Q&A with Karen Egge, Vice President, Education (2022-2023), Dunvegan Toastmasters Club No. 939

Karen Egge

Please give us a little bit of history of the local chapter of Toastmasters International.
The Dunvegan Toastmasters Club No. 939 was formed from the merger of the Fairview Toastmasters Club and the Rycroft Highway 49ers Club. Through the years, we had joint meetings for occasions like Robbie Burns Night and for Christmas get-togethers. We had joint summer meetings at Maples Park in Dunvegan Provincial Park over the years, so it was a natural progression to join together as our memberships declined. We currently have 11 members, all of whom come with different levels of experience and varied backgrounds and interests.

How often do you meet, and how did members keep in touch and stay connected during the past two pandemic years when in-person gatherings were limited?
We have weekly meetings every Wednesday from 6:30pm to 8pm. We also meet once a month in June, July, August and September. During the past two years, we’ve had our meetings held online through Zoom. We all learned new skills while communicating effectively. We continued to meet in-person for our summer meetings.

Toastmasters International is best known for its long-time mission of helping people be more proficient public speakers. However, on its website, it does describe itself as “a non-profit educational organization that teaches public-speaking and leadership skills.” Please tell us more about the leadership component of the mission statement.
I joined Toastmasters in 1984, seeking help and training to be an effective speaker and meeting leader. I joined a club that had as members a motley collection of professionals: school teachers and principals, bank managers, salespeople, business owners, local government elected officials, and people in the workforce, including those entering the work force for the first time.

The leadership element of every meeting consists of opportunities for members to prepare for and lead an actual meeting (toastmaster), and take on specific tasks like serving as an impromptu-speaking lead (table topic two-minute answers to questions) and evaluating speakers as they work through guided online resources with clear objectives to develop our skills. One of the most important leadership skills I’ve learned was improve my listening skills and offer feedback meaningful to the club member and provide ideas for improvement in a practical, safe environment. Knowing what your audience expects and planning to meet those expectations was the most important skill I’ve learned coupled with the ability to handle unexpected situations and troubleshoot effectively in a public environment.

Public-speaking and leadership skills are certainly qualities anyone should aspire for – but, perhaps, more so the young people as they start and build a career. How are you reaching out to the younger segment of the area’s population to try to get them interested to be on the path to becoming good public speakers and good leaders?
Members of our club are often invited as judges at 4-H Public Speaking events as well as in classrooms and business meetings to offer tips on developing an idea into a speech, one that’s not only interesting and organized but also has a strong conclusion.

I think debate clubs in schools are an ideal platform to learn great skills. With the arrival of online meeting technology platforms, it’s now very feasible to connect with clubs all over the world. Our outreach has been limited in the past couple of years; but, with the Toastmasters Pathways education program accessible online, we now have world-class personal and professional development materials available that schools as well as college students and teachers could take advantage of.

Do you have some testimonials you can share with us of local members who said they’ve overcome their fear of speaking in public and attributed that success to being a Toastmaster?
Every fall we ask our members what their goals are in the coming year. Often, we get responses that identify needs in areas such as:

  • how to build confidence in handling a problem at work
  • how to develop a strong project concept
  • how to develop a speech that influences others and makes a difference
  • how to speak effectively in front of an audience

For me, joining Toastmasters has been like getting a college education. I have learned to practice public speaking in all kinds of settings and received feedback that helped me to continue to improve. I started out having trouble saying my name out loud without getting red in the face to acquiring the skills set to be able to seek a career working with people all over Alberta as a project executive director and speaking in public almost daily. I believe my writing skills have also improved.

I know I need to continue to be a club member to keep me sharp, maintain the level of my ability to listen to others, and get to know people outside of my rural community. Have I completely overcome my fear of speaking in public? No, but I have learned to harness that energy to be able to connect with an audience of one or a thousand. I continue to learn with practice at every meeting, which is often the highlight of my week.

Do you ever stage a public event? Is there one planned for 2022?
Our meetings are always public, and we host speech contests on a regular basis. We are delighted to invite and welcome guests to our meetings to see how a Toastmaster meeting meets the needs of individuals wanting to improve on their public-speaking and leadership abilities.

How does one become a Toastmaster? Is there a cost to be a member?
There is an application to complete with a survey to identify one’s specific interests and goals. Members are expected to attend meetings as regularly as they can as well as be involved in the roles called for in each meeting. Come to one of our meetings and see how much fun we have as we learn and support each other. The cost to be a member is approximately $150 a year, which covers Toastmasters International dues and local meeting expenses.