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Mary Young is the outgoing president of Valley Shore Toastmasters and now takes on the role of vice president of education for the group. (Photo courtesy of Mary Young )
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When it comes to her time with the Toastmasters, Mary Young does have one regret—that she didn’t join the group even earlier.
“It’s better late than never, but it would’ve been helpful earlier in my career,” she says.
According to toastmasters.org, there are more than 16,600 clubs worldwide with 357,000 members and “Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs…Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators, and leaders.”
“I always encourage people to get involved sooner than later to get the benefit of it,” Mary says. “It’s a group of people who all share the love of speaking and want to get better. It’s an incredibly supportive, non-judgmental environment where you get friendly feedback.”
Mary went to Wellesley College then MIT for her master’s in finance. Years ago, she attended one of her college reunions and a friend suggested Mary join a local Toastmasters group. It wasn’t until November 2016 that Mary took her friend’s advice.
“A little later in my career when I had a little more time, I just walked into a meeting in Lexington [Massachusetts] and ended up joining a club—Toast of the Sky—in Cambridge,” Mary says. “As soon as I relocated to Connecticut in December 2017, I joined the Valley Shore Toastmasters and continued right with the same progression, not missing a beat.”
While there are clubs in New Haven and Groton, the Valley Shore Toastmasters covers the entire area in between. Because the Valley Shore Toastmasters draws from such a wide area, Mary notes that the club has a diverse population with a variety of careers and locations represented.
Six months after joining the club, Mary was asked to fill the role of president, a position she held from June 2018 to July 1, 2019. As president, she was invited to a leadership training seminar for officers. She also helped to run the meeting along with the club’s toastmaster, who serves as an emcee of the meeting.
“I really enjoyed my time as president and getting comfortable in front of a group of people from a leadership standpoint since, in my career in finance, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to lead a group,” says Mary. “The president sets the stage for the meeting, reads the mission statement, takes questions, and encourages people to fill different roles at the meetings.”
When it comes to roles at a meeting, Mary notes that not only does everyone in attendance provide feedback on fellow members’ speeches, but members are also needed to time speeches, evaluate grammar usage and filler words, and more.
For every meeting, members work on a speech on the topic of their choosing and present their speech to the group. Those listening take notes and provide feedback on how to improve the speech or the presentation of the speech in the future.
During the second part of the meeting, impromptu speaking is practiced through “Table Topics.” Mary compares this type of speech to being able to stand up at a town meeting or give a toast at a party if called upon.
“The group is incredibly diverse and you wouldn’t believe some of the skills they have and things that are presented,” Mary says. “The great thing about it is people speak on a topic they want and a lot of information is conveyed. You then get written feedback on every speech from every person in the room. You get feedback you’ve never thought about—hand gestures, your position in room, your voice dropping—and it really helps you improve pretty quickly.”
When it comes to her own speeches, Mary focuses on areas about which she is passionate: finance and the economy as well as genealogy. Mary spent her career in finance, commercial lending, and investment banking and is now semi-retired, but looking to pursue another area of finance.
Genealogy runs in her family as both of her grandmothers were genealogists. One of her most memorable speeches was called, “Am I an Immigrant?” The speech looked at her family’s history and what makes an immigrant. She concluded that because generations of her family were born in America, predating the formation of the country in 1776, she and her family members are not immigrants.
“My family’s history is this country’s history and when it’s personal, it’s a much more enjoyable way to learn about history,” says Mary. “My ancestors were emigrants, but they didn’t immigrate because there wasn’t a country to immigrate into. I used graphs and maps of New England in 1675 and 1775 and the audience was shocked because they didn’t know the history.”
Because the club is diverse, many different topics are presented during speeches and Mary has enjoyed not only learning about public speaking and leadership, but also the topics her fellow speakers have presented.
Mary is so passionate about her learning through the Valley Shore Toastmasters that she recently took on a new role with the group: the vice president of education. In this position, Mary helps members choose one of the 11 pathways available that will fulfill their needs. Pathways include: dynamic leadership, effective coaching, engaging humor, innovative planning, leadership development, motivational strategies, persuasive influence, presentation master, strategic relationships, team collaboration, and visionary communication.
“As vice president of education, my role is to assist people in progressing in their speechmaking. Toastmasters has a very well-developed educational program that really moves you through the steps toward becoming a better speaker,” says Mary. “Pathways provides online materials and a schedule of speeches that will walk you through the progression to becoming a better speaker. You can pick the path you want to go down depending on type of speaking you want to do.”
The speeches are then presented at the Toastmasters’ meetings, where members provide feedback for improving. Meetings are open to guests and a six-month membership to Toastmasters is $55.
Mary has also met many people through Toastmasters, which has been helpful as she is new to the shoreline area. When she decided to return to Connecticut, she wanted to experience a new part of the state and settled in Clinton.
“I wanted to see what the experience of living on the shoreline was like and I love it,” says Mary, who enjoys traveling. “I’m a sports fan—I play pickle ball and golf and enjoy boating so I’m really making the most of this beautiful area and I’m very glad to be back.”
The Valley Shore Toastmasters meets the first and third Monday of the month at the Madison Senior Center at 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.toastmasters.org.
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