Bob Sunner (left) and Rae Perry are two of the dedicated Toastmasters International members from the Williams Lake chapter. Both say even after many years, they continue to develop skills and learn with the group. (Ruth Lloyd Photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Bob Sunner (left) and Rae Perry are two of the dedicated Toastmasters International members from the Williams Lake chapter. Both say even after many years, they continue to develop skills and learn with the group. (Ruth Lloyd Photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Williams Lake Toastmasters leader looking for new members

Local volunteer hopes empower others after organization ‘changed her life’

Rae Perry used to be shy and unable to speak in public, or even talk to strangers.

But then she competed in the Miss Quesnel pageant when she was 17 years old.

As part of the competition, she received training by Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills.

“It literally changed my life.”

Perry said the handful of sessions during the competition helped prepare her for the speech competition and as she left the stage after giving the speech she thought she would never be able to do, everything changed for her.

“When I finished that speech and I walked backstage and the curtains closed behind me, I just was overcome with this feeling of empowerment and I literally fist-pumped in the air,” recalled Perry. “That one single moment has carried me through so many difficult times.”

“I want other people to experience that.”

The memory has carried her through some difficult times, and as a single mom for 18 years, she said she had to face a number of challenges.

She said without the confidence she gained from the training, she probably wouldn’t have become a teacher.

“I was too afraid to stand up in front of a class of 30 kids and talk.”

But she credits Toastmasters’ training with empowering her to face all of life’s challenges, including moving to Williams Lake, from her hometown of Quesnel.

She looked for a volunteer organization she could support in her new town and picked up the newspaper one day to see an article on Toastmasters having an open house that very night.

She said she quickly ate her dinner and rushed down and attended the meeting and she and five others joined that very night.

“It was awesome,” she said.

But the club she has gained so much from is now experiencing struggles of its own and she is hoping to work to save it.

Prior to COVID, the club had 15 paid members and they were meeting in person, with normally seven or eight people at each meeting.

Due to COVID-19, the group switched to an online format, which Perry said is not the same.

Due to a variety of factors, members have dropped off as some moved and some had children and it has been very challenging to recruit new members without in-person connections.

“We need more bodies, we desperately need more people to join,” said Perry.

During this time Quesnel Toastmasters has been doing a hybrid of in-person and online meetings, so Perry went to see how they made it work and hoped to bring ideas back to Williams Lake.

She said it was so refreshing to be able to connect with people more directly.

However, now that the local group is so small, it would be challenging to justify the work of setting up a space with a microphone until they have more members.

The membership to Toastmasters includes access to their Pathways educational programs, with different focuses. Each one has different levels and projects required to complete a level.

“It’s not an organization you join for six months and go, ‘Okay, I’ve got it.’”

“There’s always more learning to be had,” said Perry, and she describes it as a ‘self-directed learning program.’

Bob Sunner, another longtime member of the local group, said he doesn’t remember how long he has been a member, but still characterizes the program as ‘fun’ and said “it gives you insight into how to communicate effectively, build vocabulary and it infiltrates every aspect of your conversation.”

He said the training is something that a person ends up utilizing without even realizing it and it makes presentations more impactful.

At each meeting, feedback or opportunities for improvements on speaking are provided by other members, but Perry emphasizes it is not framed as criticism.

“It’s one of the most supportive, encouraging programs I’ve been involved in.”

Membership fees of $75 are paid every six months and new members pay an initial membership fee, part of which stays with the local club to support meetings, the larger portion of which goes to the international organization for the courses and programs.

More experienced members often mentor new members to support their learning.

“I’m in it more to help others than I am in it to help myself.”

She fears for the group’s future but hopes to recruit enough new members to justify meeting in person once again.

For more information contact Rae Perry at: williamslaketoastmasters@gmail.com or 250-305-2848.

Read more: Williams Lake Toastmasters Club offering virtual open house June 17

Read more: Williams Lake Toastmasters helps to develop self-confidence



ruth.lloyd@wltribune.com

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