Interview with our Club President Gareth Coghlan

By | December 16, 2015


By William Killeen

What does being Club President mean to you?

Obviously, it’s a tremendous honour!

I have a great sense of pride in the club, watching each of the members taking on new roles and developing with every speech they give, both in confidence and skills. Sitting at the top table in every meeting allows me a unique view of the interactions between an audience and our speakers. Great public speakers engage their audience, and it is fascinating to watch our members work towards this goal.

When I joined Dublin South, shortly before the club split that led to the inception of Dublin 18 TM, I didn’t really have any plans to join the committee. I became a member of toastmasters with the singular goal of developing my public speaking skills. However, an opportunity arose before the first meeting of Dublin 18 to step in as Sargent at Arms. Our first President, Colm Roe, called me up to see if I’d step in.  At the time I’d only just completed my Icebreaker and a couple of meeting roles, but as Colm pointed out, it would give me ‘speaking rights’ at every meeting. While I felt a certain amount of pressure opening every meeting, it’s great for building up confidence and a comfort level in front of an audience. Our club is still relatively new, we’re only into our third year, and so much has been achieved in that short time.

How is the club different now compared to when you joined?

As I said before, I originally joined the pre-split Dublin South, which had almost 60 members, out of which about 40 were active.  So it was difficult to get on the agenda.  For example it was about 3 months before I could get in the diary to do my Icebreaker! After the split, our first 6 months were characterised by the ease of getting on the agenda for every meeting.  Being the SAA, it often meant double and the odd time, triple jobbing! We saw very few visitors over those first few months.  So it was largely the same 15 or 16 committed members at each meeting. It was a great time for powering through both the CC and CL manuals!

What is the secret to continued success in attracting new members?

I don’t think there is a secret to attracting members.  You first need to let people know you are there, and explain what you do.  Then when they come to a meeting, they need to be impressed by what they see.  But also prospective new members need to feel comfortable enough so that they can fit in, and try to emulate what established members do.

From the start, we were very lucky to have our website created by past member, Juan Cullen, who understood how to get our site high up on the Google search results for Toastmasters. It was so successful, that I have received phone calls and emails over the past year from numerous people, all around the country and not just Dublin, inquiring about Toastmasters! That gets people in the door, but once they’re in, it’s the atmosphere generated by the members, the fun we have in learning, the encouragement we show to each other. That all helps make guests want to come back and ultimately, join our club.

Typically, what type of members are you attracting recently?

Fortunately, we have a good cross section of the wider society in Dublin represented in the membership. Much of that is down to luck.  We don’t have quotas to influence who joins and who doesn’t. Karen and I had been worried about the gender balance, a year or so ago, where the club was quite male-oriented in the membership. However in the last year more women have joined us than men, so we’ve a better balance today. Is it really important? I think for an improving speaker, it’s vital! The more diverse your audience is in the club, the more varied the feedback you’ll receive. So if you have to make a speech outside the club, you’ll be better prepared to adapt to the type of audience you will face.

What development goals do you have for the club in 2016/2017?

The bar has been set high, in the first two years with regard to the Distinguished Club Program.  In fact we have achieved President’s Distinguished both years. (Toastmasters International sets 10 targets and 9 need to be achieved to receive the President’s Distinguished award). So far we are over half way there.  We need to get 4 members of the committee trained in January/February, 3 more members to get their CC award before the end of June, and 1 to get an Advanced Communicator award.

I’m confident that we will do it again this year. In order to preserve club culture, it’s important that we don’t sacrifice meeting quality, to rush members through their manuals.

What is the mix of advanced speakers compared to more recent joiners in the club?

At the meeting moment, we have about 1/3 of the members at or working on Advanced manuals, 1/3 of the members with 4-9 speeches done and 1/3 in the early stages of their CC manual.

Is this mix of speakers important in creating a club culture?

Yes, for new members it’s great to be surrounded by people who have “been there and done that”.  They get a feel for what they should be aiming for, and to see what is possible. Having multiple advanced speakers in the club makes it easier to role model someone who reflects your own style.

However, it’s not a one-way street! Experienced members get to work on their leadership skills, set an example. By sharing their own experiences, they get to reflect on the basic building blocks of public speaking, which are always needed no matter how advanced a speaker is. Also it’s great to get fresh perspectives and talents coming into the club, we all get to learn from each other.

The mentoring program helps to strengthen this.

Any other goals for 2016/2017?

For me personally, I want to get stuck into the advanced speeches and at least get the ACB award.

However, for the club, I just want to keep it a fun and enjoyable place for us all to learn and succeed!