Jon Barr, ACS, ALB, was a magician who needed to make his stage fright disappear. A few years after finding Toastmasters, the focus is on what is appearing — confidence, leadership and opportunity.
Barr, an assistant professor of digital film making at Eastern New Mexico University, has been in Toastmasters for more than two years. While he joined the organization to help him as a magician, the skills and materials have helped the Temple graduate develop leaders at ENMU while playing a significant role in receiving tenure one year ahead of the normal schedule.
The university’s student senate received a presentation by Barr on parliamentary procedure, while students in the Multicultural Affairs Office returned to school for a day-long training session with speaking and leadership lessons from various District 23 Toastmasters members and ENMU faculty.
“Both of those events really combined in helping the students as a service project,” Barr said, “while serving as a way to promote the club.”
Barr served as the Area 65 director for 2016-17, and is aiding the district this year as club extension chair. He belongs to three clubs in District 23, but considers his home club to be Peanut Valley Toastmasters in Portales, New Mexico, which he joined in 2015.
How did you end up in your current field?
“I went back to school when I was in my 30s to get my film degree. Right after I graduated with my undergraduate, I reconnected with my wife, who was at the university in Portales. I wanted to get married and move here. The only film job here was to teach, so I got my MFA and started teaching as soon as I graduated.”
“I’ve always loved movies. I needed to get a college degree so I could get a job, because I was unemployed. All the jobs required a college degree, but I knew it didn’t really matter what you studied to get a job, so I said, “I’ll study film because I love it, then I’ll get a job as a salesman or a manager somewhere.” A couple of years into that degree, I realized I didn’t want to do something else. I wanted to be a filmmaker.”
What’s a movie that, when somebody says they haven’t seen it, shocks you?
“I don’t have that. I didn’t see ‘Citizen Kane’ until I saw it in film school. I’d gone a long time without seeing the classics. I have favorites, but I’m not really a snob about it. Unless, it’s somebody who likes a certain genre. If you said comedy, there are so many subgenres. I love Woody Allen, also Albert Brooks. A comedy that blew my mind was ‘Being John Malkovich.’
How did you first find out about Toastmasters?
“I don’t remember, because I knew about Toastmasters for a long time. In fact, I had a friend years ago, maybe 15 years, who wanted to be a motivational speaker. I’ve recommended several people to join Toastmasters before I ever joined myself. I’d always wanted to join, but never found it convenient, or I wasn’t motivated enough to do it.”
What got you to that first meeting?
“When I was in Portales, I got involved in magic as a hobby. I was a magician as a teenager, but stopped. When I got back into it several years ago, I started practicing and I had opportunities to perform. But I had terrible stage fright. I wanted to overcome that. I figured Toastmasters would help me with that. I found the club in Portales. It was around New Years Day, and I called Donna (Labatt at Peanut Valley Toastmasters), kind of as my resolution. I went to the first meeting, and I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. I was really worried it would be negative, but it was so positive and everybody was having so much fun. I was impressed with how everyone spoke and how confident everybody was in Toastmasters. I thought, ‘I want to be like those people.’ I wanted to be like Drake (Davidson), and Donna, and Leticia (Zarate). That’s why I joined.”
Was there a light-switch moment where you saw the things you were doing in Toastmasters had a tangible effect outside of Toastmasters?
“I’m constantly sensing that in terms of performing and teaching. When I’m in front of a class, I’m constantly aware of my improving ability. What’s more than that are the leadership opportunities, specifically being an area director, expanded my experience and perception of Toastmasters. It went from just being in my club to how the district works together. When you first join Toastmasters, there’s so much stuff outside the club that becomes abstract.
Being an area director really demystified it. Also, I met really great people, being mentored by Tracy (Thomason) and Cliff (Colvin). Being a kind of a mentor myself for Cletis Tatum and Gary Johnson in What Would Jesus Say Toastmasters. I shouldn’t name specific people, because you always leave someone out, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of really cool people.
Talk about your position with the district this year, mindful that the position isn’t a traditional one within the district.
“Right. It’s an optional role, which is club extension chair. The position helps the club growth director to identify prospects for new clubs and get the new clubs started. It’s primarily assisting the club growth director, who has the big vision for what will happen. The club extension chair helps to implement that.”
What goals do you have for the current Toastmasters year?
“My goal is for the district to be president’s distinguished. For us to get president’s distinguished, we need to grow about 12 clubs and not lose any. That’s our numbers goal, but last year our area was distinguished. I want to make sure all of the clubs in the area are distinguished. So the goal is to have great meetings and grow. Personally, I’m hoping to be DTM this year, and I’m pretty close to that.”