TOASTED: Will Blakeway receives his Distinguished Toastmaster Award from district director Toni Sharp. Photo supplied

WILL Blakeway has made history, becoming the only member of Whakatane Toastmasters to have achieved Toastmasters International’s top accolade.

Will was recently awarded the Distinguished Toastmaster Award, an achievement reached by just 3 percent of Toastmasters members across the globe.

Known as the DTM, his achievement was celebrated by the club recently, with district director Toni Sharp travelling to Whakatane to make the presentation.

Along with the DTM, Will was also presented with the Triple Crown – a separate award that recognised his achievement of three other major awards all earned within a 12-month period.

Achieving the DTM takes years of commitment and dedication. A combination of earning both advanced communicator and leadership awards. The member must also have held officer positions within the club including at least one year as club president. They must have served as a club sponsor, mentor or coach, as well as being an area director for the organisation for at least a year.

“It was a real honour to receive the award and worth all the work,” says Will.

Will left South Africa 17 years ago and moved to New Zealand following six years in Britain.

He works as a breeding consultant for United States-based genetics company, World-wide Sires New Zealand.

For Will, membership of Toastmasters has been comparatively short, having joined the club just seven years ago.

“A mate and I went along out of curiosity,” he says. “We were working together and our roles involved quite a lot of presenting. We thought it might be helpful, and it certainly was.”

Toastmasters is a non-profit educational organisation that operates worldwide with the purpose of promoting communication and public speaking skills.

Regular meetings are based around organised speeches with each speaker being evaluated by senior members. Another feature of meetings is known as Table Topics, which challenge members to think on their feet, giving impromptu speeches on topics given to them just seconds before taking to the floor.

There are also competitions that run between clubs, districts, nationwide, and internationally. These competitions are optional for members.

“People come to Toastmasters for all sorts of reasons,” Will says. “It could be they’ve just found out they’re going to be a friend’s best man at a wedding next year and they want to be able to give a good speech. Sometimes it’s someone badly lacking in confidence and wanting to do something about it. There are lots of reasons people join. We have all sorts of people, and it really is fun.”

But he says beginning the Toastmaster journey can be intimidating. “I’ve watched people who’ve come along and barely been able to speak. I’ve watched people who felt unable to speak loudly enough for anyone to hear. But I’ve also watched people facing those issues progress over time and eventually become confident senior members of the club. It’s

wonderful to see. Toastmasters clubs are very supportive places.”
Will confesses that, in fact, he still gets nervous himself when about to give a speech, but the important thing, is that it no longer stops him doing it.

By Lorraine Wilson