Wendy Leroux remembers watching in fear as her boss was forced to give their entire 45-minute business presentation to a large garden club with PowerPoint slides that suddenly stopped working.
Although presentations were not foreign to the staff of Botanus, a mail-order flower company in Langley, remembering everything without the computer slides to read off of was. After the panic and sweating began, Leroux was shocked to see her boss nail the entire proposal, without a single colourful slide.
“I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ I want to be able to get up, and regardless of what’s going on around me, be able to get what’s in my heart and in my head out of my mouth,” Leroux recalled.
That was the defining moment that led her to join Toastmasters, an international organization of 35,000 clubs that teaches public speaking and leadership.
Since starting at the Langley 2743 club nine years ago, Leroux has moved on to become a mentor and president.
“If you’ve ever had to speak in public, and frozen. Or every second word is ‘um.’ Or if you’ve ever had to listen to that — that is why we’re here,” she said.
The organization began in California in the 1930s, and has been active in Langley for 35 years. In that time, thousands of residents have been helped by their self-guided programs — from university students and business professionals, to those making presentations at work, or speeches at a wedding.
“Even though it sounds like all we are doing is drinking and toasting, that’s not at all what we are doing,” Leroux said laughing.
“It is completely learning how to speak in public and how to lead.
“If people have information they need to impart, but there’s no excitement around it, (then) it’s just information. So if you can get that together with the passion you feel, then you can do it in a way that people are moved by it. It just changes everything.”
Leroux says the first time she had to give a two-minute on-the-spot presentation at a Toastmasters meeting, she felt like she completely blew it.
“I stood up I think for 20 seconds when it was supposed to be a two-minute speech, and I pretty much just fell into my chair and thought, ‘Oh that was bad,’” she said.
“And instead of being disappointed by it, I said ‘No that is not going to define me, I’m going to do it again and do it again until I get it right.’”
As Leroux continued to work on those skills, she says her life began to change.
“Your life is like driving a car, and you’re in the driver’s seat, but as it turns out, everyone else — your husband, your partner, your kids, your job — (are) determining what you do, because you don’t have a voice,” Leroux said.
“And the minute you get a voice … you’re able to get people to do things with you (and) for you without anyone getting hurt. And suddenly you feel that you are a little more in control of your own life, because you can speak about the things that you need to speak about.”
The skills go beyond just speaking to large groups, Leroux added. Learning to communicate concisely can help in job interviews, asking for a raise or even dealing with hospitals, lawyers or government officials.
“I’ve had more growth, since I started with Toastmasters, in all aspects of my life, she said.
“I think the most surprising was that I had something to say, that what I had to say was important, and that when I stand up … it actually affects other people.”
Leroux says she’s witnessed many people transform their lives, including one soft-spoken member — Stephen — who was able to land his dream job as an RCMP officer after improving his public speaking skills.
“Nowadays, with social media and so many communication platforms, you have to have a good presence and a good speaking voice if you want to get ahead,” she said.
The Langley 2743 club meets every Tuesday evening, and sessions are open to the public to attend. For more information, or to become a member, visit http://langley.toastmastersclubs.org/.