7 Continents Club. I digress. Anytime I visit a new city, country, or continent for that matter, part of my Toastmasters mission is to look up and visit clubs. Over the last 6 years as a Toastmaster, I have had the opportunity of visiting over 20 clubs across 5 continents. Naturally, when the Antarctica opportunity came up, I looked up clubs to visit there too.
It was a month before my trip. I had heard that there might be a Toastmasters club in Antarctica. A search on the Toastmasters website came up empty. So did speaking to members and district leaders and feverishly searching the internet, with my closest friends, Google and Bing 😉 . Since I was part of a tour group on a ship, I was not even sure if I could break away to visit a club anyway. Maybe, this is a blessing in disguise, I thought.
Time passed – it was now 2 weeks before the trip. The Club Ambassador in me was getting unsettled. I had to visit a club. Then it hit me… if there was no club on the continent, why not create my own club meeting? After all, with 100 of us on a ship together for 14 days, what better way to spend some of the time than sharing our stories at a Toastmasters meeting? I reached out to our tour coordinator, Stephanie. I wanted to know if they would let me host a Toastmasters meeting and fit it within the already hectic trip itinerary. Stephanie was helpful, but was non-committal since the team captain had the final say.
There was now barely a week left. I had to do something and quickly!! I decided I would host my own meeting on the ship – The only thing I was going off of was the hope – even though there was no way to contact our team captain, no way to know if there were other Toastmasters on the ship (since they didn’t give out details of others on the ship), no way to know if after all this, a meeting would happen after all. I also realized that to do this in an official manner, I might need approval from the Toastmasters organization, but there was no time. Was this effort jinxed? I heard an inner voice say NO!! I had to keep moving forward. I decided I needed at least 2 things – a commemorative banner and an agenda. Over the next 2 days, I designed the banner and put together an agenda. All set… or so I thought! I had yet to get the team captain on my side. But that had to wait until I got on that ship.
On March 11th, we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to acclimatize ahead of our marathon and the ship that would take us there. Completely the marathon successfully was definitely at the top of our mind for all. While in Buenos Aires, I had an opportunity to briefly meet our Toastmaster brethren at BA Tango Toastmasters. Three days later, we found ourselves setting sail through the notorious Drake Passage – one of the most dangerous passages in the world. Antarctica, here we come! On the second night on the ship, over a drink, I approached our team captain, Jeff. To my pleasant surprise, it turned out that Jeff had heard about Toastmasters and he told me that he would figure how to fit it into the ship itinerary. He recommended that we scheduled it after we had completed the marathon. Made sense to me and I was thrilled! But wait, the next task was to get my ship mates interested. Even my ship roommate, Rajesh was not spared :-). Jeff’s support turned out to be critical. He announced the plans for the Toastmasters meeting one night at dinner when most of my 100 shipmates were present and invited me to add my comments. And to top that, he added it to the official agenda and that helped build credibility for the event. Separately, I kept spreading the word to my new friends on the ship. One of the wonderful folks that I had befriended during the trip was Bruce and Helen who are from Australia and now live in Houston. During one of our conversations, Bruce mentioned to me that he was a Toastmaster in his past life. That was such welcome news! I immediately enrolled Bruce to be Table Topics Master for the upcoming meeting and he was a willing participant. By the time we approached the day of the meeting, I had about 10 people who had committed to be there and at least 5 of those kind souls had agreed to speak.
The fateful day came – Slowly but surely, the room started filling up. First it was 8 out of the 10 committed…then, more – we were up to 15 folks… By the time we were done we had 25 people in the room Jeff kicked off the meeting and did a stellar job briefly talking about Toastmasters and why we were all here. I was the Toastmaster and led the meeting expressing gratitude to all who came and promising them it was going to be a worthwhile session. Two prepared speeches and 8 table topics later led by Bruce, we still had the rapt attention of all 25 folks. Most of them seemed to be having a really good time. As the meeting wrapped up, I thanked Jeff, Bruce and the ten speakers profusely and everyone who attended the meeting. I asked them all to sign the banner and they did! (see the banner in the pic with Jeff) After all, it is not very often that a meeting like this happens in Antarctica. Most of them came by and told me that they had a great time and they would look into Toastmasters. A month later, a couple folks even wrote to me saying that they had checked out Toastmasters after they got back home and one of them told me that she had decided to even join Toastmasters!
What a great time and we have the pictures to prove it! There were so many fond memories from this trip and Toastmasters was there with me all the way. Mission accomplished!