Photo: Crystal Berner

Backstage with Crystal Berner, DTM


Competing is all about growth. Notice how I didn’t say that “winning is all about growth.”


As most of us know, Toastmasters is a safe, fun environment to set communication/leadership goals, and of course, see them achieved or even exceeded. When I started in Toastmasters in February 2012, I had no idea how much I would grow as a speaker and as a person. I joined Toastmasters along with my boyfriend at the time (Shawn Purvis) as a fun activity we could do together. Shawn had been in Toastmasters for years and had recently won the District International Speech Contest. His passion and drive for competing was inspiring to me. Somehow, I just knew that Toastmasters was a place for me!

We joined Palm Harbor Toastmasters and quickly acclimated to the “best club in the whole universe” (as one of our members’ likes to say). Somehow, joining a group of professional, goal-setting individuals felt like the right step for me. I didn’t really struggle with public speaking, per-se. Being an Elementary School teacher, I regularly sing with and speak to large groups of 5-11 year olds on a daily basis.

But Toastmasters offered a chance to build a new set of skills: speaking in front of my peers. It has always been a dream of mine to become a professor at a University and teach TEACHERS! Somehow, I knew even in 2012, that Toastmasters would be an important step towards accomplishing that dream.
I went through the CC and CL manuals within the 1st year of membership, but really enjoyed when I started exploring the advanced manuals (with projects that related to real-life speaking opportunities).

Just a few years into my Toastmasters journey, I had a friend from Church mention that she had noticed something changed about me. That I seemed more confident somehow. She later discovered that I was a member of a Toastmasters Club and was immediately convinced that she herself had to join the organization!

I started competing in Table Topics and Evaluation contests fairly early on as well. There is something so exciting about contest season that is hard to describe. A fire is lit deep inside that pushes me outside of anything comfortable and ignites the drive to compete. I enjoy Table Topics and Evaluations; always have. And they seem to come easily to me. Something about NOT preparing your answers ahead of time that is very invigorating.

Where I have grown the most, though, is in competing in Humorous and International Speech contests. Prepared speeches have not ever been my forte. I have absolutely no problem being funny off-the-cuff, but as soon as I have to prepare certain lines to make an audience laugh, I’m lost. When attempting to write an International Speech, I have always struggled with clarity. Having a point or message that is open enough to be relatable, but also specific enough to be memorable. It’s tough for me.
But you know what? I still compete. Competing is all about growth. Starting with what you know and seeing how much you have to learn along the way. Speech contests are a journey, a trek into the unknown. And the destination is not about getting 1st place–it’s about seeing how far you’ve come when you look back at the road you’ve travelled.

I have set so many communication and leadership goals for myself over the last 9 years. Most of the time, I not only meet those goals, but I extend further than I ever thought was possible. And the beauty of Toastmasters? I’m not doing it alone. So many people have helped support me through every step of the way. To those Toastmasters, I am forever grateful.

I am in the process of applying to return to school, again, to pursue my Doctorate of Music Education. I know that so many people who I have met through Toastmasters, have helped me achieve this ultimate goal. One step closer towards teaching TEACHERS. Competing is all about growth. Notice how I didn’t say that “winning is all about growth.”


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