It was a big weekend for Crystal Farmer. The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan customer service representative competed at a Toastmasters International District competition in Toledo. She brought home the gold in two categories – a rare accomplishment in Toastmasters.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of 15,400 clubs in 135 countries. Farmer is a member of Blue Cross’ corporate Toastmasters club, Skillmasters, which is part of District 28. District 28 has nearly 100 clubs covering parts of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario.
To get to the district level, Farmer had to win contests at the club, area and divisional levels. She is the first Skillmasters member in history to win at the district level in either category she competed in – Humorous Speech and Table Topics. While Farmer was allowed to prepare her humorous speech, Table Topics is an impromptu speaking competition that requires contestants to speak off the cuff on a topic unknown to them until they’re on stage.
“The beautiful thing about Toastmasters is that it truly pushes us to grow as speakers in every way,” said Farmer. “Toastmasters teaches us to inspire, to make people laugh. It teaches us to improvise, to react with our audience. My club hasn’t just made me a better public speaker – it’s made me a more confident professional.”
When asked how she got into public speaking, Farmer said she’s always been a talker.
“My mother used to describe my brain as I-75, always going and always moving from one state to another,” Farmer recalled with a laugh. “Communication is what connects us. Whether it is telling a story or sharing a thought, it expresses who we are and how we receive the world around us.”
So what does it take to become a Toastmasters champion? Read our interview with Farmer below to learn more about her journey.
We always hear about how public speaking is a common fear for many people. Why do you love it?
I love the opportunity to impact people’s lives. My goal is to say something that will inspire someone to do something great, or make them laugh so hard they forget their troubles. Public speaking enables me to do that on a larger scale.
How did you get involved in Blue Cross’ Toastmasters club?
Some years ago my coworker mentioned Toastmasters International to me. I must admit, I originally thought it had to do with cooking. Once I learned Toastmasters was a public speaking and leadership organization, I was interested but had no idea how to connect with a club. After seeing an email congratulating a coworker on her win in Blue Cross’ Toastmasters club, I decided to reach out and get more information on how to get involved.
What do you like about Toastmasters?
It gives members an opportunity to strengthen skills that are critical to more than our careers. Developing confidence as a speaker and leader has helped me in every aspect of my life. When I joined Toastmasters, I didn’t think I could survive a race, much less win one. The ability to compete in contests internationally is amazing. Toastmasters is so much bigger than any one club – it’s a worldwide network that connects me with more than 300,000 people in 135 countries. Joining Toastmasters was by far one of the best decisions I have ever made.
How has Toastmasters helped you?
The relationships I have forged during my involvement are extremely valuable. I’ve learned how to be an effective communicator and a better leader. The networking opportunities are endless. I’ve only been a Toastmaster for three years, but it’s already helped me in so many ways, and I know I have only begun to scratch the surface.
How do the skills you learn in Toastmasters translate to your job at Blue Cross?
As a customer service representative, I literally talk for a living! Every time that phone beeps and a provider comes on the line, I must use my tone and clarity to display a willingness to help and relate with the caller. I use my problem solving skills to address each issue and find a resolution. I must use the proper word choice to communicate key information, while portraying confidence and reliability.
Even when I’m not on the phone, there are so many opportunities within my department that enable me to use the skills I’ve developed in Toastmasters. Whether it is orchestrating a new project or presenting information to the team during a departmental meeting, Toastmasters has been beneficial in giving me the confidence and skills necessary to represent myself and my department well.
Photo Credit: Bill Ward