As a manager at Sandia National Laboratories, David Gardner CC can tell you the details matter, whether it’s lab work, crafting a speech or baking cornbread.

“It has to be fresh, and that’s hard in a contest, said Gardner, whose batch boasts a New Mexico State Fair blue ribbon. “Eating it right after it’s cooked it the most important thing. I put a little more sugar in my recipe than a lot of people. That helps.”

Gardner, a member of Valencia Voices Toastmasters of Los Lunas, was the Area 33 Director last year and is spending this year as Division C Director for Toastmasters District 23.

A native of Southern California, he has also lived in Pennsylvania and Australia. He lived in Melbourne long enough to earn a college degree, but not long enough to pick up any accent. His home club is Valencia Voices.

How did you find out about Toastmasters, and what brought you into that first meeting?
My son has been in Toastmasters for about 10 years now. He took me to my first meeting.

What was it that brought you to your second meeting?
It was the friendliness of the club, and the potential I saw to improve my skills. The friendliness of the club is first for most people, and it certainly was for me.

How are you using your Toastmasters skills outside of the organization?
I use them in my work all of the time. I speak quite a bit, and I would have said I was an adequate speaker before I joined Toastmasters. But I’ve never been that good in an impromptu situation.

I was really pleased I could give an impromptu seven-minute speech at Albuquerque Weekenders (June 17). They were short a speaker and asked if I could speak and speak about being an area director. Most people didn’t realize it was an impromptu speech until I said it later in the meeting. For me to do that, and not have it completely rattle me shows great progress.

I use that in my job as well. The other day, we were in a strategic planning meeting. They offered the opportunity to add to the agenda. I caucused with a few people in the meeting, and asked them, “Do you mind if I get up and propose something?” I got up and proposed a new technical trust area.

I did a competent job. Was there room for improvement? Absolutely. But there was a time when I really would have shied away from that.

What was the light-switch moment where you realized what you did in Toastmasters had a tangible effect on what you did outside of Toastmasters?
That event I described was certainly one. Getting up and saying a few words is one thing; getting up and saying something for five minutes is a different one. There are other events, but that one stands out in my mind.

If you could go back in time and see yourself attending that first meeting, what would you tell yourself?
If I could do it again, I’d join sooner. I’d attended meetings as a guest for quite a few weeks, and looking back there’s no reason I couldn’t have joined after the first meeting. My son was a Toastmaster for years, and I saw the improvement he had made. I could have started speeches earlier.

What would you like to do with this office in the coming year?
I’d like to mentor or coach my area directors, to the extent they are interested in that, and I hope the area as a whole. I’d like to see us improve our mentoring at the club level. I’ve had some contact where mentoring people would have retained club members, or improved their experience.

There’s a lot to absorb in Toastmasters. When you’re dropped into it, and you don’t have somebody to help you in a meaningful way, it can be overwhelming.