For Distinguished Toastmaster and District 23 International Speech Contest winner Jonathan Gardner, Toastmasters has been a serendipitous experience. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. And the right place and right time is coming up quickly when he will represent District 23 in the International Speech contest semi-finals in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada later this month.

Fate led him to membership in both the Valencia Voices in Los Lunas and the Midday Madness Toastmasters in Albuquerque. Jonathan originally joined Toastmasters in the summer of 2009. Shortly thereafter, career opportunities led him to Nebraska, where he quickly found a club. Eventually, he moved back to Albuquerque, where he now works as an assistant District Attorney.

How are you using your Toastmasters skills outside of the organization?

Number One is the ability to be coherent when I start speaking and don’t know where I’m going to finish. This skill is valuable as a DA, responding to judges and other attorneys. Number Two is the evaluation skill set. I really enjoy evaluations. Toastmasters has helped me refine my ability to give feedback. Criticism doesn’t have to be negative. Number Three, having a place to network and visit with people who are not in my profession.

If you could go back in time and see yourself attending that first meeting, what would you tell yourself?

“This organization will be a bigger part of your life than you know right now.”

What prompted you to enter the International Speech contest?

I enjoy competing. I got bit by the bug in Southeast Toasters (in Lincoln, Nebraska.) They had a tradition of club members competing in contests and doing well. Competing gives me a chance to speak in front of groups other than in a club setting. Also, I’m a first-born child, with a strong competitive streak.

How did you choose the topic of your speech?

It comes down to the message I want to share, finding a message I can deliver with enthusiasm.  The speech I’m giving now is VERY – dare I say TOTALLY – different from the speech I gave at the Area contest.  But the change was worth it to deliver a message I want to share and can share with energy and enthusiasm.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the International Speech contest? The most rewarding?

There have been several notable challenges – making the time to visit different clubs to practice the speech, processing feedback from many different people, and deciding how to change the speech to make it better over time.  The rewards?  Speaking in front of so many different groups of people in preparation for the semifinals.  Plus, developing the speeches. Speech contests are the one venue in Toastmasters where you take one speech and refine it, and the process of refining the same speech is giving me great practice in structuring a message in a way to communicate with an audience.