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Duncan resident receives Toastmaster International's highest honour

Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was nicknamed the great communicator, both for his eloquence and his folksy anecdotes that ordinary people could understand.

While not as famous as that great communicator, Duncan has one of its own.

World Headquarters of Toastmasters International bestowed its highest honour to Joe Guenette, who's only been with Toastmasters for five years. Guenette is one of only 1,200 people around the world who's earned a Distinguished Toastmasters Award in recognition of outstanding accomplishments in both communication and leadership skills.

"I picked Toastmasters because I love a challenge, but I'm still shaking my head," Guenette said. "I can't believe that after years of reaching for the stars, I've finally caught one."

"What's great about Joe is that he helps everyone of us feel like we are stars," Linda Hill, vice-president of memberships for one of the two local Toastmaster chapters said. "He's a very strong mentor, a very compassionate leader."

"Joe has been an inspiration to me in my career as a Toastmaster. His guidance and commitment to the program are largely responsible for the success our club has achieved with earning six consecutive President's Distinguished Awards," Cowichan 950 Past President Robert Fedorchuk said.

It might not have happened had it not been for a suggestion from his mother in law: and that's no joke.

She's the one who suggested that the semi-retiree, who's currently on disability because of problems with his knees, might benefit by getting out of the house.

Five years have passed since Guenette joined in 2009 and he estimates he's given 70-some speeches since then.

Which one stands out as the hardest?

"I think it was the first one," he said laughing while remembering the speech that required that he talk about himself — a speech that was peppered with lots of ums and ahs.

"I love Toastmasters not just for the excellent programs they have developed to help a person become a better leader and communicator, but also the membership that it attracts."

To reach the special designation, in addition to the speeches, he enrolled in a leadership program, took a number of education sessions, sat on a Toastmasters' board as a district representative, coached and mentored other members and sponsored a new club.

The new club he helped co-sponsor, the Silver Bridge Toastmasters, which started in July 2013, is the second of two local clubs, the other being The Cowichan Toastmasters , which has been around for "56 to 57," years.

His fellow Toastmasters aren't the only one who've noticed a more confident, purposeful man.

"My mother in law says she's seen tremendous growth in me, that's nice to hear."

More importantly, his wife does too.

That type of story is not unique to Guenette. He will never forget a young girl who was giving her third speech. Shaking, hiding behind the lecturn, using lots of ums and ahs, the program has completely transformed her. Today, the same woman speaks without any notes and nary an um nor ah passes her lips.

"People communicate every day, the problem is that they don't listen to what they're saying, or how they're saying it," the public speaking pro said. "If you're not communicating your point correctly, you're not communicating at all."

Well said. But given his experience, what else would you expect?

Toastmaster's International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches communication and leadership skills. In Duncan, there are two Toastmasters clubs that meet weekly at the Duncan Travel Lodge Silver Bridge on the Island Highway: Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. or Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m.

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