SAVANNAH, Ga. – Much like a sport, mastering communication techniques takes skillful execution predicated on the investment of time, practice and experience.
However, a parcel of passion can elevate those dedicated to their craft.
“I eat, sleep and breathe Toastmasters,” said Renee Atkins, a Corps supervisory management support specialist and Toastmasters International enthusiast.
Atkins’ affection for the nonprofit educational organization, intended to improve communication and leadership skills for approximately 270,000 members internationally, began as a requirement for the Corps’ Bridge to Leadership program she completed in 2004.
More than a decade later, her involvement has evolved from requirement to regard. As First District Director-elect, Atkins will assume District 14’s top seat July 1.
Atkins will manage the daily operations, finances and human resources for more than 2,700 Georgia toastmasters scattered across major cities such as Atlanta (east of Interstate 85), Macon, Augusta, Savannah and Valdosta, she said.
Though Atkins said she shoulders more responsibility, her role as a member endures.
Currently, she commits up to 15 hours per month at four Savannah-area clubs: the Corps’ Castle Club, Savannah’s Advanced Club, Hinesville’s Liberty Speaks Club and Brunswick’s Deep Topics Club. In each, she has exhausted every leadership role, and with each passing year, her passion for the organization swells, she said.
“I try to entice and encourage Corps members to join,” Atkins said. “[Toastmasters] is a valuable program for employees, but they must be willing to sacrifice their time, attend meetings and prepare speeches.”
Assimilating Corps and Toastmasters values has contributed to her skyward trajectory within both ranks, she said.
“I was a legal assistant when I first joined Toastmasters,” she said. “Now as a supervisor, I have to be able to lead and communicate effectively. By volunteering for Toastmasters, it incorporates the supervision, leadership and conflict resolution that I handle with Corps employees.”
However, a demure, relatively inexperienced communicator among a loquacious crowd preceded her tenacious journey to leadership, she said.
Entering a national speech contest as a newly minted Toastmaster in 2004, she was disqualified after botching an evaluation of a fellow contender, she said.
“I froze,” she admitted. “I didn’t follow the instructions and my mind went blank. From that point on, I was determined to enhance my communication skills and Toastmasters has pulled more out of me than I ever imagined.”
Today, she leads a legion of communicators seeking skill-building techniques, educational opportunities, recruitment guidance, and logistics support for conferences held twice every year in Georgia. Simultaneously, she’s working toward her fourth and fifth Distinguished Toastmaster Awards, the highest achievement recognizing superior communication and leadership skills, she said.
Friend and fellow Toastmaster Mabel Ruth, a Corps program analyst and officer at the district’s Castle Club, has worked with Atkins for more than 12 years.
“[Atkins] empowers other Toastmasters and non-Toastmasters to be all they can be,” said Ruth. “She rarely takes no for an answer. If you say no the first time, you can count on her asking again.”
Her persistent cajoling didn’t exclude her family, who initially hesitated at the prospect of membership, but Atkins didn’t accept ‘no’ from them either, she said.
Atkins recruited her husband and two children to the Liberty Speaks club, where her husband serves as sergeant-at-arms, a club officer responsible for the setup, introduction of guest(s), and evaluation of the meeting. Both children have received competent communicator awards, an accomplishment acquired after a Toastmaster has successfully performed 10 introductory speeches, according to Atkins.
As her advocacy and responsibilities grow, Atkins said she hopes to make it more than a family affair.
“I love promoting Toastmasters to others and sharing what it has done for me,” she said. “The opportunities are boundless.”
To explore Toastmasters opportunities at the district, officers welcome visitors to the Castle Club’s Toastmasters meetings every first and third Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. in the General Services Administration Building.