Today at Berkeley Lab

Lab Toastmasters Gives Staff a New Voice

Front (l-r): Loida Bartolome-Mingao, Theresa Duque, Emalynn Robinson, LaTonja Wright,  Ibrahim Ozcan. Middle: Yasuhiro Nakajima, Stacy Curry, Carol Valladao, Justina Clarke, Chris Diesch,  Stephen Glade. Back: Tim Miller, Michael Commer, Robert Hosbach, Gayle Tornberg, John Kim.

Front (l-r): Loida Bartolome-Mingao, Theresa Duque, Emalynn Robinson, LaTonja Wright,
Ibrahim Ozcan. Middle: Yasuhiro Nakajima, Stacy Curry, Carol Valladao, Justina Clarke, Chris Diesch,
Stephen Glade. Back: Tim Miller, Michael Commer, Robert Hosbach, Gayle Tornberg, John Kim.

Question: What does Berkeley Lab have in common with Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Disney? Answer: They all sponsor their own Toastmasters clubs, where members gather periodically to improve their public speaking and leadership skills.

The Lab’s “Toast on the Hill” Toastmasters club was chartered in May this year, just a month after Laura Sanders, a principal subcontracts administrator in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Toast on the Hill’s Secretary, recruited interested employees through a survey in Today at Berkeley Lab. The club, which currently has more than 20 members, meets every Thursday at noon in Building 70A.

Although the Toastmasters mission hasn’t changed much over the years, its demographics have. Originally founded in 1905 as a speaking club for men, women now make up a 52% majority of Toastmasters’ more than 300,000 members. Toastmasters has also become more international over the years, with more than 6,000 of its 15,000 clubs located outside the United States. This diversity in gender, language, and culture is anchored by a common goal — to communicate and lead, regardless of one’s background or experience. “Toastmasters is full of great opportunities not just in public speaking, but also in leadership. Members come together to practice and develop their public speaking skills, their meeting and organization skills, and leadership and mentorship skills. These are all things any employee would be interested in doing,” says Tim Miller, an optical engineer for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) project in the Physics Division, and Toast on the Hill President.

Before chartering Toast on the Hill, Sanders first joined Toastmasters three years ago as a member of the Diablo Toastmasters club to improve her ability to speak formally in a meeting or on-the-fly with her boss. After giving just two speeches and attending Toastmasters meetings every week, Sanders’ managers noticed that she had become more confident when giving presentations at work. Sanders believes that her newfound self-assuredness as a public speaker helped her gain more opportunities to grow as a leader and to eventually land a promotion. “I feel more empowered knowing I can stand up in a room and present to anyone. Toastmasters gave me the tools to feel comfortable doing that,” Sanders says.

Ibrahim Ozcan, a dosimetry technical lead in the Radiation Protection Group and the club’s Sergeant-at-Arms, joined Toast on the Hill to overcome his fear of public speaking. In just six months after joining the club, he has already been awarded two blue ribbons for Best Table Topics (an exercise in impromptu speaking) and one for Best Speech. Ozcan, whose first language is Turkish, credits Toast on the Hill for teaching him not only how to present a speech, but also how to leave a good first impression when meeting people in a business or social setting. “Every culture has its own vocal tones and body language. Without the supportive feedback from Toast on the Hill members, I would not have been able to develop a better sense of how my vocal pitch and physical gestures can communicate an intended — or unintended — message,” he says.

For Gabriela Fuentes-Creollo, the Lab’s Animal Facility Manager for the Biosciences Area, Toastmasters provides an ideal forum where members can rehearse a speech before addressing a large audience. As the president of the Northern California Branch (NCB) of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), Fuentes-Creollo was asked to give the closing remarks at the NCB-AALAS’s 35th annual educational symposium. “I was more nervous when I practiced my speech in front of the club. But when I actually gave the closing remarks at the symposium, I wasn’t nervous. In fact, I actually enjoyed it!” she says. Toastmasters in general has helped Fuentes-Creollo become a more confident speaker. “Before Toastmasters, I was afraid to make a mistake, because the grammar and pronunciations of English are very different from Spanish. Toast on the Hill is a very safe environment where you don’t have to worry about people judging you,” she says.

Yasuhiro Nakajima, a researcher in the Physics Division who studies elementary particles called neutrinos, had already heard about the benefits of Toastmasters from a former co-worker. So when Toast on the Hill formed at the Lab, he saw this as an opportunity to improve his presentation skills. Since joining in May, Nakajima, whose native language is Japanese, has become less anxious when presenting during meetings or conferences. “I used to get nervous when I gave presentations because I had no idea how I was being perceived or what I was doing wrong. I’m now less nervous about speaking in public thanks to the constructive feedback from the friendly and supportive members of Toast on the Hill. I would recommend joining a Toastmasters club like Toast on the Hill to anyone wanting to improve his or her communication skills, regardless of your English skills,” he says.

The Toast on the Hill Toastmasters Club meets every Thursday at noon, and is open to all Lab employees. Check the Events Calendar for the meeting location. For more information about the club, see the Toast on the Hill website.

— By Theresa Duque