Let’s Talk: Sustainability
A ‘Toast’ to brilliant public speaking

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that provides teaching and education in public speaking and leadership skills. The club’s origins date back to 1924 when Ralph Smedley, a director of education at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) saw the importance of knowing how to speak well in public, conduct meetings effectively and work with committees. He set up a club where they could lean such skills and named it the ‘Toastmasters Club’. Originally a men’s club, the success of the club grew and in 1973 opened to women. Today, it has a global membership of around 280,000 people across 143 countries.

Headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, the club continues to provide training and education in public speaking and leadership among other related educational programs for both adults and high school-students. Adult programming is delivered through both public and company-sponsored clubs—like Toastmasters @ NTT DATA. Youth programming is led by volunteer Toastmasters through “gavel clubs” at area high schools.

In 2020 Toastmasters International and Rotary International, a service organization, teamed up for the benefit of their respective members. Rotarians were afforded communication skills to promote “service above self” and Toastmaster members grew from extended opportunities to serve their communities. Both organizations actively support youth education. Each February, Toastmasters sponsors a Youth Conference that includes classes on public speaking and speech competitions. Each spring, Rotary International sponsors their “4-Way” speech contest on challenging topics that evaluate whether the topic is fair, will it build goodwill, bring better friendships, and be beneficial to all. Winners of the Rotary contests earn cash prizes for college scholarships. Here is how NTT DATA’s - Julia May – helps to support these fantastic organizations.

How did you first get involved and what prompted you to join Toastmasters?

I first joined Toastmasters to widen my network at the office. Our NTT DATA U.S. headquarters are in Plano, which is also a big Rotary supporter. I have always worked with youth; I was a Girl Scout and Boy Scout mum so when the opportunity came up to support youth programming through the Rotary connection, it seemed the perfect opportunity for me to give back to the community.

What’s involved in the Rotary Youth Competition?

All the judges are volunteers. The judging panel is a mix of business professionals, Toastmasters, and Rotary leaders to ensure diversity of opinion and help evaluate the speech in different contexts. Contestants are all high school age (13 – 18 years old). Each contestant prepares a 5–7 minute speech on a current social issue. The judging criteria includes:

In the first round everyone competes. Scores are tallied and the highest-ranking students move on to the second round where a local winner is named. The local winner advances to Regionals with the chance to win scholarship funding.

What I like most about judging is that you are able to coach the kids. Pre-pandemic, not only were the judges’ evaluation forms provided to the students as feedback, but we were all in the same room, and we could talk to the kids to demonstrate techniques to help them hone their skills. During the pandemic, contestants sent in YouTube videos of their speeches, with our evaluations being emailed back.

What topics have been presented and which was the most memorable for you?

Topics have ranged from bullying, depression, social media, family dynamics and gun control. The most uplifting speech I heard was about, “What is the Truth”. The student presented the issue from different points of view using a rhyming scheme throughout. It was humorous—a great way to make a point—and engaging as the text seemed a cross between Dr. Seuss and Rap; there was some brilliant alliteration. The speech that was most impactful was on gun control. The speaker used data relating to Nazi Germany and present-day scenarios to argue the case—they had really done their research.

What do you get from it?

From being a youth speech judge, I love working with kids, hearing all their new ideas. What inspires me with the Rotary 4-Way speeches is their thought process and how seeing kids, who represent our future, are able to connect the dots. In some cases, they are helping me connect the dots! I have a pretty busy schedule. I hear snippets of the news but rarely have time to reflect on it. Intently listening to students and evaluating the content and delivery as separate elements helps me be a more logical thinker—and that actually helps me at work in my role as an editor.

Since the pandemic, I’ve seen a change in how the children present. Before, they seemed stronger and more animated in their views, now I’ve seen a shyness and lowering in confidence. Because of that, I think it’s more important than ever to help young people and prepare them for future leadership roles.

In terms of being a Toastmaster, my membership has helped me grow my network across business functions and technologies from security to networking to apps so when I have a question, now I have someone to ask. Much like an employee resource group (ERG), the club also provides a sense of community, particularly with so many of us working remotely. The educational program, Pathways, has helped me not only learn what and how to say something, but also that not everything needs to be said!

The club also “gives back” to the NTT DATA community. Little known fact, anyone can ask for us to evaluate an upcoming speech. We’ve helped team members with wedding toasts and client presentations. I would encourage everyone to attend a Toastmasters if they can take part.

Julia May

Julia works as an editor on the proposal team reporting to the Chief Revenue Office working on deals of $20 million and up. She began her career in marketing support more than 30 years ago, creating client presentations at EDS. She took some time off to be a mum and then freelanced as an editor for Perot Systems. In 2010 she joined the proposal support team at Dell Services, which was acquired by NTT DATA. Julia is based in Plano, Texas. A long-time supporter of building leadership skills among the young, Julia shares her expertise to promote leadership and youth education.

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