By William Cotter
Interview with Dublin 18’s Past President, Karen O’Donnell on her achievement on winning the award for Toastmaster of the Year 2016 – District 71.
Congratulations Karen on winning this award. How big a deal is this?
This award is presented each year to one Toastmaster who has excelled and gone above and beyond the ‘call of duty’. It is presented by the District Director. Its recognition of the extra effort that one puts in to help a colleague, a club, an area or district.
You have won this award out of over 4,500 fellow Toastmasters, what an outstanding accomplishment. What does it take to win this award?
It requires commitment and time and the willingness to fully immerse yourself in Toastmasters. It also requires putting in that extra effort to make your club, division, area or district stand out that bit more. For example, I brought over the Toastmasters International World Champion, Mohammed Qahtani, to Dublin for our Division M Conference. I also organised the Google Gathering earlier this year which tied in with the visit of Toastmasters International President, Mohammed Murad to Dublin. This event raised the profile of Toastmasters in the corporate world resulting in four new clubs setting up.
This a significant achievement on a personal and club level. What does it mean to you?
I love helping people. I work full time as a life coach and I’m constantly helping people overcome personal and life challenges. During the course of my work I meet with people who discuss their fears and challenges which frequently relate to emotional and relationship issues. I work with them to overcome and conquer their fears and anxiety.
Toastmasters is very similar in that most people have some form of anxiety or fear related to public speaking which tends to be more deeply rooted in emotional issues such as confidence, self-esteem and respect.
How do you balance work, life and Toastmasters?
Being self-employed I throw myself into everything I do and my involvement in Toastmasters is no different to my work and my family. Some weeks I can put in over 30 to 40 hours into Toastmasters because I have to do what is required at club and district level. This time is all voluntary and I love every minute of it. I’m fully immersed and absorbed by Toastmasters and get it all back in a huge amount of satisfaction in seeing fellow Toastmasters blossom into confidence public speakers.
Why do you do what you do?
I joined Toastmasters over 3 years ago because I wanted to overcome my own fears of speaking to groups and large audiences. I also wanted to broaden my circle of friends and learn more from other people in terms of their own challenges and how they overcame them.
I get a huge sense of satisfaction from my involvement with Toastmasters. I enjoy seeing myself grow with each speech I make and role I complete. Most importantly though, I love seeing the light bulb going on in people. People who slowly emerge from their own personal challenges and become more confident human beings, all as a result of Toastmasters and our colleagues.
Who inspires you most?
I love reading and listing to the leading life coaching authors. The two that stand out most for me are Zig Ziglar and Wayne Dyer.
What advice would you give to fellow Toastmasters?
Prepare, prepare, prepare until you come so comfortable standing up in front of an audience. Throw yourself into Toastmasters and speak as often as you can. Keep the gaps between speeches to a minimum. Get out of your comfort zone, always perform a role at each meeting and build positive experiences into your internal chatter. Build a positive collage of speaking experiences to help build your confidence. Enjoy the journey!!
Finally, one book that was most influential?
It has to be Zig Ziglar’s ‘See you at the Top’.