A member of the Sandy Hill Toastmasters Club has qualified to compete in a contest at the end of the month to represent her region, but don’t raise a glass just yet.
Just ask Clarita Robinson, who says she expects to compete on March 28. Despite her success in Toastmasters so far, she says she had the wrong idea of what “Toastmasters” was at her first meeting.
“My mother belonged to a wine tasting organization, and when I heard ‘Toastmasters,’ I thought I was coming to some kind of wine tasting,” she says with a laugh.
“And I said, ‘So when are we going to toast?’ and [my colleague] says, ‘No, no, no. In this particular club, we do it differently.’ And then I realized that, ‘Oh, no, there was no toast!’ It was actually a speaking thing. And when I was asked to speak, I was caught so unaware that I didn’t even know what to do.”
Toastmasters International is an organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. The non-profit organization has thousands of clubs teaching workshops in 113 countries, including Sandy Hill, according to their website. A typical meeting encourages everyone there to practice public speaking while others evaluate their performances and give feedback.
Yet in the face of the confusion, Robinson says she decided to continue with Toastmasters. She began working on an “Advanced Communication” manual, which consists of five public speaking projects. Robinson says she had been working on the manual called “Storytelling” when she met a project that required her to do what’s called a “touching story.”
The “touching story” asks for a six- to eight-minute speech. The manual says the objective is “to understand the techniques available to arouse emotion [and] to become skilled in arousing emotions while telling a story.”
Robinson says she chose to talk about her mother’s current battle with Alzheimer’s, which she says has been “very, very difficult.”
A member gives a speech at a Sandy Hill Toastmasters Club meeting.
“POSITIVE AND INSPIRING”
Toastmasters International hosts several competitions a year to showcase a variety of speaking styles, and Robinson had heard the topic for one of the events featured “positive and inspiring” stories, she says. That’s when she decided to talk about her mother’s Alzheimer’s with a touch of humour.
Called “In the Wrong Lane,” the speech is a first-person account showing how Robinson has witnessed her once strong and capable mother decline into memory loss and confusion. The title is a reference to how Robinson’s mother instructs her to change lanes during her frequent “backseat driving,” even when she doesn’t understand where she’s going.
Robinson’s story of grief is peppered with anecdotes about her mother’s innocent enthusiasm to everyday life. In one story, she jokes her mother could write a cookbook with the new recipes she comes up with, such as dumping butter in her coffee or other drinks into her cereal. Still, she says her mother beams when she finishes preparing her food, and Robinson says it’s this excitement which she finds positive and inspiring for herself.
With this speech, she competed at the club level against about six clubs and won. Then, she continued to the area level, where she won again. Now she says she’s looking forward to the divisional competition this month, and has been practicing by using the local Sandy Hill meetings where says she has eagerly asked for feedback.
If all goes well, maybe Robinson can earn that wine tasting after all – as long as her mother doesn’t prepare her drink.