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Toastmaster: Off the clock with Yvonne Heath


Yvonne Heath, Technology Liaison
Academic Collaborative Technology, Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation


Yvonne has been at the University of Toronto (U of T ) off and on for 23 years.


Yvonne Heath“I teach technology to people who just want to get stuff done, and I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

What do you do off the clock?

I’m a member and past president of SALUT (Speech and Leadership at U of T), the U of T Toastmasters club. SALUT is a diverse group of full-time staff who meet every two weeks at lunchtime to develop our communications skills in a supportive, workshop-like environment.

I love the art of storytelling and I’m an aspiring raconteur. My favourite podcast is The Moth, in which groups of people get together to share anecdotes from their lives (everyone has a few of those stories in their pocket!). I’ve always written stories and once submitted a story to CBC Radio and heard it told on air. I’m currently working on a storytelling blog and a collection of short stories.

How did you first become interested in public speaking?

I’m an introvert by nature, but as much as I cherish my solitude I also enjoy challenging myself to do uncomfortable things. I first heard of Toastmasters in the 1990s after leaping out of my comfort zone and into a commission sales job. The thought of speaking to people for a living made me shudder, but I quickly learned that the best sales people listen much more than they talk.

When ODLC (Organizational Development Learning Centre) announced it was sponsoring a lunchtime Toastmasters club on St. George campus, I saw it as an excellent opportunity to grow as a communicator and writer. SALUT Toastmasters quickly became a safe place where I could step out of my comfort zone and develop my confidence.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned from Toastmasters?

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of administrative staff who could benefit from the education in leadership that Toastmasters offers. I’ve learned about the importance of meeting agendas and how to keep a meeting on track, which is a skill I use in my day-to-day work. I’m able to work on my speaking and leadership projects at my own pace and I gain really valuable feedback that allows me to improve my skills.

Our members are very diverse — from seasoned speakers to terrified novices — and their encouragement creates a supportive and judgment-free environment that has allowed me to learn and become a mentor.

We see more new members joining each year and I’m always astonished at the growth I see in everyone who participates. I’m sure the subtle improvements I hear in their speaking translates to greater leadership in their jobs.

What inspires your continued activities in public speaking?

I love my hometown of Barrie and I always enjoy volunteering in my community. At my first Toastmasters meeting, I was asked why I wanted to join. I was lost for words so I resorted to humor, saying that when I retire I might just go into politics to give back to my community.

Well, I’m retiring from U of T this year, and in October I will be running for a City Council position in the Barrie municipal election. I’m still an introvert, but thanks to Toastmasters I’ve learned how to manage those insecure feelings and I’ve had a lot of practice in writing and delivering speeches. Without that education, I would never have had the moxie to step into municipal politics.

What’s this about a world record…?

I’m also an off-road Jeep enthusiast. My 2003 Jeep TJ was in the world’s longest Jeep parade with over 2,000 participants — it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records, and there are videos on YouTube. Next on my off-road bucket list is Drummond Island, Michigan, which is a 10-hour drive from Toronto. I look forward to finding some new trails closer to home!

Nominated by Andy Torr, special projects officer, Strategic Initiatives, Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation