Communication and Leadership Skills

Member Interview: Karen Robertson

Member Since: September 2018

Why did you seek out Toastmasters?

Unlike most people, I don’t have a fear of public speaking. In fact, I really enjoy it. At the time of joining, I was looking for a place to explore my voice.

Why Toastmasters St Kieran’s

I visited several clubs in the Manly Vale area before choosing St Kieran’s.  The main reason I chose St Kieran’s is that I liked the culture of the club. It’s very welcoming and a bit more laid back than some of the other clubs.  That being said, the mentors we have and skills we develop are top notch.

Now that I’ve been a member for over 18 months, it’s the people I love most. I’m amazed that such a broad mix of people come together and support each other so well. We have uni students, an octogenarian, a retired teacher, bus driver, marketing director, IT manager… you get the idea.  People from all ages, backgrounds and numerous countries. A true melting pot.

Did you have any specific goals when you joined?

Originally it was to explore topics to speak about. But once I was introduced to Table Topics, I realised I wanted to improve my impromptu speaking skills.

Table Topics is a segment during the meeting where members practice their impromptu speaking.  There’s a Table Topics Master who prepares a list of topics prior to the meeting. He randomly calls on members and gives them a topic to tackle. They have 1-2 minutes to speak on that topic.

What I realised is that I tend to start talking and motor on until I finish.  What I’ve learned is how to tackle topics in different ways – sometimes through story, or asking a question for example. And I’ve learned to stop and take a breath!

Everyone uses impromptu speaking through every aspect of life, whether that’s when answering a question or speaking in a meeting.  It’s been helpful to look at this type of communication as a skill to develop.

What has been the biggest surprise?

There are so many! I had no idea how Toastmasters meetings worked or what to expect. I just showed up one day.

The biggest surprise is how much fun Toastmasters is. We laugh a lot. It’s fascinating how many different perspectives people have and how entertaining it is to hear from them. It’s also extremely rewarding to watch members develop and grow.  

I had no idea how structured the meetings are, that there are different roles and so many opportunities to develop leadership skills.  Members take turns holding different roles each meeting – whether that’s being the chairperson, the grammarian, giving a speech, being an evaluator, timer and more.

We have a set agenda and are diligent about running meetings to time. I had no idea about this aspect of Toastmasters.

What do you like best?

It’s so fun. It’s all about the people.

What could you do without?

COVID-19 moving meetings online! Whilst Zoom meetings are working great, I spend all day on the computer for work, so miss being with members in person. Hoping we’re back in person soon!

What would you tell someone who was considering Toastmasters?

Attend a few meetings as a guest! There are no obligations and you don’t have to speak if you don’t want to.  Visit a few clubs, as each club has its own culture. Some are more formal or competitive.