Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

International president of Toastmasters says organization changes lives around the world

Posted on 20 November 2017 by calvin

Toastmasters changes lives.

Balraj Arunsalam (photo right by Jan Willms), international president of Toastmasters from Sri Lanka, said he has seen the proof of this many times.

In the Twin Cities area to speak at a fall conference in Rochester Nov. 3, Arunsalam said he has seen the impact Toastmasters has not only on its members but their families, communities, and businesses.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.

The first international president from Sri Lanka and also from South Asia, Arunsalam joined Toastmasters in 1989.

“What drew me to Toastmasters is that I wanted to be with a like-minded social group, and I looked at Rotary and Lions,” he said. “But I ended up at Toastmasters.” He said he liked the way they conducted meetings, their evaluation technique, and fellowship.

“The fellowship aspect was fantastic,” Arunsalam said. “There was a good display of food, drink, pastries, iced coffee, and tea….from 1989 until now we have 30 minutes of fellowship before we start the meeting.” He became president of his club in 2002. “And ever since I have been going nonstop.”

The first Toastmasters meeting was held Oct. 22, 1924, in Santa Ana, CA. Ralph Smedley, who was a director of education for the YMCA, wanted to start a group that could assist men in public speaking and leadership. From those beginning fellowships, the organization has grown to 16,500 clubs represented in 142 countries, with more than 352,000 members.

“We had one club in Sri Lanka in 2000, and today we have 128,” Arunsalam said. “There was one club in India in 2001, and today there are 750.” He said the fast growth of clubs is attributed to the needs of the hour, from India to Tanzania to Australia to the USA.

“The need is the same; the need for communication and leadership is universal,” Arunsalam stated. “That is why we are growing year after year, and we have exponential growth when other organizations are struggling to grow.”

Although the average person thinks of Toastmasters as a place to learn to speak in public, Arunsalam said that is not true. “You can also learn to speak in public, but that is only 10 to 15 percent of our program,” he said. “The balance is about you and me and all the skills that we can learn together to improve our quality of life, to improve our skill levels to be better entrepreneurs or business leaders. That is Toastmasters.”

To emphasize this point, Arunsalam talked about the huge difference belonging to Toastmasters has made in his family business. “I have reduced our meetings from running four or five hours to one hour,” he said. “That’s because I now know how to get the same effect in one hour. I prepare myself, and I get my staff prepared before the meeting, and all this is possible because I learned meeting management in Toastmasters. I learned the step by step process to fix an agenda and not get distracted by other items that might waste time at meetings.”

Arunsalam said that many companies and organizations have meetings all the time. “I don’t know when they get the time to do their work or meet people. I am free to meet people because my meetings are short, sweet and crisp but have a huge impact.”

He added that what he has learned from Toastmasters has also resulted in his not losing a single staff member for the last nine years. He said Toastmasters has taught him that people do not work only for money, but for quality of life, self-esteem, skill building, sharing and being able to impart knowledge. “These are all things we do at Toastmasters, and we are working in an environment of family,” he said.

Arunsalam said Toastmasters is probably the only nonprofit that exists within a profit organization. “You can run speech meetings, skill building, courtroom, debate competition and festival meetings,” he said. “But we must not forget our fundamentals. We also have to include our speeches, evaluations, table topics and all those regular things we do.” Building skills to be effective evaluators, according to Arunsalam, is the secret to the club’s existence over the past 93 years. ‘It’s friends helping friends, and it’s learning by doing exercise,” he said.

During his tenure as international president, Arunsalam said two huge projects are planned. The headquarters of Toastmasters, which has been in Santa Ana all these years, will be moving to Denver, CO. And a new program, Pathways, is being launched. This features new online programs to capitalize on technology. “There will be 300 competencies and skill sets to learn from,” Arunsalam said.

He explained that he has seen the impact Toastmasters has had on his children, who he said have been involved since age 4.

They went through youth leadership and speechcraft programs. My daughter was selected to represent Sri Lanka as a youth delegate to the United Nations, and she spoke at the 25th general assembly,” he said. “I have seen many Toastmasters’ children become presidents of organizations, leaders in sports and their communities. The impact of Toastmasters is huge.”

“I can learn to speak in Toastmasters,” Arunsalam continued. “That is one small thing. But you can be a better human being and successful in life with all these skills you can develop in Toastmasters. That’s why we call ourselves an education organization.”

He said Toastmasters can be a lifelong journey, with members currently ranging in age from 18 to 105. “I see people changing in front of my eyes every day,” he noted. “If you use your club to be the best you can be, you have the opportunity to change the world.”

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