Meet Fall Recognition Event Keynote Speaker, Stefano McGhee

This Saturday District 83 will be recognizing all members that earned an educational or leadership award from July- September 2019. In addition to awarding members and clubs that achieved these incredible accomplishments we will have Stefano McGhee, Regional 9 International Director as our Keynote Speaker.

Stefano McGhee has been a member of Toastmasters since 2005.  In 2005, Stefano’s wife insisted that he attend a membership night at her local club, Network Voice Toastmasters.  While he would have preferred to stay at home, he finally gave in to his wife and attended the meeting and has been a member of Toastmasters ever since.  In the Fall of 2011, he earned the Distinguished Toastmaster award along with his wife.  The Distinguished Toastmaster Award is the highest award in Toastmasters, awarded for successful completion of many leadership and speaking projects. Stefano is a two-time District Governor/Director of District 31 Toastmasters and is one of only two people in the District to hold the role twice.  Stefano was also elected to serve on the organization’s Board of Directors in 2019 and is developing strategy for the organization’s future. Stefano works in Information Technology and also recently retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Rhode Island Air National Guard.

Toastmasters has helped him achieve many of the great things he enjoys in his professional and military careers.  He enjoys, motorcycling, boating and flying every day he can.

I got the chance to speak with Stefano to learn a little more about him and his experience with Toastmasters:

JB: How did you hear about Toastmasters? 

SM: My wife had been a member for five years and her club was having guest nights every few months and she repeatedly insisted that I attend.


JB: Why did you end up joining the club?

SM: I enjoyed the people, the environment, helping others and refining my own skills.


JB: What has been the greatest takeaway being a Toastmasters member?

SM: The organization is so much more than giving speeches in your club. You gain an expanded network of acquaintances around the world. Toastmasters taught me that helping others make me feel good about what I do.


JB: If you could go back to your icebreaker speech and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

SM: Don’t change a thing 🙂


JB: How has your experience been as Regional 9 International Director?

SM: There is a lot to get acquainted with in how the Board and World Headquarters interoperate. It also has provided me with a new opportunity to help our membership understand the foundations of our organization. It also is a great role where I have the opportunity to inspire them to help all of our members achieve what they came for in the organization.

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Meet the Winner of the District 83 Banner Design Contest, Luis Leiva

Luis Leiva, District 83’s 2019 banner design                                             winner

Prior to the 2019 Toastmasters International Convention, the members of District 83 got to work designing a banner that would be entered in a contest. The grand prize? Your work featured in the Parade of Distinguished Districts at the 2019 International Convention, $50 in TI bucks, and recognition across District 83. You can’t forget bragging rights.

If you’re new to Toastmasters or didn’t catch the contest this time around, you can read more about it in our previous blog post. Taking home a win is Speakability Club member, Luis Leiva. District 83 Public Relations Manager, Jenna Barone, recently interviewed Luis so we can learn more about the creative mind behind the winning banner design. 

Luis Leiva’s winning banner design.

JB: What club are you in and for how long? 

LL: I belong to the Speakability Club out of Scotch Plains. I first attended Toastmasters Dec 19th 2018 

JB: Why did you join toastmasters? 

LL: I joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills. I aspire to be a keynote speaker and travel the world helping others and changing lives. I know if I want to get there I have to surround myself with people who are like minded and take speaking / presenting seriously. I researched on Youtube, “How to become a better speaker” and Toastmasters kept coming up, I then looked for a local chapter and found Speakability. I am grateful that there is an organization that helps people come together to improve not only speaking skills but communication in general. 

JB: What inspired your design? 

LL: To be honest with you, when I opened the email I saw that the designs were due the next day, I had 30 mins to kill before my next appointment so I decided to through my design in. My design came as a result of having to always create artwork for my company “Culture Estate”. As an entrepreneur you have to wear many hats and graphic designer has to be one of them if you want your vision to become a reality. I like simple and clean so the design had to reflect that. 

JB: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now, and how will Toastmasters play a role toward that end? 

LL: Like I mentioned, one of my goals is to take my public speaking to the highest level. I will be a sought after keynote speaker who travels to all parts of the world to help people get out of mediocrity and start living the life they want. I was recently asked why I go to Toastmasters if I am already a good speaker. My response is that I will always be a member because there are always people you can learn from and If you think you’re too good to learn then that’s when you stop growing. 

JB: What do you value most? 

LL: I value the organization and structure that Toastmaster offers. I would compare it to trying to learn music on your own or actually learning from a composer the notes, tempo and rhythm. It is a fast track to learning how to give an effective speech, lead, motivate, and communicate with others. I deeply value the science, and nuances behind speaking which help create a talk that can move the audience. 

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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.

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District 83 2019 Banner Design Contest

As the 2018-2019 Toastmasters year comes to a close, District 83 is excited to celebrate another year of being an international Distinguished District. With the International Convention next month in Denver, it is important to think of ways to stand out while we network with Toastmasters from around the world and get the 2019-2020 year off to a strong start. What better way to showcase your creativity (and earn some incredible prizes) than to enter the international banner design contest? Here are the details:

  • The contest is open to members in good standing, though certain district leaders are not eligible to enter (District Director, Program Quality Director, Club Growth Director, and Public Relations Manager). The winning design will be presented on a 4 ft by 8 ft banner that will be carried on stage by the District 83 team at the international convention on August 22nd during the Parade of Distinguished Districts.
  • The design MUST include the Toastmasters logo as well as the words “District 83 Toastmasters-Distinguished District” with the 2018-2019 District 83 theme in mind: ProACTIVE EmPOWERment. Not a graphic artist? Team up with a talented friend and split the award and recognition that comes with it.

Besides the international recognition your design will give you, you will be featured in the District 83 newsletter and blog for your incredible work. Have you had your eye on an item in the Toastmasters International shop like that portable banner stand or Toastmasters branded tablecloth for a polished and professional look for all of your club’s future meetings? The winning design will be awarded a $50 gift certificate to go toward any item(s) of your choice in the shop.

With the convention fast approaching, we encourage you to use the designs from past years, displayed below, to help you get started. You’ll want to have your design submitted to Jenna Barone, Public Relations Manager ( and Margarita Estrada, Immediate Past Public Relations Manager ( before or by Sunday, July 21, 2019 to enter the contest.

We look forward to seeing some creative designs and cannot wait to proudly showcase District 83 in style at the international convention.

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Jenna Barone, District 83 PRM for 2019-2020 Toastmasters Year

Meet District 83’s new PRM for the 2019-2020 Toastmasters year, Jenna Barone! We are excited to have her serving in district leadership this year and are delighted to benefit from her marketing expertise. Outgoing PRM for the 2018-2019 year, Margarita Estrada, DTM, interviewed Jenna so members of District 83 can learn more about her.

Club and how long you have been a TM?
I have been a member of the Clifton Chapter since March 2018

What made you decide to become a Toastmaster?
I was attending a Tony Robbins seminar back in December 2017 and I saw someone wearing a pin that said “Ask me about Toastmasters”
I ended up chickening out and never asked but 2 months later my friend texted me asking if i wanted to attend a Toastmasters meeting. I knew right then that the universe wanted me to check it out.

I attended my first meeting in February 2018 and instantly fell in love with how friendly, and supportive the members were. I knew it was a safe place to learn and develop myself into a better speaker and leader.

What have you skills have you gained?
I definitely feel more confident. I have found myself initiating conversations with strangers and taking on any speaking opportunity at work. I also take more risks. I challenge myself to leave my comfort zone in all different areas of my life.

What surprised you?
What surprised me the most is that I expected this club to only help me develop professionally but it has also become my happy place. No matter how i am feeling before a meeting, I always leave feeling empowered and inspired. The members genuinely want everyone to succeed and it gives me a sense of fulfillment and purpose.

Who is your mentor in your club, and why?
When I joined, my mentor was Daniel Carhuayo who is our chapter’s treasurer. He was assigned to me and was very supportive as I journeyed through the program as a new member.

He would give me feedback, encourage me to take on roles, and explain anything and everything to me. It gave me a great understanding for why our club runs the way it does and added value to each meeting for me.

How do you feel about becoming the next PRM?
While I have big shoes to fill, I am excited to use my marketing experience and understanding for the ever-changing social platforms to grow the District’s profiles.

I look forward to continue providing our District’s followers with useful information adding my own creative twist.

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Additional Opportunities Beyond Your Club

Toastmasters often look for additional speaking and leadership opportunities outside of their club in order to complete an educational award in either the traditional or the Pathways program.

A few of our District leaders shared their ideas and inspiration.

Janette Alexander, DTM advised, “We’re starting an advanced club in Randolph, NJ. We need speakers. We meet the first and third Tuesday of the month from 6:30- 8pm. Because we are not chartered yet, you would give the credit for speeches completed to your home club. If you are looking for places, we have a place for you.”

Michelle Tropper, DTM shared, “Consider training events for the educational modules in the Traditional program. They are required. That’s a great venue for that.”

She continued, “Come to the Hail and Farewell event on July 27 at Maggiano’s Little Italy in Bridgewater, NJ. It takes place from 11 am-3pm. Consider presenting a toast or a roast and get speech credit.

This is a great opportunity that many people don’t even think about.”

Consider the Special Occasion Speeches manual in the traditional education program or one of the speeches in the Pathways Level 3 project, “Deliver Social Speeches.” Always think, “Is this an event where I can present? You’re going there anyway. Why not make it worth your while? Make yourself part of the program.”

Michelle also recommends, for Area and Division contests, call around to clubs near you or have the leaders send you an email. Speakers and role holders are always needed.

Always be ready, have a speech in your pocket and have your evaluation forms from your traditional manual or Pathways resources with you. Sketch out a game plan.

Other opportunities include speaking if you are conducting a presentation for work or a community organization. Some of these could include Girl Scouts, the Rotary, the Junior League. Have another Toastmaster attend, provide an evaluation for you and you can get speech credit.

Work seminars could also be an opportunity, so look at the criteria for speeches for discussion leader and seminars projects. Again, get an evaluation from a Toastmaster in attendance.

Once you make Toastmasters part of what you do, you are always thinking of leveraging opportunities.

Create a website or a blog post.

Some people go to networking events all the time. You’re going anyway. Family events. You’re engaging in every day. It’s a matter of being mindful of what you’re doing day to day. Michelle continues, “The longer you are a Toastmaster, the less you think about it. Develop the skills for communication and conversation. That’s what I think is exciting about Pathways.”

Subhash Harmalker, DTM, has extensive experience helping at Area and Division contests. “It is a great opportunity for networking. You’re also providing service, which is very satisfying. Providing goodwill can help you boost confidence and morale. When you venture outside your comfort zone, you learn. Compete in a contest. Learn from observing others.”

Whether you are beginning your Toastmasters journey in Pathways or are finishing up a DTM in the traditional program, these leaders have suggested excellent examples for us to explore Toastmasters opportunities outside of our club.

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Meet the District 83 Evaluation Contest Winner, Paul Ireifej

After three rounds of competition at club, area, and division contests, nine contestants from across District 83 gathered at the APA Hotel in Woodbridge, New Jersey on May 5, 2019 for the District 83 Evaluation Contest during the conference, Transforming the World with Words.

Evaluations are one of the most important parts of Toastmasters in that members get  feedback on performance, then incorporate those suggestions to improve future speeches. As test speaker, Mary Ann Grady, took the stage that morning, the nine contestants took meticulous notes to deliver their feedback to her. Hopefully, their feedback would be the most acute, insightful, and helpful to the speaker.

It was a tough competition! Paul Ireifeg, DTM of AT&T Toastmasters, took home the win.

Aida Murphy, DTM and Division F Director, interviewed Paul about how he got his start in Toastmasters and how he prepared to give one of his most important evaluations to date.

Why did you join Toastmasters?

I was forced (or maybe strongly encouraged?) to join Toastmasters by my hiring manager (my very first boss with AT&T). I stuttered a lot with simple 1-on-1 conversations at work and it was difficult to get through my 1-on-1 meetings with my boss. I went to a demo meeting in Florham Park (which led to the creation of the Shannon Toastmasters Club, now deprecated). I very reluctantly joined just to tell my manager I did so. I was terrified every Wednesday afternoon when it was time for a meeting.

What have you gained?

It’s difficult to articulate what I’ve gained with Toastmasters. I actually gave a 20 minute speech on this topic for the D83 Speaker’s Bureau. I’ve had a stutter ever since I was small. I had many speech therapists tell me I had a severe problem. At one point I was equipped with a small device in my ear that provided delayed audio feedback (to mimic someone else talking at the same time) to help with my speech. I no longer need a device or therapy, just Toastmasters (which is much cheaper!). Through contests, mentoring and District leadership positions, I gained more confidence that I ever thought possible. I also gained many very good friends who I share side hobbies with (like running, computer hacking, stand-up comedy and improv).

What made you decide to compete for the Evaluation Contest?

I put zero thought into the decision. I was actually just competing in the International Speech Contest at my home club. I participated in the Evaluation Contest just because I don’t have to prepare anything! I ended up placing 2nd in the speech contest and 1rst in the evaluation contest. I didn’t feel pressure as I climbed higher & higher because you don’t really need to prepare anything concrete.

How did you prepare for the Evaluation contest?

My home club, AT&T Middletown Toastmasters, was kind enough to let me give an evaluation each week!!! I practiced a lot, even outside of the club. I was once driving with a friend and asked her to give a 3 minute speech. She did (timed herself) and then I gave her a quick verbal evaluation. It was probably more stressful than the District contest. I also watched YouTube videos: both general training and real evaluations at past District contests.

Now that you have won the District Title, how do you feel?

I started writing my Tall Tales speech for the Fall contest. I want to keep competing and win other contests.

How has this experience changed you?

I feel much more comfortable giving feedback. I learned that my feedback actually has some merit and is helpful to people.

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Meet the District 83 International Speech Contest Winner, Oscar Ocasio

After three rounds of competition at club, area, and division contests on top of hours of rehearsal, nine contestants across District 83 gathered at the APA Hotel in Woodbridge, New Jersey on May 4, 2019 for the District 83 International Speech Contest. This contest served as a crucial stepping stone for these speakers in that the winner would proceed to the next round of competition before going on to compete at the international contest held in Denver, CO in August.

Taking home the win for the day was Oscar Ocasio with his speech entitled “Letters.” District 83 Public Relations Manager, Margarita Estrada, DTM, recently interviewed Oscar about his Toastmasters experience, and, more importantly, the inspiration behind his speech.

Why did you join Toastmasters?

Besides the required basic speech course, I took an advanced speech class in college. My professor told me that I should join a Toastmasters club because he thought I would enjoy it as much as I enjoyed his class. I kept it in the back of my mind until 2011, when I joined Toastmasters of Westfield. I joined because I wanted to learn the techniques to become an outstanding speaker.

What have you gained?

Great, supportive friends; improved leadership skills; improved writing skills; the desire to help others; and the ability to apply, with confidence, all of the speaking skills I have learned so far.

You have won several Humorous Speech titles, what made you decide to compete for the International Speech title?

I enjoy the entertaining aspect of public speaking.  It helps me connect with the audience and it helps the audience retain my message.  I didn’t want to compete this year, but Amrita Gosh, who was Club Contest Chair, punched, kicked and bit me into competing.  She’s a tough lady! I wasn’t prepared to compete, and I wanted to compete next year. But, you have to take it when it comes.  So, I did. My favorite quote is: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get.”

How long did it take you to craft your speech?

I couldn’t come up with a speech.  The morning of the Club contest I didn’t have a speech.  Amrita asked me for the title of my speech, and I told her I didn’t even know what to speak about, much less have a title.  Then, I thought about what challenges I have had, and how I could piece them together. All of the challenges had a letter related to them. Within 5 minutes of Amrita’s text, I texted her again with the title, Letters. The letters serve to shed light on the challenge, and as the transitions for the speech. With the input of many of my Toastmaster friends I was able to improve the speech after each level of competition. It was a process to get it the content and delivery at the necessary level to compete at the District and beyond.

Now that you have won the District Title for international speech, how do you feel?

It feels good to have met that goal. However, like I say in my speech, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

This year there was added pressure at the District level because the Region contest was added, which is being held using the video recordings of the 6 District winners within each Region. Therefore, the delivery at the District had to be good enough to win both contests. I was told by friends and family who saw the Division and District contests that my delivery at the District level showed great improvement.  The fact that it improved makes me feel even better about winning District, because it means I have a good chance of winning the Regional, and earn the opportunity to compete at the semi-finals and finals in Colorado.

How has this experience changed you?

It has made me reach out to others for help.  It allowed me to recognize that no one does it alone, and that if you allow others to help you, you will be that more richer for using their experience and know-how.  I also learned how fortunate I am to have friends that sincerely want to help me achieve my goals. No matter what happens next on this journey, I’m already richer because of those friends and what they gave me.

Any advice for future contestants?

When you sit down to write, write for your audience.   What will you say that will motivate, inspire or move them?  Think outside the box. Take risks. Look to others for help and guidance. And, like I shared in my speech, have balance to enjoy the journey as much as the rewards.


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Opportunities Beyond Your Club

Whether you are pursuing a traditional or a Pathways DTM award, there are several opportunities for learning about speaking and leadership beyond your club environment. The fun and excitement is extended beyond your manuals and Pathways resources.

Visit other clubs

Talk to members of the other club and learn new ways of conducting a meeting. Explore a community club if you are a member of a corporate club. Check out an advanced club if you are interested in taking your skills to the next level and seek comprehensive feedback.

District-sponsored education and training sessions

Attend club officer training to not only learn about your role, but also to meet your counterparts in other clubs. Sometimes, general education sessions are presented in addition to the officer breakout sessions.

Pathways training sessions are another great opportunity to get your questions answered and share best practices as we navigate this exciting educational experience and learn together. These could take place as standalone sessions or after a District gathering.

Area and Division contests

At the Evaluation contests, the Contest Chairs seek out model (also known as test) speakers from other locations so the contestants experience new ideas from someone who might be unfamiliar to them.

As a model speaker, you can present your speech to an audience in another area or division and ask an audience member for a written evaluation as long as the duties as a contest official do not pose a conflict of interest. Bring your manual or Pathways resource with you. Take notes from the speech evaluators and consider implementing their suggestions in your future speeches.

District Annual Conferences

Join fellow Toastmasters at the District Annual Conference, May 3-5, 2019 at the APA Hotel in Woodbridge, NJ. Register for the conference here. Learn new ideas at educational workshops. Network with other Toastmasters. Become inspired and entertained at the International speech and Humorous speech contests. Hone your speech evaluation and Table Topics skills observing the best in the District compete.

Conference logo design by Su Brooks.

Blog contributed by Su Brooks, DTM 2                                                              District 83 Training Coordinator and Social Media Strategist

Su has been a Toastmaster since July 2000 and has earned two DTM awards in the Traditional program. In Pathways, she is working on three paths: Leadership Development, Presentation Mastery, and Engaging Humor. In addition, she recently began the Pathways Mentoring Program.

For 2018-2019, she serves as the Sergeant at Arms for Talk of Monmouth, an advanced club in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, and as the District Training Coordinator and a Social Media Strategist.

She is a member of No Limits Toastmasters in Staten Island, New York, where she serves as the audio technician on the production crew for Toastmasters in the Community, a cable TV show.

For 2019-2020, Su will take on the role of Destination DTM Chair for District 83.

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Planning and scheduling your speeches and leadership roles

Whether pursuing a traditional or a Pathways DTM, you will need to complete several speeches and perform many leadership roles in order to attain your goal. You have a variety of opportunities available.

I discussed this topic with Bill Atkins, DTM, a member of Red Bank Toastmasters, Talk of Monmouth (an advanced club) and the soon-to-be-chartered Holmdel Toastmasters club. Here are some of the ideas we talked about when I mentored Bill while he was completing his DTM.

Photo credit: Anne Gilson, DTM, PDG, RA

Your club(s)

Sign up on your own on the club’s website (if your club uses this method) but be respectful that other members want speaking spots, too. Let your VPE and mentor know about your goal.

Other clubs

Visit other clubs that may have speaking spots and support roles available if they have fewer members in their club and struggle to fill roles.

Join another club

Consider joining an additional club if your schedule and budget will allow it. For example, if you are a member of a corporate club, consider a community club, an advanced club or a specialty club.

The importance of planning

Bill shared some advice that helped him complete his DTM sooner than he thought possible. He stated, “One of the most important things I learned from Su is to have a Toastmasters calendar to plan the requirements and speaking opportunities. Planning, then writing down what and where I would be completing projects and speeches, helped me advance to the next level more quickly.”

Photo provided by Bill Atkins, DTM

Outside of Toastmasters

With permission of your club VPE, you can present speeches at work or in the community. Receive speech credit when you meet the project requirements and have a Toastmaster present as your speech evaluator. Consult your traditional manuals or Pathways project resources for complete details.

Bill continued, “Because of my Toastmasters experience, I have been able to speak at many other opportunities outside of Toastmasters. These include speaking to an audience of over 400 people for two hours at a conference in Washington, DC, many local business organizations, as well as conducting training at businesses such as car dealerships, real estate firms and corporations.”

“I will be completing my first full path, Presentation Mastery, while also working on the Effective Coaching path. I am using the same calendar planning strategy I learned from Su, my DTM mentor,” Bill concluded.


Blog contributed by Su Brooks, DTM 2                                                              District 83 Training Coordinator and Social Media Strategist

Su has been a Toastmaster since July 2000 and has earned two DTM awards in the Traditional program. In Pathways, she is working on three paths: Leadership Development, Presentation Mastery, and Engaging Humor. In addition, she recently began the Pathways Mentoring Program.

For 2018-2019, she serves as the Sergeant at Arms for Talk of Monmouth, an advanced club in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, and as the District Training Coordinator and a Social Media Strategist.

She is a member of No Limits Toastmasters in Staten Island, New York, where she serves as the audio technician on the production crew for Toastmasters in the Community, a cable TV show.

For 2019-2020, Su will take on the role of Destination DTM Chair for District 83.

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