By Claire Harlin
Mary-Ellen Drummond remembers fondly the time she was evaluated more than 25 years ago for her leadership skills. Working in sales as the only woman at her pharmaceutical company, her bosses asked her to perform a videotaped interview with no preparation or warning — and she said she still cringes remembering how bad it was.
“It was awful to watch,” said the Rancho Santa Fe resident. “My boss complimented me on some things, but suggested I learn a little more about public speaking.”
With that advice, Drummond went almost immediately to a meeting of the Toastmasters public speaking and leadership group in Oceanside, the closest chapter to her at that time. There, she heard a speech by Cavett Robert, who went on to found the National Speakers Association, and she was inspired.
“Oh my gosh, he made speaking look like fun, like he was enjoying himself,” said Drummond. “After seeing him, I said, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
It was only weeks before Drummond began the North Coast Toastmasters in 1980, which grew to its capacity of 40 members in only 17 days. To keep up with the club’s popularity, she also started a Solana Beach Chapter in 1982 and a Del Mar chapter in 1987.
“Normally you have to be a member to start one up, but I lived in Rancho Santa Fe and between La Jolla and Oceanside there was no club in our area,” Drummond said.
The Del Mar club, which meets every Friday morning at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at 334 14th St., has grown to be one of the biggest chapters in San Diego County, said Drummond. At one point about a decade ago, after a woman who had been on the club’s waiting list for months stood up at a meeting and proclaimed, “I want to join this club,” the Del Mar Toastmasters lifted its membership cap and it has been about 70 members strong ever since.
This is one of many stories Drummond will share at the Del Mar club’s 25th anniversary alumni reunion on Dec. 7 at St. Peter’s Church. She will not only celebrate the 25-year milestone with a speech about how the Toastmasters launched her into a public speaking career, but she will also connect past and present members with tales of the club’s history and memorable moments.
For Drummond, getting involved in Toastmasters was life-changing. She became the only person to win three international speaking competitions in the categories of humor and evaluation, the art of listening to an account and summing it up in a speech. After she began getting requests to speak at public engagements, she took the leap of leaving her career in pharmaceutical sales to peruse public speaking and leadership coaching full-time under the business, Polished Professionals International.
“In my first year I did 52 paid public presentations and I thought that was small,” she said, adding that her work included speaking to nonprofits, universities and corporate conventions.
“I got to travel to every state and I had a wonderful time,” she said, “all because I turned my fear of public speaking into excitement.”
Tickets to the reunion, which cost $5-15, are available at www.delmartm.org/reunion.html. The event takes place from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. To find your local Toastmasters chapter, visit the club’s District 5 website at www.d5toastmasters.org. More information on the Del Mar club is available at www.delmartm.org.