On this day in 1924, Ralph Smedley founded the very first Toastmasters club in Santa Ana, California. Toastmasters clubs provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member can learn and practice communication and leadership skills. Many people come to Toastmasters for professional reasons – to improve their interview skills so that they can get a job or to improve their presentation skills so that they can go after a promotion. Some people, however, come for completely different reasons.
My best friend, Emi, joined Toastmasters to help her overcome agoraphobia after the birth of her second child. If you met her today, you’d never guess that she begged her husband to drag her to a meeting and then sit outside the door to make sure she didn’t bolt. She’s a confident woman who is busy building a spectacularly successful life.
My story is similar. In 2003, I had severe post traumatic stress disorder and was wrestling with a lot of irrational fears. I was afraid to leave my house except in the middle of the night. (Have you ever shopped at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night? Wild!) Then I found an article on psychiatric service dogs. Now, I know, you’ve all heard of this now, but back then, there was just this one article. I researched the laws and discovered that I could train my own dog. My first dog didn’t work out, but my second dog was a keeper. Gumbo helped me go out anywhere I would have gone before. I went out shopping, dining, to church, and then, one night in May 2004, we went to a Toastmasters meeting.
One year in Toastmasters and I was able to retire Gumbo. He now lives with me as a companion and friend, but no more restaurant forays for him.
Two years in Toastmasters, and I was able to go back to work. OK, it’s was a part-time job in the middle of the night where I didn’t have to see any people, but it was a job.
Three years in Toastmasters, and I got a promotion to a full-time job in the day working with people.
Four years in Toastmasters and I was able to go off all the meds I was taking for depression and anxiety.
I served as club officer, club coach for a dying club, Area Governor, and have held multiple committee chairmanships at the District level.
This year I competed in and won the first four levels of the International Speech Contest and had the opportunity to compete in the semi-final level at the International Convention.
Thank you, Ralph Smedley! Toastmasters International has helped millions of people all over the world to improve their communication and leadership skills. Even more important, to me anyway, it changed my life forever.
Happy birthday, Toastmasters International!