Local Success Stories

The Many Faces of Toastmasters

Carolyn Williamson

Bristol Speakers, Syracuse NY


Toastmasters is an investment in myself and it pays exceptional dividends. Through Toastmasters I have gained friendships, leadership opportunities and improved as a speaker. The weekly club meetings have even provided an outlet for stress relief from work. Some of the manual speeches have provided challenges to me on how to fit my topic to the goals. This challenge has really broadened my presentation styles and creativity, making me a more diverse speaker. Public speaking is an art form that requires practice and continuous feedback. I am often complemented on my public speaking and told that I do not need Toastmasters. However, I disagree. Toastmasters provides the safe environment for me to continue to practice and sharpen my speaking skills. I have become more confident in my speaking abilities and comfortable speaking in large groups. This translates into public speaking opportunities which have strengthened my career and reputation among my peers in my industry.

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Bill Spizuoco

Bristol Speakers, Syracuse NY


When I joined Toastmasters in 2002 I believed myself to be a pretty good speaker, and I was. What I didn’t, and couldn’t, know was the personal growth and the leadership training I was to gain. Oh, and I became a much more confident, polished speaker – one often asked to speak. Toastmasters is a volunteer organization, so leading here means others want to follow, and that means true leadership skills are built and displayed. One of the hidden truths about Toastmasters is that along the way to confidence in speaking, you also learn how to write. For once the spoken word is mastered, thoughts become organized in the brain before reaching the tongue, well those same organized thoughts can flow to a keypad as well. And I have grown to love the Toastmasters organization as I have become first acquainted, and then friends, with so many of them. I have met some truly amazing people, who, I’m quite certain, also happen to be Toastmasters – what a happy coincidence, or is it?

We are a diverse group, young and old, rich and poor, red and blue, but we share one thing in common – courtesy and genuine support of one another. No one can remain distant from a Toastmaster for long because of the supportive meetings and heartfelt joy among all when one of us achieves and grows. It’s quite simple really, we meet weekly, laugh our way through much of a meeting, and LEARN. Who wouldn’t like that?

I work hard for Toastmasters and some think I give much, but when viewed from what I have received, I’ve yet a long journey of payback ahead.

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Julia Reich

Cayuga Club, Ithaca NY


In 2006 I was living in NYC and just getting my graphic design business off the ground. One day my phone rang – it was an acquaintance, a man who was the director of an agency which works with small business startups. He wanted to know if I’d be willing to speak to a group of his clients on the importance of branding. Sure! I said. This was my specialty, and I was flattered to be recognized as an expert. It was only after I hung up the phone that I started to feel nervous about the prospect of speaking in public. As the time drew closer, I grew increasingly nervous, so much so that I was experiencing daily stomachaches and no longer sleeping well at night. Eventually I gave in to my fear and copped out – I told my contact at the agency that I was too busy with work to do the presentation (however, not before I found a colleague who could do the talk for me).

I did not feel good about this at all. I recognized I had a problem. My fear of public speaking was not commensurate with how I envisioned myself growing as a professional business woman. Eventually I moved to central New York and it was then that I decided to visit a Toastmasters club in Ithaca. That was in 2008, and now I am an enthusiastic, committed member and officer (Vice-President of PR). I’ve earned my CC and am close to completing my CL and two advanced manuals.

I credit Toastmasters entirely with enabling me to learn the skills necessary to overcome my fear. Most of all, though, I think it is the opportunity to repeatedly get up in front of a group of people that has allowed me to confront my fear and work through it, week after week. Of course, the other members of my club are amazingly supportive, and their honest evaluations have also helped me tremendously.

Now I do public speaking for FUN (recently, I even got my first paid speaking gig!). I still get nervous, – sometimes very much so – but the fear is different now. It is no longer debilitating. Most of the fear happens before the speech begins, and once I am speaking, I have actually learned to enjoy myself.

My public speaking resume (outside of Toastmasters) so far includes:

  • Women in Business Network, Auburn, NY, August 2008: Self-Promotion for Solopreneurs & Small Businesses
  • Cayuga County Office of Tourism, Auburn, NY, October 2009: Online Social Media
  • Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty, Geneva, NY, March 2009: Self-Promotion for Small Businesses
  • SCORE, Auburn, NY, June 2009
  • Ignite Ithaca, Ithaca, NY, April 2010

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Caroline Szydlo

The Larkin Leaders, Buffalo NY


Toastmasters has changed my life. I am the Director of Human Resources at Brock, Schechter & Polakoff, LLP and last year I was honored to be the recipient of the Buffalo Niagara Human Resource Association President’s Award. I had no idea I was even being considered for the award until my name was called. Upon reaching the podium to accept the award from the President, I was asked the ultimate question, “Would you like to say a few words?” Having nothing prepared, what was I to do? If I had been asked this question before joining the Larkin Leaders Toastmasters, I would have succumbed to my nerves and said, “no thank you,” with much regret later. Instead, I proudly said “yes!” and confidently thanked everyone who had helped me achieve this recognition……with no regrets! Toastmasters has truly changed my life.

Editor’s Note: Caroline Szydlo was President of the Larkin Leaders Toastmaster during the 2009-2010 Toastmaster’s year ,and is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Aquarium of Niagara. Caroline serves on the Committee for the Buffalo Niagara Human Resource Association and is a member of the Advisory Counsel for the Buffalo Niagara 360.

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Coleen and Chris Parsons

Twin Tiers Toastmasters, Elmira NY

I was introduced to the concept of Toastmasters about a decade ago, though never invited to a meeting. About four years ago I was informed of a meeting at my workplace, but no one personally invited me and I was too intimidated to join. A couple of years ago my daughter told me of a meeting that seemed more low keyed. I was looking for ways to improve my presentation skills and thought I should finally see what Toastmasters offered. I went to the Twin Tiers Toastmasters meeting, sat there, listened, tried a Table Topic, and stayed to talk to the VP of Membership. These people were speaking about interesting things; topics I wanted to know more about. They were laughing. They got constructive feedback about their speeches and their skills. The membership fee was certainly reasonable and I could spare two nights a month from my busy schedule. It wasn’t intimidating – it seemed like fun. I decided to join.
I went to the next several meetings and had a good time. I learned to listen differently. I liked the format where people could give a speech about something somewhat controversial and no one was offended. Everyone seemed to suspend their opinions and were able to stick to the purpose of honing speaking skills. The speakers were purposeful and thoughtful. I found myself going home and researching some of the topics. I began thinking about life events differently, wondering if this or that would make a good speech. (No kidding!) I loved moving from the intensity of my workday to the frivolity of the Twin Tiers Toastmasters meetings. It was relaxing.
I was enjoying my special two nights a month of Toastmasters, thinking of them as my nights, with no real responsibility. I guess it became obvious to my husband that I was having a pleasant time because he started asking me more and more questions about the meetings. He swears I didn’t tell him that I wanted this “one thing for myself”. I knew if he came, he would join because it was fun — something I dreaded because I’d have to listen to all of his “dumb stories” all over again – like I hadn’t heard them a thousand times before.
One evening, in a moment of weakness, I somewhat begrudgingly asked him if he would like to come see what Toastmasters was all about. He joined. Immediately. I was not elated.
However, now we go to the Twin Tiers Toastmasters meetings together; he more often than I because of my work commitments. And we have fun. Together! Honestly! Though it’s kind of odd shaking my spouse’s hand in a formal sort of way, his once boring stories have turned fascinating when woven into a speech. Really! We never preview each other’s speeches, it’s more entertaining to hear them the first time at a meeting. When he’s in front of the group he’s warm and charming and funny. (I kind of have a crush on him all over again and we’ve been together for 34 years!) Being Toastmasters has given us a common interest that isn’t about the children or the farm or household issues.
I came to a Toastmasters meeting because I was curious. I came again because it was interesting. I continue to come because I never walk away without feeling I’ve been enriched in some way. Toastmasters is about much more than public speaking, and every Toastmaster will tell you that!
Colleen Parsons RN, Director of Healthcare
Glove House, Inc
Elmira, NY

My wife, Coleen, had joined TM in the fall of 2008.After attending a couple of meetings, she asked me if I would like to go with her to the next meeting after I had asked her a few questions about TM. She did tell me that this was something that she enjoyed doing with a new group of people. After my first meeting I signed up that night and my wife was very surprised and said something about me intruding in her new found group.
Since joining, we have missed very few meeting and have enjoyed attending our meetings together. Our club can be very lighthearted and we find ourselves kidding around a lot during our meetings. I am about to give my tenth speech from my Competent Communicator Manual. I feel I have learned a lot working through my first 9 speeches and have found the entire TM format to be such a great learning tool for public speaking.

I am presently the treasurer for our club and have been asked to step into the Presidents position for the following year. I would be honored to serve as president. I am also involved in our District 65 Tall Tale contest and have moved through the levels of competition well enough to be competing at our district conference in Corning, NY. This is certainly nothing that I thought I would ever be doing on my Monday nights, but I always look forward to our next meeting.

Chris Parsons

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Lorraine Mott

Talk-eaze, Syracuse NY


Shy, introverted, no self-confidence. That was me 12 years ago. I was a newly hired computer programmer at Crouse-Hinds. I was happy to come in each day, type logic on my computer, and go home each night. Then my supervisor invited me to the company Toastmaster meeting. “Toastmasters? Never heard of it”. I was told it would help advance my career and each week, my supervisor escorted me to the meeting. There I sat in the back of the room, unable to utter a sound when asked to speak. I watched my co-workers transform before my eyes; people that were nervous now had a confidence to speak with no notes, people that had crutch words now used pauses, people that spoke so quickly now had a slow and convincing voice. As for me, four months later, still in the back of the room, I decided to make a New Year’s Resolution and when they called on me, I stood up. My knees shook violently, I grabbed onto the table for support which created a thundering vibration and I took a breathe to answer the question. I hyperventilated for 15 seconds and sat down out of sheer embarrassment. But….my co-workers stood up, clapped and cheered….for I had done the hardest part….stood up to speak. Throughout that week, they came by my office to congratulate me and encourage me that this would be easier…..and it was….each week I spoke more, gained confidence, eliminated my crutch words and learned how to be effective in my communication. I received a career advancement at work and have been asked many times to be a guest speaker at different events….even an MC at an Awards Banquet. This program does work, it is highly effective and very motivational & highly inspirational. The supportive network is one full of lifetime friends. It truly does change your life.

Editor’s Note: Beginning July 1, Lorraine Mott will begin serving as Toastmaster’s International District Governor, overseeing the activities of over 110 Toastmasters International clubs and over 2,000 members across Central and Western New York. As Upstate New York’s acting chief executive officer, she will lead District 65 Toastmasters in fostering strong clubs and providing for growth in the educational experience of its members. Consistent with the international charter of Toastmasters International, Mott will be responsible for motivating volunteer leaders and promoting a standard of excellence in all district educational activities. She has also served in a variety of other District leadership roles, most recently as Lieutenant Governor of Education & Training where she was responsible for training club officers, Area Governors, and Division Governors in their roles. She has also served as Lt. Governor of Marketing, and also as an Area and Division Governor. Mott’s contributions to District 65 have been recognized by Toastmasters International on numerous occasions during her tenure with the organization, including Area Governor of the Year in 2002-03. In 2007, she was awarded the coveted Toastmaster of the Year Award for establishing ten new clubs in the Central New York area.

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John Montgomery

Morning Knights, Endicott NY


I joined Toastmasters in 1993 as a naïve rube with stars in my eyes and dust on my boots. During my time in the organization, I have gained confidence in front of an audience of one or a thousand, learned to formulate coherent and succinct thoughts on a moment’s notice, and won the District 65 Humorous Speech Contest two times.

Since retiring from IBM in 2006, everything I have done for pay (speaking, writing, teaching and performing comedy) has been a direct result of the skills and networking I acquired at Toastmasters. My communication and leadership abilities have opened doors, expanded horizons and put food on the table

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Jayne Tassi

Toastchex, Penfield NY

Advanced Club, Rochester NY


Jayne Tassi has been a proud Toastmaster for over 10 years. In that timeframe, she has served in a variety of roles for multiple clubs, including President, VP Public Relations, Secretary, and Sergeant at Arms. Most recently she helped sponsor a new corporate club for her company. She is a former Area Governor and recently received her Distinguished Toastmaster award.

In her non-Toastmastering life, she has served as a business continuity analyst for a national payroll-processing company and has received her accreditation in business continuity and disaster planning from The Disaster Recovery International Institute in 2006. She lives in Webster with her husband of over 30 years, and has two adult children. In her free time she enjoys theater, shopping and dining out. She also attempts to play golf, but due to lack of talent, doesn’t always enjoy it so much.

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Linda Lathrop

Barrier Breakers, Sayre PA

Twin Tiers Toastmasters, Elmira NY

When I joined Toastmasters in April 2004, I already had good listening and thinking skills, and was fairly comfortable speaking before groups of people as a workshop presenter for business and professional groups, churches, and community organizations. I also taught EMS classes and managed an employee training company.

Toastmasters has helped me to be an even better listener and thinker while developing my own style as a speaker and trainer. I am better at setting goals and the leadership development that I have experienced is incredible!

Within four years of joining Toastmasters I completed by Advanced Toastmaster Gold, Advanced Leader Bronze and I am very close to receiving my Distinguished Toastmaster award. I have served as Club President, Area Governor, and Southern Division Governor.

Because of my Toastmasters training I have been asked to facilitate Leadership Programs for 3 area Chambers of Commerce for the past 3 years, helping to develop future leaders while continuing to manage an employee training company.

The best part of being a member of Toastmasters International is offering the opportunity for personal growth and development to other people; then helping them to learn and grow beyond their wildest expectations!

Linda Lathrop, ACG, ALB

Editor’s Note: Beginning July 1, Linda began serving as Lieutenant Governor of Marketing and Membership for District 66. In this role, Linda is responsible for the establishment of new clubs and recruitment of new members to existing clubs across Central and Western New York.

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Sam Mehta

Empire Statesman, Syracuse NY


My years with Toastmasters have been exciting and rewarding. In 1997, within a month of joining one of the leading clubs in the district – The Empire Statesmen, I volunteered to become a club officer, and eight months later, I completed the basic speech manual. Since then, for me, there has been no looking back. Five years later, I received the highest award in communication and leadership of ‘Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). In 2006/07, as District Governor, it was my honor and privilege to lead the district to Distinguished District Status and induction in the Toastmasters International Hall of Fame. In 2009, I was awarded the District’s highest honor – the Pat Panfile/Ben Luce Award.

Like most programs, the more you put in, the more you get back. Early on, I learned to say, “YES I CAN,” for everything to do with Toastmasters. In addition to the known benefits of the Toastmasters program such as improving public speaking and listening abilities, building self-confidence, polishing presentation skills and strengthening leadership skills; I have also developed writing skills and have frequently written for local, national and international magazines, newspapers and online publications on a variety of topics. I believe that Toastmasters has directly influenced me in this area.

Getting involved in all aspects of the Toastmasters program and organization has been a key to my personal and professional successes. Every year that I have been in Toastmasters, I have either served as a club or district officer or as a member on a project committee. I have enjoyed competing in speech contests at club, area, division and district levels, as well as coaching clubs, mentoring members, and sponsoring new clubs. That’s involvement. That’s Toastmasters. That’s practicing -YES I CAN.

Sam Mehta
President, Integrated Technologies, LLC
Syracuse, NY

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Jim Sutton

Toastmasters in General, Rochester NY

My name is Jim Sutton and I have been a Toastmaster for about a year and a half. I joined Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills and leadership skills. For 23 years I have worked as a Physician Assistant in Family Medicine and my one-on-one speaking ability was excellent but once I got in front of a crowd I would freeze. I was recently promoted to a role of Director of Community Medicine for the Rochester General Health System and my job is now, well you guessed it, speaking in front of crowds. My experience with Toastmasters has given me the confidence and skills to speak in any situation and has also sharpened my leadership skills.

This year I wrote a book to help patients have better conversations with their doctor. A lot of the tips in the book about how to have productive conversations came from my Toastmaster training. The book is called “Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor” and is available on-line through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The web-site for the book is www.top5questions.net.

Since the release of the book a few weeks ago I have had to do multiple TV and radio interviews, and without my Toastmasters training I never would have been able to survive these interviews. Each interview is like a Table Topics (impromptu speaking exercise during Toastmaster meetings). I had no idea what the interviewer was going to ask me and had to respond for 1-2 minutes without using those dreaded run-on sentences and “Ums and Ahs.”

Toastmasters has changed my life! My employer has noticed a difference in how I participate in meetings, give presentations, and interact with customers. I would recommend Toastmasters for anyone that wants to increase their speaking ability.

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