“Be a Toastmaster? In this club? … OMG, no!”

You have to understand. I’ve been in Toastmasters for seven years. I’ve served as Toastmaster of the Day hundreds of times. These words are not ones that generally come out of my mouth.

It was the fall of 2021. I’d been a member of the Intercontinental Toastmasters Club for a couple of months. Club founder Abhijeet Joshi had invited me to join so I could compete in the International Speech Contest outside of my home district, District 32.

First, I love my club. Its members are lively, friendly, fun, diverse, and passionate about Toastmasters. But, they were also demonstrating what struck me as haphazard and unreliable behaviour. Every week on the day of the meeting, the club WhatsApp group would light up with comments:

“Sorry. I can’t be there tonight.”

“I was supposed to speak, but something’s come up.”

“Can someone fill my evaluator slot?”

Ugh! As a leader, I don’t do well with chaos. I like reliability. I like meetings planned in advance, knowing those who’ve volunteered will do what they’ve said they’ll do.

Of course, emergencies happen, but this felt different.

I risked being a General Evaluator in one meeting. When the planned speaking section of the meeting fell apart, I said, “Maybe you should consider being a club that specializes in extemporaneous speaking!”


Fortunately, people with greater vision had their hands on the wheel. I stuck with my best roles, and let others cope with what I could not.

Then something happened. A new Toastmasters year, a new VPE. Enter Elma Knowles.

The first thing I noticed was her steady, positive communication. “Hello, team!” “Hello everyone!” “Thanks to all those who took roles in our meeting!” Each week we hear from her, celebrating, encouraging, and cheering us on. All club members are on the WhatsApp group, so it reaches everyone.

Elma checks off all my “fabulous VPE” boxes—congratulating club members on accomplishments—keeping us informed about Distinguished Club Program progress—and letting us know what the club needs and when it is needed to qualify for special district award programs.

You might be shrugging your shoulders saying, “What’s so hard about positive communication?” LOL. If you are saying that, you are either a master already or you have a lot to learn!

I’ve been a VPE. My style is more like herding bawling cattle into the corral to be branded. More cattle prod, less velvet glove—you get the picture. I’m not above a little smacking and shouting. (Not literally, maybe just mentally.)

Then there’s the laissez-faire style. “People will sign up for roles on their own.” Ha!

Some clubs use the end of one meeting to recruit for the next. The VPE goes through the roles, waiting until someone volunteers. But one week isn’t nearly enough to prepare well for a speaking slot. (Take it from a champion who knows!).

Elma Knowles, DTM

Watching Elma at work is a total inspiration. She is tireless, ever persistent.

Of course, she doesn’t do it alone. More than one of Abhijeet Joshi’s district team members are club members. Their teamwork flows into club communication. The WhatsApp group holds beautiful meeting PR posts from Namitha Nandakumar, PR content creation opportunities from Pramathesh Borkotoky, other club’s events that we may benefit from, and excellent speech recordings from the world at large. Carol Tsang, our prize-winning photographer, shares her brilliant artistry.

Week by week, month by month, the club culture is changing. Meetings are better planned. There are fewer last minute cancellations.

A communication style can become a trend. That’s what Elma is doing for us. What a difference a VPE can make!



Lindy MacLaine, DTM is an active member of three clubs: Intercontinental Toastmasters in  D-101, and Skwim Toastmasters and Professionally Speaking in D-32. A great appreciator of effective club leadership, she likes nothing better than learning by the brilliant example of others.