In 1924, around the time of the first stock-market crash, Ralph C Smedley created Toastmasters in the basement of a YMCA in Santa Ana, California. He observed that many of his young patrons needed training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings in order to compete in a changing world. His method of training was successful and membership grew.
In 1935 the burgeoning club established a federation to help coordinate all its activities and provide a standard program. Its success spread to Canada in 1935, when a group in New Westminster, British Columbia, expressed interest in joining the organization. Toastmasters became Toastmasters International, which now has more than 12,500 clubs in 113 countries. In August of 1973, the membership opened its membership to women.
Rainbow Toastmasters, or Club 4100, was created in Toronto in September of 1997. Several parishioners of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto made a request to then District 60 governor Michael Baghus. He took on the challenge and brought in Mary Reinhart, from the Bay St Breakfast Club, and John Sproule to help get things started. A demonstration meeting was held on Sept 8, 1997, to gauge interest. More than 40 people attended the first meeting. Out of those, 18 people signed up. Twenty people were needed to become a registered group. Two weeks later, a subsequent meeting was held and two more members joined. On Sept 15, 1997, the executive committee was elected and the first LGBT Toastmasters group in the world was created.
Brian Brennie, its first president, was asked why a group was needed. “It’s to get people properly trained to be able to speak publicly and tell their story. If a person is asked about who we are in public, we need to do it articulately and not be afraid.”
The group also assists people in learning the art of speaking, listening and thinking – vital skills that foster self actualization, leadership potential and human understanding and contribute to the betterment of mankind.
When a new member feels comfortable they are assigned a small role that will gradually make them feel more at ease in front of the group. One role is that of Time Keeper. This person times everyone who speaks. Just as in the outside world, time is valuable, and this duty keeps the meeting on schedule; some people like to hear the sounds of their own voices. There is the Joke Master, who tells a joke to add humour to the beginning of the meeting or the Quote Master, who adds wisdom. Roles are always assigned in advance. A two-month schedule is organized based on each member’s availability and level of achievement in the club. You don’t have to go it alone; a mentor is assigned to assist a new member in preparing for a role or giving a speech. There are also manuals to provide written guidance and tips to help you along the way.
Your first speech is called an Ice Breaker. This is where you introduce yourself to the group and talk a bit about your life or interests. The goal of everyone in the group is to assist each other in bettering his or her skills. An experienced evaluator is assigned to every new person to offer constructive criticism, and at the end of every meeting, each main speaker receives a written evaluation from each member to take home and read.
The current president, Rose Kudlac, joined the group in 2006 and is the only out straight person in the group.
“We don’t ask about a person’s sexuality,” she says. “This is usually discovered through speeches or comments.”
The experience has provided Rose with an opportunity to learn from the lesbian, gay, bi and trans perspective.
“I didn’t know any LGBT people at that point,” she confides.
Her need to join a group close to home was what brought her to her first meeting.
“I was instantly comfortable in the club due to the demonstrated supportiveness,” she says. People come to this group from far and wide, often travelling great distances every Monday from “far-off” places like Oakville, Markham and Mississauga. Other members are originally from Latvia, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, the Middle East and the US.
Rainbow Toastmasters goes beyond learning skills. It’s about being a member of a supportive community. Kudlac says she enjoys listening to other peoples’ stories on subjects that she might not be exposed to otherwise.
One of the toughest and most rewarding challenges that everyone in the group seems to agree upon is the section of the night called Table Topics-TM. Have you ever been asked a question, only to have your mind go blank? Or worse, your answer is so disorganized you lose the point you were trying to make. It could happen at work, when you’re out socializing or even in an argument with your partner. This small section helps members to think on their feet. Having the answers come quickly can get you noticed and heard. Sampe questions include “Have you ever had a crush on a friend’s partner?” and “How do you tell your friend that he or she is being cheated on?”
Not only is Toastmasters a great place to improve your communication skills for a better career, it’s also helpful in resolving conflicts, whether personal or professional. At Toastmasters, you learn to speak and listen productively. If you are shy or find it hard to say the right words, this group can help you feel proud of what you have to say.
Rainbow Toastmasters has approximately 25 members. They meet every Monday from 7-8:30 pm, from September to July. Meetings are held in the social hall of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, 115 Simpson Ave (Broadview and Gerrard). Come as a guest — you are always welcome. You will not be required to speak. You can check out the website at rainbow.toastmastersclub.org. There, you’ll find more information and a video from participants, past and present, on how they felt when they first joined and what they have learned. Or meet some of the members in person at their booth at the Pride parade.