Stefano Cossalter, a member of the Walnut Grove Toastmasters, won the international contest with a speech: A simple toothpick.

A community with eight Toastmasters groups hosted the annual B.C. conference

Jim McGregor has worn many hats through the year, from father and grandfather, to tire salesman and fire chief, and more recently consummate emcee and prolific scribe.

Well the 70-year-old – who can now proudly boast that he’s an official Langley pioneer – recently added another title to his growing list of accomplishments. He was picked to receive the 2019 communication and leadership award from the B.C. Toastmasters organization.

It’s quite the achievement, considering he’s not even a toastmaster himself, explained local member Wendy Leroux.

“I have long admired the Toastmasters and I have seen first-hand how it has changed individuals personal and business lives,” he said, when accepting his award.

“I get asked often to emcee banquets, fundraisers, anniversaries, retirements, or weddings. I like to think it is because of my eloquent voice and charm, but in reality I get asked back because I do it for free,” he added with a chuckle.

“When the event planners are looking at their emcee budget, they say ‘well, Jim is good and he does it for nothing, so let’s get that good for nothing McGregor to be our MC’,” he said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd of almost 200 Toastmasters from southern and central B.C. who recently converged on Langley for a three-day club conference.

Born and raised in Langley, McGregor said he’s lived the past seven decades giving back to his community.

“My philosophy is that you work to shape the community you want to leave for your kids. You can write letters to the editor or yell and protest at council meetings, but in the end it’s doing the work that counts. The rewards are amazing,” he said.

He has a book in his collection entitled Recruiting and Maintaining Volunteers. In a section about volunteer recognition, it talks about plaques, dinners, medals, and watches.

“My rewards have been so much different,” he said. “When the 10-year-old boy you have been coaching has been struggling at the plate and half way through the season he cracks one over the short stop, you’ll remember that grin forever,” McGregor said.

“When you’ve worked all day frying burgers and hotdogs to raise money for an inner city school breakfast program, and then when you put two pancakes on a little girls plate, and with wide eyes she says ‘Are these both for me?’ you feel pretty good.”

He expressed gratitude for this recent recognition, calling it a “special, unexpected honour.”

Another familiar face was also lauded at the banquet, that of Langley toastmaster and Pitt Meadows resident Stefano Cossalter.

He outshone more than 100 contestants in district and local contests to win the district-level competition of the Toastmasters international speech contest.

Cossalter, a member of Walnut Grove Toastmasters in Langley, surpassed what organizers described as “tough competition” to win over the judges with his speech, A simple toothpick.

The speech touched on the themes of courage and choices, involving chicken parmigiana, his mama…and a toothpick.

When it comes to connecting with an audience, he said, “In order to get into your audience’s head, you must first go through the heart.”

After winning during the B.C. conference at Cascades Casino and Coast Hotel in Langley earlier this month, Cossalter will now compete with up to 113 other winners from districts around the world who advance to the 2019 region quarterfinal round.

Their five- to seven-minute speeches are judged on content, organization, gestures and style.

“Toastmasters speech contests are another way to build your confidence, sharpen your skills and speak to many different audiences,” says Cossalter.

“I look forward to competing against the other quarterfinalists and hopefully advancing to the semifinals in Denver.”

Cossalter is a public speaking coach for The Complete Speakers System in Pitt Meadows. He joined Toastmasters to become a better speaker and leader at work and in the community.

The Toastmasters international speech contest began in 1938 and is the world’s largest speech contest, involving 30,000 participants from 143 countries. It culminates with the popular World championship of public speaking held annually at the organization’s international convention.

Since 1924, Toastmasters has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators and leaders.

Toastmasters is a worldwide non-profit educational organization that empowers individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders. Headquartered in Colorado, the organization’s membership exceeds 357,000 in more than 16,600 clubs in 143 countries.

There are eight Toastmasters clubs in the Langley-Cloverdale area.

Two of these clubs specialize in presenting humourous speeches and featured two of their members, Art Dodd and Noel Bentley, during an evening of humour during the convention.

Information about local meeting dates and times may be found at D21toastmasters.org. There’s details on meeting days and times for a few Langley clubs.

Walnut Grove Toastmasters meets Thursday evenings 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Langley Toastmasters – Tuesdays 6:50 to 9 p.m.

Funny Bone Toastmasters – Tuesdays 7 to 9 p.m.

Engaging Humour Toastmasters – 1st Friday of the month 7 p.m.

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Even though he’s not a Toastmaster, Langley’s Jim McGregor was given a special Toastmaster award for his efforts in the community.

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