Editor’s Note: Recently, Katheryn Blakeman sat down for an interview with Robin Hylton, District 27 Club Growth Director. This is the first in a series of Meet District 27 intended to introduce you to Toastmasters through the experiences of our leaders and members. Email Jay Krasnow with suggestions for future profiles.
In her role as club growth director, Robin Hylton is responsible for all aspects of marketing, club building and member- and club-retention efforts within District 27. She is also serves as president of UPSPTO Toastmasters, which meets at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Robin became a Distinguished Toastmaster in April, the highest honor given to a Toastmaster. To earn the DTM designation, a Toastmaster must complete multiple projects, including many that involve demonstrating leadership in the Toastmasters community. In the interview you will see several editor’s notes, to help readers who are not familiar with Toastmasters understand Toastmasters lingo.
When did you first join Toastmasters and what made you decide to join?
Fresh out of college and working at my first job, a neighbor invited me to a club meeting. I joined because I was the only female engineer in my department, and I thought developing strong presentation skills would help give me an edge over my male counterparts.
You have been a member of Toastmasters for 30 years. What made you stay and finally get your DTM last year?
I enjoy learning. Toastmasters’ membership provides the opportunity to learn new skills, learn from others and more importantly, learn about yourself. Not to mention the extraordinary relationships you develop with club members and others in the organization.
It has taken a long time to complete the requirements for Distinguished Toastmaster. I started in Toastmasters as a single woman, with very little responsibilities. So, time was not a factor, and I completed both my Competent Communicator and Able Toastmaster designations within two and a half years. [Able Toastmaster is a Toastmasters title that was awarded previous to July 1, 2006. Toastmasters continues to award the Competent Communicator designation members to signify their achievement] I moved to the DMV [District-Maryland-Virginia Metro Area] after getting married and joined a new club after realizing we were not moving back to Norfolk at the end of my husband’s deployment.
After having children, I focused more on actively participating in activities and organizations they were involved in such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and PTAs. I probably completed a dozen High Performance Leadership Program projects over the years, but never turned in the paperwork. Mentoring other Toastmasters was also a priority, and very rewarding. Somewhere along the way, I stopped completing the advanced manuals and focused on the leadership track.
Two or three years ago, I finally decided I was tired of not having DTM behind my name. After all, I had been a member of Toastmasters many years. I set the goal, reset it once or twice, and finally decided I was not going to reset it again. Last year I announced to all my club members that I was going to achieve the goal by April 30, 2017. I needed someone else to hold me accountable. The VPEs [Toastmasters club vice-presidents education] did, and scheduled me to speak as often as possible.
Determination and accountability were the reasons I am now a Distinguished Toastmaster.
What have you learned over the past 30 years from Toastmasters?
I’ve learned too much to list here, but I would say the most important thing is to be flexible. I am a planner by nature, and like to know what to expect ahead of time. It does not always work out that way. You have to be flexible enough to still make things happen and to work the new “plan” to the best of your ability.
I’ve also learned to delegate. As a conference chair in District 66 [A Toastmasters district is a subset of Toastmasters. District 66 covers the vast majority of the state of Virginia], I realized quickly that no matter how much time I thought I had and how well I could do things, I could not do it all myself. As they say “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
I know you are in a few clubs, how many clubs to you attend, and how are they different?
I am currently a member of five clubs. Every club is different because of the membership of the club. Thus, I develop new skills and knowledge based on that club culture.
Have you attended clubs to learn from others or something else?
I joined each club for different reasons and for what I could learn from the club members. For instance, Seasoned and Aspiring Leaders Toastmasters focuses on leadership development. The leadership moment portion of the meeting provides great insight from seasoned leaders of various backgrounds. These tips can help others when implemented in different situations.
Do you feel that your public speaking skills have developed since joining the Club? How has it helped you here working at USPTO?
My speaking skills are most effective when I have been consistently presenting speeches at club meetings. When you don’t practice, your skills are not as sharp as they could be.
The table topics portion of the meeting has helped with impromptu speaking, especially during interviews and meetings, providing project updates, framing concerns and questions in a professional manner.
Additionally, I strongly believe my experience as a Toastmaster helped with my career transition from a patent examiner to a special program examiner in International Patent Legal Administration at the USPTO. Special program examiners prepare and deliver training to patent examiners and external stakeholders, such as paralegals.
I am currently on a career development detail as a writer/editor in the Office of the Commissioner for Patents. Because of the writing, editing and speaking skills developed through Toastmasters membership, I believe the interviewers could see that I possess the skill set to perform the job at a high level.
Do you also feel that your leadership skills have developed as well?
Of course, my leadership skills have developed as well. Even if you don’t take on a leadership role, you have to learn leadership skills by watching others. I don’t advocate that as the sole manner to develop leadership skills. The best way is to know your own strengths and weaknesses, find a mentor and/or a role model, watch them, ask questions and apply their best practices to your skill set. Anyone can become a good leader. You have to be willing to learn and do.
How many Toastmaster members have you mentored?
I honestly cannot tell you the number of Toastmasters I have mentored. Some have been formal mentoring relationships via the mentoring program, some have been situational mentoring relationships and others have been informal.
Additionally, I have helped charter new clubs, mentored new clubs, and coached clubs which had less than 20 members to get them back to charter strength.
You were president at the USPTO last year. Have you had other positions in Toastmasters? If so, which one did you like best and why?
I have held every club officer position, except vice president education, numerous times. I have also been an area governor three times, a division governor, District 66 conference chairperson, and District 27 Audit chairperson. [An area governor (now called an area director) oversees and provides guidance to about five clubs in Toastmasters district. A division governor (now called a district director) oversees and provides guidance to about five areas]
As a club officer, vice president membership is the most fun to me. You get to make a connection with guests and help new members get a strong start.
I found being an area governor was the most fun and engaging district office. You have the opportunity to visit other clubs and see what is working well and offer suggestions to strengthen the clubs. Additionally, clubs can come tougher for executive council meetings to share ideas, participate in club exchanges when membership is low or more speaking opportunities are available, and help conduct area speech contests for their members as they advance through the process.
I see you are teaching at the District 27 Toastmasters Leadership Institute sessions. Is there a topic you favor?
I cannot say that I have a preference. However, I think that my skill set allows me to effectively discuss the duties and responsibilities of vice president membership and vice president public relations, as they work in tandem. Building and sustaining club success is another area that I believe I can effectively teach and share ideas.
What will you do next year? Will you keep attending meetings and start with the new Pathways program?
As the District 27 Club Growth Director, I expect to be a very active member of district trio. In that capacity, I and my team look forward to assisting the district, clubs and members to grow.
Now that I have finally achieved my Distinguished Toastmaster designation, I have chosen my first path in Pathways. I expect that the next DTM will not take as long as the first. Additionally, I will complete another Competent Communicator and possibly a Competent Leader manual this Toastmasters year.
Any final thought or advice for new members of the club?
Fully embrace your opportunity to learn and grow. You joined a Toastmasters club for a reason. Don’t let life get in the way.
If improving your speaking and/or leadership skills is important to you, make it a priority and make the time in your schedule to improve. If your mentor relationship is not working out, seek a change.
Check your ego at the door. This is a supportive environment to help members learn and grow. No one person is more or less important than another. The evaluations are meant to help you become better.
Katheryn Blakeman, ACB/CL, who conducted this interview with Robin Hylton is the vice president education for USPTO, which meets in Alexandria, Virginia, on the second and forth Thursdays at Noon; president of the Navy Federal Club, which meets in Vienna, Virginia on the second and forth Saturdays; and area governor for Area 64 in District 27.