A Toastmaster’s Learning Experience from teaching Youth Leadership

Youth leadership Program (YLP)  helps students to learn public speaking and develop leadership skills. Also, it teaches them the ability to analyze their strengths and weaknesses.

We usually draw leadership lessons from other leaders at work or teachers, parents, community, and many others. Observing the young participants during the YLP sessions helped me remind myself of the importance of leadership skills and the need to continually apply them to inspire, educate, and transform others.

#1: Importance of Smiling and Having fun

Children are so care-free and have fun. They keep smiling through the entire session 😊.
Moreover, all of them want to be the “Joke master” as they have tons of jokes to share. The laughter and smiles set the mood as well as creates a very positive and supportive environment.

 #2: Be Curious and Ask questions

Children do not have preconceived notions or judgments. They are full of curiosity and ask questions. They want to understand the “Why” and pose logical questions. Natural curiosity leading to questions is a crucial leadership skill for success.

#3: Resilience makes you strong 

I have seen many currents, and past students overcome so much adversity, be it in a challenging home situation or coping up with studies. However, they still rise. Children with greater resilience are better able to manage stress. They always have a positive attitude and maintain a hopeful outlook.

#4: Be Creative and Think outside the box

Children think so creatively and come up with a solution, which is simply amazing. For example, the table topics suggested by them were so unique, and in one of our YLP sessions, the students came up with a fiction story at the end of the impromptu speaking section of the meeting. I felt so privileged to learn and grow from their ideas.

Teaching children is such a fulfilling and rewarding experience. Besides, providing leadership training prepares youth with positive life skills that they will carry into adulthood.

Nelson Mandela said it very well  “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.”

About the Author:

Somesh Chablani is a member of the OMNI-PRO Speakers Bureau, sponsored by District 83 Toastmasters. He loves to mentor students and members on public speaking. Somesh works for one of the leading Fortune 500 Tech company and leads a global team. Outside of work, Somesh likes to spend time with his family, practices laughter yoga and conducts Youth Leadership Programs.

Somesh Chablani, DTM
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/someshchablani

The Benefits of Toastmasters

By Ally Bhuiyan, DTM

Ask 100 Toastmasters how they have benefitted from being a Toastmaster, and you will likely get at least 300 different answers.  Indeed, the benefits are numerous, but while for some they are quite concrete (“I got a promotion” or “I got a raise”), for many of us they are not.  If you are like me, you might use broad generalizations such as “I improved my communication and leadership skills,” or “I met some great people and built my social network,” or simply “I just love learning from others and hearing other people’s stories.”

To non-Toastmasters, such general answers might not satisfy; they might think that such benefits can be easily found in other ways or with other organizations.  However, as with our speeches, the personal stories behind our answers are much more interesting than the answers themselves.

I’d like to share the story of my husband, Mushi Bhuiyan, who underwent an enormous transformation after joining Toastmasters, and who serves as an example and inspiration for me on a daily basis.

About 10 years ago, Mushi was a successful consultant for a large international firm, who worked closely with the management teams in several well-known companies.  He thoroughly enjoyed his job, since it involved a lot of travel and dealing with a variety of people.  However, he recognized that in spite of his successes, he was consistently being passed up for promotions.

When speaking with his career coach and HR, he was told that he didn’t possess strong communication skills, and after expressing his desire to improve them, Mushi signed up for a course with Dale Carnegie.  The course was fun, and he learned a lot of techniques on starting conversations, getting people to open up, and asking the right questions.  But the course was short, and expensive.  His company would not pay to enroll him in another course, but Mushi felt he had a lot more to learn.  Now what?

He googled “Cheap Dale Carnegie courses” to see if he could find coupons for additional classes and found Toastmasters on the list of suggestions.  Mushi jumped in head first and never looked back.  He loved giving speeches and receiving feedback; he loved visiting many clubs and meeting new people; he loved the new friends he had made in his home club; he loved that he was able to take on a district leadership role.

After some time, he was able to convince me to join as well, and later still, we joined efforts with another Toastmasters couple to charter Princeton Manor Toastmasters in our town.

In the meantime, work went on as usual, but along with his newfound love for Toastmasters grew a new distaste for many things corporate.  One Christmas, as the proverbial last drop in the bucket, Mushi received a bottle of wine and a fruit basket for his efforts.  Did I forget to mention he is a Muslim and doesn’t drink?

He never did receive that coveted promotion, but it no longer mattered to him  He started his own company instead.  His self-confidence had grown, and along with his speaking skills came listening skills.  He felt a much deeper connection to people.  He started organizing block parties so that the people on our street would get to know their neighbors better.  Once, towards the end of a big potluck, one of the neighbors came empty-handed and looked very distraught.  He explained that he felt uncomfortable coming because he didn’t have anything to share with others.

It turned out that hunger had driven him to check for leftovers.  We were shocked to hear that his house was in foreclosure and that he was having trouble putting food on his table.  It had never occurred to us that people in our reasonably affluent community, people on our own street, were struggling with food insecurity.

Mushi decided on the spot to do something about it.  He teamed up with local restaurants to deliver warm meals on a weekly basis to those in need in his and other nearby communities.  When it became clear that the need was great, he set up a non-profit organization so that he could solicit funds from generous donors to help increase his efforts.  Thus, Urban Food Alliance was formed.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Urban Food Alliance switched gears and instead of delivering warm meals, the organization began handing out boxes filled with groceries that could feed families of 4 every week.  The lines of people needing help have been growing steadily, and the efforts to help are ongoing.

Had it not been for Toastmasters, Mushi would probably not have walked this path.  Now, he finds fulfillment and purpose in helping others.  He can smile at the memory of not getting his promotion, knowing that he has gained so much more instead.

True Toastmasters may find it hard to pinpoint in 1 sentence how Toastmasters had benefitted them, because they have embarked on a journey of self-discovery and confidence that will last a lifetime.  True Toastmasters don’t only help themselves; they also help others.  Maybe when people ask us, “How have you benefitted from being a Toastmaster?” we should respond by saying that the better question is, “How has the community benefitted from my being a Toastmaster?”

Addendum: The resources of Urban Food Alliance have been stretched thin during recent months due to the COVID-19 crisis.  If you are interested in supporting the organization and helping to feed the hungry, please make a  donation.

6 Powerful Tips to Elevate and Amplify Your Virtual Presence in Online Meetings

We are all in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 situation translates to tremendous change as the situation and markets rapidly evolve. To successfully lead and manage teams in uncertain times, every leader must effectively communicate and be fully engaged with employees, colleagues, clients, family, and friends.

As people across the globe adjust to working remotely, video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and more are being leveraged for business meetings and virtual team collaboration. However, virtual meetings also need the speaker or host to adjust their style and online presence to be effective, as well as ensure the audience is engaged throughout the entire conversation and meeting agenda. It is very easy for leaders to assume that in-person presence of a conference room is the same as their virtual presence in facilitating a remote/virtual meeting. It is important to remember that attendees often multi-task in virtual meetings and a few dominate the discussion or remain disengaged.

What is a Virtual Presence?

A presence is the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. In the context of an online meeting, virtual presence is the skill required to have engaging and impactful conversations as well as effectively deliver a positive and impactful digital experience to your audience. Elevating both your persona and presence in a Zoom, Teams, or other virtual meeting, requires not only engaging the audience in video conference-style modality but also ensuring your message is delivered as intended.

Here are 6 powerful tips for every leader to help exude their virtual presence as well as engage their audience:

Prepare, Engage, and Conclude


  1. Technology Readiness:

Test the online meeting technology in advance. Always recommend the participants to test the virtual meeting technology prior to the meeting. Ensure the meeting link, dial-in instructions, and discussion topics are sent well ahead of the meeting. People need the ability to participate via audio but make it clear if video conference is the preferred norm. Pre-arrange how participants will check in on changing meeting arrangements or instructions. This will help the speaker or host to avoid delays and technical distractions in order to ensure a smooth start.

  1. Agenda and Timeliness:

As a host or the main facilitator, start the meeting a few minutes early. Set clear objectives and send out a detailed agenda including any background documents or presentation(s) to review. A structured agenda always helps to keep things on track and makes sure everyone knows the meeting schedule and topics. Many of the online meeting platforms have capabilities to send out reminders prior to the scheduled meeting.


  1. Lights, camera, action!

The first step is to establish trust within the virtual participants. When using video capabilities, look and focus into your camera, be present and mindful. Ensure you have good lightning. Use a good virtual background to ensure it is palatable and not distracting.

To make everyone feel connected, use eye contact with the audience by focusing on your camera or webcam. Video conferences are best effective when people can see each other’s facial expressions and body language. Practice looking into your camera during the meeting when you speak to keep the audience engaged.

  1. Pauses and Inflection:

Good virtual presence goes beyond enabling webcams and screen sharing. A strong voice, especially in virtual meetings, convey confidence, credibility and makes a strong connection with your audience.

Pausing at intervals or during transitions gives participants a few moments to reflect or note down key discussion points. Vocal variety, or inflection, is a way to communicate by changing the sound of your voice using different speeds and tones. Good vocal variety helps keep the audience engaged and clues them in on your meaning, feelings or emphasis.

  1. Audience Involvement and Feedback:

Audience participation is critical for the success of any meeting, whether physical or digital. As facilitators, we need to monitor the flow of the conversation and keep things moving. Check on the participation: who has shown up and for how long?

The speaker or host can periodically call on participants to comment, speak, or answer a question. The facilitator can also use the meeting platform poll feature or “raise-a-hand” feature to capture the voice of the audience and solicit their feedback. The chat window is also an effective tool to share audience feedback across the group or to the speaker.


  1. Summarize and Close:

Always reserve some time at the end of the meeting for Q&A. Thank the participants for their time and feedback and encourage them to use the chat and poll in future meetings. It’s a good practice for the speaker to close the meeting with a brief summary and participants to-dos or action items.

Virtual meetings have now become are an integral part of our daily lives. These powerful tips and best practices will help any speaker or meeting host to elevate and amplify your virtual presence. In addition, these skills are very relevant to online meetings, virtual trainings, or webinars – for both hosts and participants. it will help in your personal and professional life to be well prepared when the time comes to take on the opportunities that arise in your social and professional networking efforts and/or leadership position.

About the Author:Somesh has over 25+ years of experience in Senior Management roles within the Financial and Technology Industry. Somesh has been associated with Toastmasters from the past 7 years and currently serves as Area Director for District 83, Area 41. He also is part of District 83, Speakers Bureau and has conducted several Youth Leadership workshops across US, Europe and India.

Somesh Chablani, DTM                                                                Cell: 347-276-2026          Email: toastmaster.somesh@gmail.com

Toastmaster Spotlight: Cyndi Wilson, Region 9’s New Advisor

District 83 PRM, Jenna Barone, had the opportunity to interview a very special Toastmaster in our community, Cyndi Wilson, Region 9’s new advisor. Read on to learn more about Cyndi and her experience in Toastmasters!
1.) When did you join Toastmasters and what club(s) are you a member in?
I joined Toastmasters in December, 2007. Presently, I belong to three clubs: Impact 21 Club, Gold Coast Achievers Toastmasters Club and Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Toastmasters Club.
2.) What has been your favorite leadership role you’ve held so far?
Wow! That’s hard to say. I have held every club officer position, area and division governor (that’s what it was called at the time) and the top 3 district positions. I have enjoyed serving in those positions (sometimes multiple times!). If I really have to settle on one, it was my year as District Governor.
3.) What is your top goal as Region 9 advisor?
To support the districts to achieve/maintain excellence while exemplifying Toastmasters’ core values.
4.) With this pandemic going on forcing clubs to go virtual what is the best advice you can give members during this time?
Your club meeting has come to your home or smartphone; no driving to the location, no walking to a conference room!, Take advantage of it! Attend your club meetings online to enhance your speaking and leadership skills and your use of technology.
5.) (assuming you have been a member for some time now) How has Toastmasters changed over the years that positively impacted you?
Toastmasters’ change from paper to the digital environment really showed that Toastmasters knew that they needed to stay relevant for the generations in the workplace. Yes, we are social people and sometimes afraid to try new things, but moving into the digital space, that 24/7/365 global environment was timely and sorely needed.
6.) What has been the biggest takeaway from being a Toastmaster?
My biggest takeaway is that Toastmasters is an international family of members who support you, encourage you and love you. It matters not how our governments clash; when we are together, we care for each other. I am glad to be a member of this family!

Two Key Skills to Help You Reach Your Goals

The new year brings the intention of setting resolutions that we want to accomplish but statistics show that just 30 days into the new year over 75% of people give up on them. This year YOU can be a part of the 8% that actually stay committed and achieve their resolutions. First, you need to get clear on what you want to accomplish in the new year. Are you looking to excel in your career? Is there someone you have had your eye on but aren’t sure how to strike up a conversation? Would you like to pick up an engaging hobby where you can meet like-minded individuals?

There are so many areas of your life that you can set goals to improve but you may not realize that your communication and leadership skills serve as the foundation for goal achievement. How you communicate what you are trying to accomplish, and the process in which you approach reaching your goals is crucial to your success.

There are many great resources to help improve communication and leadership, one of the most effective resources being Toastmasters International. This non-profit organization uses a network of clubs across the entire world to promote communication, public speaking, and leadership.

This year put your excuses aside and make the commitment to attend a Toastmasters meeting. District 83 has over 170 clubs with meetings taking place in Northern New Jersey, Staten Island, and Rockland Co., NY. There are 26 out of 30 days in January 2020 to attend a meeting in these areas.

For more information on where to attend a meeting check out the calendar below or find a meeting near you at http://www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club

Blog contributed by Jenna Barone, EC2
District 83 Public Relations Manager
Jenna has been a Toastmasters since March 2018 and is working on her Effective Coaching path in the Pathways program. She is a member of Clifton Toastmasters where she serves as club Secretary.

Setting Your Intention for the New Toastmasters Year

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

What does it mean to have vision? I had to stop and ask myself this back in May of 2019 when I found myself coming to the end of a particularly hectic season in my life. I was a newlywed working a full time, demanding job, teaching college students part-time as my side gig, volunteering with a local TEDx event, two Toastmasters clubs (I was an officer of one of them), and so on. At the time, vision was just trying to see the metaphorical finish line at the end of every day. I knew something had to change.

With the promise of life slowing down a bit, I returned to the long-cherished exercise of the vision board to re-evaluate my priorities. On Monday, June 17th, I summoned people across all walks of my life-church, Toastmasters, and family-to set two hours aside to not only help me fulfill a project for my Level 4 in Pathways but to also ponder the question of vision with me. A vision board is a collage of images meant to inspire or motivate you. For me, it challenged me to sit down and really ask myself “what do you want?” As a chronic over-committer, the issue wasn’t about discovering my passion. It was how I can work toward my goals within those passions while still maintaining a healthy balance in all areas of life. Toastmasters are notorious for over-committing.

The beauty of a new Toastmasters year is that it is a second chance to reset the clock (the first being actual New Year’s Day on January 1st). It gives us the chance to evaluate our goals in being part of this organization.

Set your Toastmasters intention for 2019-2020. 

What do you want to accomplish? Why? Everybody’s objective in joining Toastmasters is a little different. What can you do to work toward that objective? We often get lost in why we do things but instead give of our time and energy mindlessly. Before we know it, we look back on the year wondering where the time has gone and why we aren’t any closer to our goals. Articulating our vision can lead to ultimate fulfillment while avoiding burnout.

My intention is to build membership and enrichment of the Toastmasters experience within the club I am now president of-Shore Speakers. This vision has been a long time coming with the deep love I have for this club. I want to also knock out my last award in the traditional program-my ACB-and complete my HPL-Pathways style. My vision may also include only being part of one club instead of two to avoid the overload I am so prone to mentioned above. Sometimes being intentional about something means you may have less exposure to it.

I challenge you to write out the things you would like to accomplish this year with the investment you are making in yourself as a member of Toastmasters. If you are a visual person, settle in with a stack of magazines, some poster board, scissors, and glue and have at it! (not sure where to start? Here is an article to help you out). A vision board is something I see every day to remind me to set my intention every day and for the Toastmasters year ahead.

2017-2018 Club Newsletter Contest


Does your club have a newsletter? If so, consider entering District 83’s Newsletter Contest! If not, consider creating one. While providing club information, the newsletter team may earn credit towards goals in the Competent Leader manual. We have provided the opportunity for as many clubs as possible to enter and participate.

Contest Criteria:

  • Must use current Toastmasters International logo.
  • Must include correct Toastmasters International branding standards (i.e. colors, use of logo, fonts, images, design devices, etc.).
  • May use Toastmasters International templates or your own layout.
  • Minimum of two pages; no maximum number of pages.
  • Your club must be in good standing.
  • Maximum of one entry per club.
  • Eligible issue must be dated between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018.
  • Deadline for submission: July 15, 2018.
  • Submit a PDF to: District 83 Newsletter Contest

Results will be announced in the fall. There is a perpetual Club Newsletter of the Year award, a 27″ trophy with the winning club and year engraved on one of the smaller plates. The winning club will take possession of the trophy in the fall of 2018 and will return it to the District 2019 Spring Conference.

If you have any questions, please contact Janice Buffalow, DTM, District 83 Director, 2017-2018; be sure to use the subject line of: District 83 Newsletter Contest.

District 83’s Speakers Bureau Under Development

Are you looking for an opportunity to deliver longer speeches in front of a new audience? Do you want to wiggle your toes in the sea of Professional Speaking without dipping your entire foot? We have a solution for you – the District 83 Speakers Bureau!

The purpose of the District 83 Speakers Bureau is to promote, grow, and market the skills and services of club members within our district. Our mission is to connect speakers with engagements that add value to the communities we serve. Membership to a club within District 83 is required. We value integrity, excellence, accountability, customer service, customer satisfaction, community and member service. Can you fulfill these values? We need you!

Membership to the speakers bureau is by audition and there is a $25 application fee. The audition speech is 18-20 minutes long on any subject that the candidate wishes to present. We expect to have our first run of auditions after the Spring Conference. Candidates will be notified within 3 days of their status in the bureau.

Before we can go public, we need to engage speakers to advertise! Speaking engagements booked through the bureau are complimentary; however, any engagements you book through your contacts with others are not under the Bureau’s control.

The Member Handbook and application are available. We have a date and location scheduled for the auditions in July. Please send a request for all information to the Speakers Bureau mailbox.

Remember, you must be a member of a club in District 83 in order to receive an application. Hurry before it is too late!

If you have any additional questions, please send them to the Speakers Bureau mailbox.

District 83 – Youth Leadership Program

The Youth Leadership Program (YLP) is a workshop consisting of eight one- to two-hour sessions that enable young people under the age of 18 to develop their communication and leadership skills through practical experience.

In the workshop, young people learn valuable communication and leadership skills including but not limited to preparing and giving speeches, giving constructive feedback (Evaluation), giving impromptu talks (Table Topics), understanding and controlling various speech features like their voice, vocabulary, gestures, use of speaking area and more.

The YLP workshops are structured for small group learning and are limited to 25 students. A coordinator who attends each meeting facilitates them. Meetings generally follow a format similar to that of a Toastmasters club meeting, with an announced agenda that includes practice in parliamentary procedure, prepared and impromptu speeches and the selection of presiding officers.

If you want to be an YLP Coordinator or want to know more about the program, please contact District 83 YLP Coordinator.

Why would someone stay in Toastmasters for 15 years?

I never thought I’d be involved for 15 years! I have always had high goals and being a fantastic speaker is one of my top goals in life.

I was so afraid of public speaking, I would drop a class while going for my Bachelor’s, once I found out giving a speech was a requirement. That sounds crazy to me now. What I wouldn’t give to speak to an audience of 500! My record is 250 and I know someday I’ll break 1000.

If you’ve been counting, that’s 2 reasons I’ve stayed. Though I have my DTM, I’m not the best speaker I can be.

Getting over the fear of public speaking is not easy. It is arguably the hardest fear you’ll conqueror in your life. According to Lominger, Presentation Skills have a development difficulty level of “Moderate” (Political Savvy and Conflict Management are examples of “Hardest”), which means it takes years to be proficient. How quickly you get better depends on many variables, about yours skills, your fear level and your dedication to self learning. I set 2 goals for myself:

    1. Speak at every meeting. Grab a role if I can and ask my mentor how to do it (or look it up). In the “old days,” there was a cute booklet called “A Toastmaster Wears Many Hats” that I could quickly skim in the meeting if I role like I wasn’t comfortable yet. I also volunteered to speak in Table Topics, even if I didn’t know what I was going to say. To me, “winning” was not yet what I said and how I did it, it was just getting up in front of everyone and saying something.
    2. Schedule a speech a month. This ensured I kept working on my skillset by giving a speech a month. Side Benefit: I advanced a Communication Track Award level every year. (Yes, that means now I have more CC’s, ACB, ACS and ACG’s than I can count!).I found myself surprised at the other skills I developed without realizing it!

  1. Listening
    – A 360 peer review assessment about 2 years into joining Toastmasters revealed that my top skill was now listening! I was shocked! It took me a few weeks to figure out that it was because of Toastmasters and trying to listen to speeches while at the same time being Timer, Evaluator, etc. that built this skill.

Leadership – A year after that, about 3 years in, I found myself as a manager of first one person, and then, as a result of people moving out of my area after a re-organization, a manager of 9. With no management experience, just my Toastmaster Officer training and my intuition, I lead that team to have the one of the company’s highest Gallup Engagement scores and the Top Supply Department US Engagement Score for 2 sessions in a row! My team and I were famous for a brief time in our careers, doing interviews with real reporters for our company’s, (Mars Wrigley Confectionary) internal home page. I also was nominated by a direct report for the “Make the Difference Award” and made it to the Regional Competition. All this I attribute to Toastmasters. Being an officer and networking with great leaders like Irene and Arnold Card and Paula & Willy Markert at Conferences gave me a foundation for being a Visionary, Motivational Speaker, and the ability to handle conflict.

I started 2 clubs. I co-started “Skylands Community Club” with Jen O’Hagen when BASF left the International Trade Zone. When my job moved over to the “chocolate-side” of the business in Hackettstown, I started a new company club called “Mars Sweet Talkers”. While Skylands disbanded due to a re-organization at the Mount Olive location where the entire leadership team left the business, “Sweet Talkers” still exists with 35-40 people strong. Mars Wrigley Confectionary strongly supports the group, which has been a key to it’s success. It’s given our Leadership Team valuable visibility to President’s and Vice President’s, that still exists today.

Mars Sweet Talkers is currently working on building-out their mentor program. We’re going from assigning everyone a mentor to giving mentors and mentee guidance and gathering feedback to assess areas of opportunities.

Our biggest challenge has been getting volunteers to take on the President’s role. This year, we were able to successfully transition to a new President and we’ve gone a lot stronger because of it! Our fearless leader, Patti Snyder, focuses on attendance while the club benefits from her passions as a Trainer and Education Leader.

I still can’t do “humor”. It alludes me. I won’t give up, even if it takes me another 15 years!

Mary Verrone, DTM
· 2007 Toastmaster of the Year
· 2011 Area Humorous Speech Contest, 2nd Place
· 2011 Area Speech Contest, 2nd Place
· 2012 Area International Speech Contest, 1st Place
· 2012 Area Evaluation Contest, 2nd Place
· 2014 Area Evaluation Contest, 2nd Place
· 2015-2016 District Administrative Manager