Dublin South Toastmasters has reached a big milestone – the 10th Anniversary. This is a special moment for a club which has played such an important role in developing peoples speaking ability, and their overall communication and leadership skills.
Dublin South Toastmasters club prides itself on being a welcoming, vibrant, organised and successful club. The same can be said about our club founder John Kelly DTM. Upon setting up our club, John went on to achieve the highest level of achievement in Toastmasters, when he received his Distinguished Toastmaster Award in 2016.
To mark the occasion, we caught up with John to discuss the club he setup in 2011. We talk about why he joined Toastmasters, his progression to Distinguished Toastmaster and why he decided to setup his own club. We get an insight into what drives John and what it takes to setup a Toastmasters club.
1. When did you attend your first Toastmasters meeting at what did you think of it?
The first Toastmasters I attended were in Greystones Co. Wicklow. I went there to support a friend who seemed to be struggling at work with his presentation skills. He didn’t join but I enjoyed it so much, I joined in 2004. I liked the idea of the support and camaraderie. Back then in the club, there weren’t that many people attending the club meetings, so everyone got to answer a question, or had a role.
2. Why did you join Toastmasters?
While I was a confident young man I wasn’t always confident about speaking in public and I wasn’t too happy with the sound of my own public speaking voice. I remember reading an advertisement in the local newspaper, encouraging people to become members of Greystones Toastmasters club. So as a business owner and at 38, I finally walked through the doors and never looked back.
3. What did you learn?
I learnt that it’s all about the preparation. If you are prepared for your role or presentation, you can speak with confidence on any subject. One of the hardest speeches that I have ever given is a eulogy. As an experienced Toastmaster I still find it difficult to speak when you’re emotional. Back in 1989 when my father died, I was unable to find the courage to speak at his funeral. Since joining toastmasters I have proudly overcome that fear of speaking in public and have delivered three eulogies. Each of them were different. I did one for, my uncle, my father-in-law, and one for my friend Gerry Collins. Gerry was a chartered member of Dublin South Toastmasters.
4. What was the drive to complete Distinguished Toastmaster Award (DTM)?
Looking back, I could have completed a degree or two in the time I completed my Distinguished Toastmaster award. The drive for me was initially to complete my CC (Competent Communicator) manual. Then I moved onto the CL (Competent Leadership) manual which I loved. That was it, I just wanted to achieve my CC and CL awards. Then you get the drive to achieve the next levels in the communication and leadership tracks, which lead me to finally achieving my DTM in 2016.
5. How did you progress to there?
I took on many committee roles, including the Sergeant of Arms (Logistics Manager), Vice President of Membership, Vice President of Education, and then club President of the Greystones Toastmasters Club. From there, it was onto Area Governor (now Area Director). I decided to undertake a Youth Leadership Programme. It was the tougher option but the most rewarding, enjoyable and beneficial to me as a person.
I felt it was my duty to give back to the club and especially to the newer members. You feel obliged and I liked the idea of giving back. For me, it was all about helping people become competent communicators, and more importantly, competent leaders.
6. What is the key to progressing on your path at Toastmasters?
The key is mentorship and friendship. I had at least three mentors at Toastmasters. I didn’t ask them to be my mentor, but I listened to them and asked them questions and so long as I was prepared to listen to them and follow their advise, I found that they were willing to part with their experience, wisdom and knowledge. Paul Cantwell DTM (RIP) was one of my mentors. Paul was a chartered member of Dublin South Toastmasters Club and he was the person who first suggested to me to set up a club in the Sandyford/ Leopardstown area. He had a great way about him and was a huge supporter of our club. I also had two other people from Greystones toastmasters who I regarded as mentors Philip Davenport & Eddie Dunphy DTM. Mentors and mentees eventually become good friends for life. Today I know I could pick up the phone now and ring Eddie or Philip for a bit of advice and they would offer it freely.
7. Why did you setup a Toastmasters club?
If I’m honest, there was an element of ego and also I felt it joined a number of dots for me. One of the goals to becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster was to found a new club.
I also thought, if I have come this far in the toastmasters programme, I may as well keep going. It’s a bit like running a 42 km marathon, no point stopping at 41km. It gradually grew on me and I said, “Why don’t I do it?”.
8. How did you go about setting up a new club?
To setup a club we needed 16 new members and 4 dual members. We ended up having 10 dual members who were willing to give speeches, evaluations, taking on roles as general evaluator and so on. I had the dual members give educational presentations and repeat old speeches. I also invited members from other clubs present their speeches at our club. The program for the first 10 meetings was prepared. When new people like Michael Kenny ACG ALB arrived, he was impressed because he was looking at good people speaking in public and he probably thought, I can do that, I’ll give it a go. When newer members joined, the dual members dropped out of their roles. They still attended which created a positive atmosphere. I arranged financial support from both Dun Laoghaire and Greystones clubs, along with smaller amounts from a number of other clubs and toastmasters. With the money, I purchased all the paraphernalia such as a club chain of office, manuals, pins, trophies and so on. Meetings were started on time by experienced toastmasters and a very professional vibe was created from the get go. Visitors were impressed, stayed and soon became new members, people like Eugene, Stuart and Ruairi. It was a great challenge, and looking back, a great achievement. . Every club has its own unique way of doing things. When I was Area Governor, I took what I felt was good out of clubs such as Bray, Wicklow, Dun Laoghaire and Greystones, the birth of DSTM was born.
9. Was there a lot of work in setting up a club from an administration side?
Yes! You have the pre-chartered stage and the chartered stage.
Before we chartered, I met with Orla Cantwell ACG ALB fellow club Sponsor along John Joyce DTM Valerie Farrell both who were from Dun Laoghaire toastmasters club and who were our club coaches. We were joined by Colin Byford DTM and Paul Cantwell DTM who assisted in planning our very successful club launch which was attended by 100+ people on Tuesday 15th February 2011 in the then Bewleys Hotel Leopardstown. We thought about naming our club Leopardstown & Foxrock Club but decided on Dublin South. Our club was the first of its kind to be launched through the Facebook social media platform.
10. How did the second Toastmasters club come about?
As far as I’m aware, there is no other club in Ireland that has setup a sister club operating in the same town, venue and same night.
By the time Dublin 18 was formed, I had taken a break from toastmasters, as I had simply burned out. The success of our club was so great that it was decided to split into two clubs. Many members couldn’t get a slot for a speech. I felt all of the hard work in creating our club could have been undermined by setting up Dublin 18 on our own door step it creates too much competition for both clubs to grow. My fear was, and still is, that both clubs could have collapsed and they still could.
11. How has Toastmasters impacted your personal and professional life?
The first thing that comes to mind is friends. I have friends today from Toastmasters who I met in 2004. I have met people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Everyone is on the same level and they are only interested in becoming a better speaker and leader and are willing to help others in their journey.
Today I’m very confident speaking in public about Toastmasters or whatever topic I feel I have prepared for. I have developed my listening skills and many other skills as laid out in the competent leadership manual. I have also gained the ability to answer impromptu questions, like in this interview. I’m comfortable, because of Toastmasters
It has also joined a few dots in my life. Becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster had led me to become a Life Coach, study in Human Relations with Dale Carnegie and to publishing my own book, Random Tips for Life.
12. What advice would you have for someone who is thinking about joining Toastmasters?
Attend each meeting, come prepared and have fun. You’re going to make mistakes. As Warren Buffet said on communications “Honing this skill could even increase your worth by 50%”. In our club you are provided with an audience, who will give you positive feedback. If you make a mistake, there will be someone there to say, “I was there too, it’s ok”. It provides you with an opportunity to speak with the support of a safety net. You can’t put a value on that.
That’s the camaraderie and friendship that will stay with you forever.
13. What does the 10-year anniversary mean to you and the club?
It feels amazing because it reinforces the message that it was a good thing to do. To see that the club has achieved The Presidents Distinguished Club award for so many years is a testament to the many members and past committees that have walked through our doors.
Dublin South is not just a successful club because it still exists; it is a high achieving successful club because of its members.
I firmly believe, when you have a good committee, you will have a good club. Toastmasters is as much about leadership as it is about communication. Dublin South Toastmasters has developed good communicators and great leaders over the years and that has been reflected in the ribbons. I still get huge pride when I see those results. When I attend the meetings, I always feel a sense of pride and I always appreciate it when I am warmly recognised and welcomed at each meeting that I have attended.
14. Any last bit of advice for our members?
I would encourage every member of Dublin South Toastmasters to attend another club. Whether it’s on Zoom or attending in person, you will be able to see what they do so you can compare. It will also encourage members from that club to visit your club. Back in 2006, I decided to visit my two sisters who had emmigrated to Toronto Canada. Prior to flying off to meet them, I contacted the VPE in a club in Oakville Toronto, I asked to attend and to present a speech, which was accepted. While I was so excited to see my sisters, but if I am being honest, I was equally excited to present a speech in a club in Toronto. They thought it was an honour that someone from Ireland would bother calling to their club and learned something too, I had gone out of my comfort zone and lived to tell the tale.