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What are you waiting for? Get re-certification points by submitting a Quality Article. I only need 500 words, no more than 1,000, please.

Tell us a little about your personal journey in the quality field, or share your opinion on a quality initiative. How about your experience using a quality tool?

I am happy to help you polish what you write.
You will be surprised how little effort it takes.
Just send your draft and a picture of yourself to adelacrandell@me.com.

I’ll take it from there.

Now isn’t that easy?

Easy as taking  S’mores from a baby.

My Quality Journey By Naiyu Sun

 

I started my career as plant metallurgist in the metal casting industry. Just as many other quality professionals, my quality journey actually commenced with reviewing non-conforming products, process variations and variables, and customer complaints. To some degree, it is a bit ironic that many of us began quality journeys with task that involve“lack of quality”. I have to be honest here; I did not know much about quality when I started. In time, I started to learn acronyms such as PFD, FMEA, CP, PPAP, C&E, RCA, CAPA, PDCA, COQ, TOC, and on and on.

A few years ago, I was sitting in one of the quality training classes offered by American Foundry Society. One of the teachers was Ted Schorn, who was VP of Quality and Technology at a large manufacturing firm in Indiana. I was amazed not only by the content of the class but also by Ted’s knowledge on quality history, quality gurus, quality philosophies, and quality anecdotes. So inspired by him, during a class break, I asked Ted for career advice in quality arena. Ted replied, “You should start with the Certified Quality Engineer Handbook and try to get the CQE certification.” A year later, I received my certification. The preparation for the certification helped me put together the “puzzle pieces” of my quality skills and knowledge. Ever since, I have been blessed with opportunities to lead quality initiatives, manage Quality Management Systems, and now head a quality department consisting of ten quality professionals. To this day, I still find new meanings to the classic quality tools, concepts, and philosophies. Looking back, my quality journey can be distilled into the following:

  1. Base quality on data or fact-driven decisions
  2. Rely on a structured process
  3. Involve the team
  4. Cultivate a quality culture

Let me try to elaborate. The first a few years of my career taught me the importance of making informed decisions based on data / fact. Later on, the CQE journey enlightened me about a structured process and prepared me for developing, implementing, and maintaining such a process. However, it was not until the very recent years did I realize that it is not quite enough just being respectful of data and having a structured process. One has to recognize that systems needs to be maintained and continuously improved upon by the team, who are collectively responsible and committed to a common goal for which they hold themselves accountable. For any quality system to be effective in a long run, the quality leader must actively involve the whole team, by which I mean everyone from production floor to middle management all the way to the very top. Since each team member has his or her own priorities, the leader must make sure the quality message is simple, clear, and right to the point. The message needs to be communicated by all means (e.g., via process controls, audits, trainings, meetings, emails, etc.) to all interested parties (e.g., the suppliers, internal teams, the customers, etc.) on regular basis until it becomes the quality culture, or part of the DNA of the company.

So far, it has been a great journey for me.

Naiyu earned his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from University of Alabama at Birmingham. He started his career as a Metallurgist, then served as a Supplier Quality Manager, and currently is a Director of Quality in the manufacturing industry. He has been a CQE from ASQ since June 2015. He is a Senior Member of ASQ. In his spare time, Naiyu enjoys playing soccer with friends, reading, and traveling.

 

 

 

 

 

Make Time to Share Your Awesomeness by Gina Kotz, CSQE (ASQ Section 1212 member)

The scene repeats itself many times over. A person wakes up one day and they go to a job. By the end of the day, they find themselves looking for a new job.

Sound familiar? Although losing a source of income isn’t a laughing matter, isn’t it funny that the expressions are so demeaning? “I lost my job.” (Does it mean it’s misplaced?) “I was downsized.” (Does that mean you lost a few inches in height? And if you were promoted instead, does it mean you were supersized?)

In all seriousness, as saying goes: When a door closes, somewhere a window opens.

Several years ago (twice, in fact), I was part of “reductions in force” from two different telecommunications companies within a three-year period. (Talk about technology / dot com bubbles bursting!)

As the buzz phrase goes…Just like CEOs run (and fail to run) businesses, you, too, should run your career like a (successful!) business. When you are “in search” or “just looking”, it’s time to become your own CEO, CFO, and name whatever C-Suite name you can think of. It’s time to get to work, and Job 1 is to Share Your Awesomeness.

If the last time you looked for a job was 2008 or earlier, then make sure you Share Your Awesomeness is on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other places online. The playing field has changed exponentially since then. Online represents the best free means to share your awesomeness with those you know and with those you haven’t met yet but you’d like to meet.

As an example, if your LinkedIn background image is the default blue “connect the dots” image…Then you most likely need to give your LinkedIn presence some love.

There are many out there who can show you how to create and update your online presence. I help facilitate workshops on Job Search and help people create, enhance, and update their LinkedIn profiles. I also help people pursue their dreams as an accountability coach. Whether your goals are corporate-related or otherwise, it all starts with the decision to say “Yes”.

Whether you are currently employed or “in search”:

Say “Yes” to You and refresh your LinkedIn or other online profiles. There are step-by-step ways to do this. Unearth as many performance evaluations as you can find for your awesome accomplishments that your manager brags to their manager about how great you are. (And there are settings so your updates aren’t annoyingly broadcast to the world that you just fixed a typo or updated your photo, for example.)

Say “Yes” to getting (and giving!) recommendations. If you don’t have at least 3 to 5 on your LinkedIn page, get those. Recommendations (and anything online, really), work for you 24/7. And offer to return the favor if you can recommend your “recommender”, too, about something relevant to them, as well.

As with any loss (if you find yourself in search), a period of mourning the loss of employment is definitely a good practice. The less “baggage” you carry to your next opportunity, the better.

Now go get started on your future—Sharing Your Awesomeness is just the boost to get you one step closer to your next great Chapter of Opportunity!

Gina is a technical writer in healthcare and technology with 17+ years of experience. Her passions include networking, process improvement, technical writing, and regulatory compliance. By night, Gina blogs, speaks, teaches, volunteers and helps others find their voice, tools, and resources to pursue their life’s dreams. She enjoys frisbee golf, travel, foreign films, reading, and spending time with her family and their two dogs and one cat. She is thrilled to be a part of the ASQ community. Ms. Kotz can be reached at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ginakotz or gina.kotz@gmail.com.

“The SWOT Approach to College Enrollment” by Kelly Rodkey

As my family navigates the college search, application, and selection process for our second child, I yearn for a tool to distill the 4000+ degree granting universities into a handful for consideration.

I sought out the SWOT (Strength Weakness Opportunity Threat) Analysis as my salvation.  I quickly realized all the facts and data were available for these schools, so what I really needed was selection criteria for differentiation.

Strengths related to available field of study, admission criteria test scores, size of student body, public or private institution, scholarship availability, geographic location, and even academic reputation.

Weaknesses related to available field of study, admission criteria test scores, size of student body, public or private institution, scholarship availability, geographic location, and academic reputation as well.

As I focused strengths and weaknesses of the internal environment, such evaluation became only one part of the whole.  I focused on the opportunities and threats of the external environment and, in this case, those affected by the perceptions of a teenager trying to plan for the rest of her life.

Will it matter how good the food is in the cafeteria, how far one has to walk to get to class, how many flights of stairs are beautifully incorporated into the treks across campus, how many people from high school are going to the same university, how good/poor the lighting is in the dormitory, how nice the professor was during the interview, the strength of campus safety measures, how close the university is to civilization (as defined by a teenager), etc.,?

SWOT looks at how a firm fits to the current reality, so it is a preliminary indication of current competitive position.  Reality for a teenager may change rapidly.

SWOT analysis should be based on objective data that allow past-to-current-to-probable future comparisons of the marketplace, competitors, products and services, and company performance.  SWOT can help narrow the field in the college search using institutional facts and data.  However, as selecting a university to commit to for about four years of her life requires identifying where she is most comfortable, it seems that no quality tool can help characterize the highly subjective and emotional traits that will make a particular university the right fit for my child.

Kelly Rodkey spent over 22 years in the healthcare industry at Abbott and Baxter in many quality roles, which encompassed testing and manufacturing, new product development, and clinical study report submissions.  In her most recent role as a CAPA Quality Approver, Kelly worked with investigation teams to ensure nonconformances were fully investigated, corrective and /or preventive actions were effective, and documentation narratives were understandable and fully supported.  She holds three ASQ certifications and has been a member of ASQ Section 1212 since 2009.

“Root Cause Analysis to Address Health Concerns” by Kelly Rodkey

My daughter recently developed a skin condition that the pediatrician could not identify.  In her frustration, she declared, “Well I want to get a definitive diagnosis, not spend a year chasing around and guessing what it is!”

It reminded me that root cause analysis can be used to diagnose a medical condition.  Routine monitoring of human clinical chemistry can find an “out-of-specification” value in need of investigation.

As an example, Lee routinely got annual physicals.  Health insurance companies encouraged it and she thought it was a valuable investment as she realized she was no longer an invincible twenty-something.  At the office exam everything looked great, healthy weight and no major complaints.  She thought the insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, and trouble with concentration, were just a result of age and the hectic schedule of a working mother of three.  However, the routine lab work showed that Lee’s iron levels were quite low even though she took iron supplements since the birth of her then 10-year-old son.

It took multiple blood tests, fluid samples, and an upper and lower endoscopy to finally diagnose the root cause of the low iron level.  However, once clinicians identified the autoimmune disease, a  solution could be implemented… effectiveness is to be determined.

It would be nice if medical diagnoses could be swift and accurate, but as is often the case in industry, if the needed data are not available to identify the cause, then a well-planned investigation to collect more data must begin.

How will you manage your own health?  An annual physical allows the physician to monitor routine clinical chemistry values and to identify when something is trending out of specification.  Once the out of specification condition is identified, the investigation can begin.  With luck, the root cause can be quickly diagnosed, solutions can be identified and implemented, and the effectiveness of the solution can be evaluated… all with facts and data and not prolonged physician guessing.

Kelly Rodkey spent over 22 years in the healthcare industry at Abbott and Baxter in many quality roles, which encompassed testing and manufacturing, new product development, and clinical study report submissions.  In her most recent role as a CAPA Quality Approver, Kelly worked with investigation teams to ensure nonconformances were fully investigated, corrective and /or preventive actions were effective, and documentation narratives were understandable and fully supported.  She holds three ASQ certifications and has been a member of ASQ Section 1212 since 2009.

In Remembrance Deborah Anne Schrier-Blosser by Frances Blosser

 

Deborah Anne Schrier-Blosser

Jan 19, 1980-Aug 9, 2016

annMost knew her as Anne.  Some knew her as Kitty.  She “found” her interest in a Quality career while working in Michigan for a Die Casting company.  Like many Quality professionals, a career wasn’t her goal when she took that inspection job but she liked the work and aspired to become a Quality professional.

Anne moved to Illinois a few years ago and came as a guest to an ASQ 1212 meeting. She was amazed by the variety of Quality specialties she found in ASQ’s membership. She volunteered for a short time with the section.  Anne found work at Zebra Technologies in Vernon Hills as a Quality Technician and later at Allied Plastics as a Quality Inspector where she studied to be an Internal Auditor.  She was also studying to pass the CQPA Certified Quality Process Analyst) exam.

This spring she suffered a stroke.  No cause was found despite extensive testing.  She seemed to recover quickly and made steady strides in rehab. Her goal remained fixed on passing the CQPA in December.  Her respiratory system did not seem to recover so quickly and pneumonia put her in the hospital in July.  Antibiotics, nebulizer, and inhalers occupied much of her time but she continued her stroke rehab and her CQPA studies.

On August 7, she felt ill and collapsed from respiratory difficulty. She was taken to the hospital but died on August 9, 2016. She was a wife, mother, daughter, student, singer, and an artist.  She had a zest for life.  She was loved. She will be missed by her husband, her daughter, all her family, and her friends.

But this is not where the story ends because from a small child Anne made it clear if she died we were to give her organs to save others.  So now she lives on in at least 2 others, and more will be helped with tissues and research.  Her generous love for others goes on.

Shifting the Audit Process Paradigm by Chris Harbeck  

The current paradigm is that auditing is a process of deficiency: “What are the non-conformances?”  Audit summary reports rare;u provide much information beyond that.

In the performance of a Quality Management System audit, the auditor reviews a company’s various processes and assesses compliance to the applicable Standard, as well as the internally documented procedures.  The documented procedures themselves are also reviewed for compliance. Once complete, the auditor prepares a summary report.  In the closing meeting, the auditor lists the findings noted in the report (which are invariably only non-conformances), and then goes on to elaborate on them.  People will leave such a meeting with a bit of a negative outlook, and an appreciation that the audit is over.

But I’m sure that for all of the “deficiency” findings that are realized and discussed, there are at least as many activities that are being performed very well.  Some examples include:

  • Overall record maintenance and availability (acting as evidence) might be strong;
  • A consistency of processes and records in various manufacturing areas that lead to more efficient and effective management;
  • Methods for data collection and review that lead to meaningful improvements, either at the process level or at the company level;
  • Processes and record-keeping for Management Review, Internal Audits, Corrective Actions, and so on, that are effective and are properly maintained through to evidence of proper closure.

Discussion of these strong points would be just as valuable to an organization as discussing non-conformances.

Consider this analogy:  When you go visit your Doctor, and he says “You are sick, take this medicine”, you may leave with a negative feeling that you should be taking better care of yourself.  But if the Doctor says “You have a flu bug, and here is some medicine.  However, your blood pressure is good, your heart rate is good, your blood tests came back normal, and your cholesterol is good.”, then you are likely to leave with a better attitude that you are taking good care of yourself, but just need to get rid of the flu.

The term “Audit” should be replaced with “Assessment.”  Just like at the Doctor, when someone assesses your Quality System, you want to know the overall health of the system, not just a list of some (particularly minor) non-conformances.  No one looks forward to an audit if it is purely a deficiency process, and employees are likely to spend all of their energy making sure nothing is found to be wrong.  However, what if half of that energy could be spent on showcasing and expanding on what is done well, knowing that these activities would be reported on as well?  Just think of the improvement in attitude and process development that could happen if this were the case!

Performing and reporting an audit can be a self-fulfilling process.  Focusing only on deficiency may not break a cycle of negative results.  However, equal focus on positivity may increase activity that leads to further positive results.  I strongly believe in the importance of maintaining an audit process which assesses the overall health of the system, and highlights the good along with the not-so-good.

I believe that an organization’s Internal Auditors should practice this technique.  I am also hoping that certification bodies will begin to realize this as well, and will develop their auditors to provide an organization with a complete picture of how their Quality System is performing.  The organization will certainly appreciate it.

Audit results that characterize the full health of the Quality System could strengthen the partnership between an organization and their auditor.

 

C harbeckChris has 22 years of experience in Quality Assurance and Engineering, mainly in the plastics industry, with product lines that include Consumer Products, Home/Office Products, Lighting, Medical Devices and Automotive.  Chris is a certified Lead Auditor with valuable knowledge in the development, implementation, and maintenance of ISO9001 compliant Quality Systems.  He closely followed the changes that were incorporated into the new 2015 revision, and provided consulting services for beginning the transition within an organization.  Chris is currently gaining experience in the BRC Global Standard for Packaging and Packaging Materials, and will obtain auditor certification for this standard as well.  Chris passed the Certified Quality Manager Exam in 2004, and is a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality.

After working as the Director of Quality and Engineering for 13 years at Custom Plastics in Elk Grove Village, Chris recently joined BWay Corporation, and now heads the Quality Management activities at their plant in Elk Grove Village.  This is their largest plastics plant, manufacturing rigid containers and lids of various sizes for Food, Consumer, and Industrial products.  Their Executive office is in Oak Brook, and their Corporate office is in Atlanta.

Chris holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering from Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina.  While at Clemson, he accepted an invitation to join the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society.

 

Meet Mahendran Ravichandran

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Mehenran Ravichandran

Mahendran Ravichandran is our new Programs chair. He is now a Quality Program Manager at Abbie. specializing in combination products.

Mahendran has over 8 years of experience in new product development of medical devices and combination products. He started off his career as a product development engineer in R&D for medical devices. He has experience with taking several new products from cradle to grave ensuring compliance with FDA regulations.

Mahendran earned a MS in Biomedical Engineering from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He is a member of ASQ and has a Six Sigma Green Belt, CQE and CQA certifications.

Mahendran is behind adding a Contact button on the right sidebar and at the bottom of this post, so people interested in speaking can easily volunteer.  If you’d like to speak, or you have a recommendation or idea, please contact Mehendran: r.mahen@gmail.com

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International Conference on Quality Standards by Alaina Blanchard

The first annual International Conference on Quality Standards (ICQS) hosted by the American Society of Quality took place on November 9-10, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Quality Management System standard (ISO9001) revision was finalized in September 2015 and published in October 2015.

The networking opportunities included in the conference allowed the attendees to meet with members of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG 176) responsible for revising the Quality Management System standard to:

  •  better understand the changes in the standard and
  • discuss how to best implement the changes

Conference topics included implementing risk-based thinking, determining when documentation is really needed, and defining the context of the organization.

Risk-based thinking:

One of the changes made in the 2015 revision of ISO 9001 established a more systematic approach to considering risk versus treating “prevention” as a separate component of a quality management system. Risk-based thinking is expected to assure consistency of quality of products and services, establish a proactive culture of improvement, and assist with regulatory compliance.

Risks and opportunities are mentioned in a number of sections within the ISO 9001:2015 including, but not limited to, the sections on top management leadership and commitment (section 5.1.1 and 5.1.2), the section on understanding the organization (section 4), and the section on management review inputs (9.3.2).

 Section 6.1.2 NOTE in theand include “avoiding risk, taking risk in order to pursue an opportunity, eliminating the risk source, changing the likelihood or consequences, sharing the risk, or retaining the risk by informed decision” specifically mentions options to address risks and opportunities in theand include “avoiding risk, taking risk in order to pursue an opportunity, eliminating the risk source, changing the likelihood or consequences, sharing the risk, or retaining the risk by informed decision.”

One presentation at the conference focused on a practical application of using risk, i.e. using evaluations of risk to determine when to perform corrective action vs. just performing a correction and trending.

Documentation:

In the past, some organizations have updated procedures as a default response to address audit observations. Now the focus is more on results vs. just updating a procedures.

New terms from ISO9001:2015 Documented Procedures and Instructions Maintained information and Record Retained Information:

The ISO9001:2015 includes requirements for retained information and maintained information, but does not specifically mention “how to” complete the documentation. If an organization knows when and how much to document, along with selection of appropriate alternatives to documentation, the organization can achieve equal or improved process performance at lower costs and reduced employee frustration.

One presentation mentioned that detailed procedures may not be needed for complex tasks if only employees with specific knowledge, skills, training and experience complete those tasks. For example, an airline pilot completes a checklist before he takes off on a plane, but does not have a specific procedure that he or she follows for “how” to fly the plane.

Organizations need to determine the appropriate balance for documentation; too much documentation may discourage the use of good judgement and too little documentation may result in poor products/performance.

Context:

Rather than specifically mentioning exclusions, the ISO9001:2015 revision mentions that organizations must understand external and internal issues that are relevant to the organizations purpose and strategic direction. To accomplish this, several speakers recommended integrating the quality plan withthe business plan vs. having separate quality and business plans.

How to implement the changes:

One speaker mentioned the importance of creating “value propositions,”  which encourages an organization to implement the changes included in the 2015 revision of the standard by seeing the value it can create. Another speaker used examples of how different Lean tools could be used to implement the various sections of the standard. One attendee mentioned that his organization now embraces standards as an opportunity to benchmark best practices.

ISO9001:2015 information:

The final version of the ISO9001:2015 standard lists a reference to some free public information regarding the standard: www.iso.org/tc176/sc02/public. The free information available on this website includes a correlation matrix between the ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 9001:2015 and a white paper on risk-based thinking. The actual ISO9001:2015 can be purchased through www.asq.org.

Besides sessions on ISO9001:2015, the conference also had a session on “Developments in ISO 13485: International Standardization of Quality Management System Requirements for Regulatory Purposes in the Medical Devices Industry” and a session on “ISO 14001:2015 (Environmental Management System) Major Changes and Significant Challenges.”

The conference was organized to allow networking between presenters and attendees. The price of the conference included breakfast and lunch for all attendees as well as an extended time between presentations for networking.

Conference presentations became available to registered attendees via a download from the conference website.

The American Society of Quality intends to schedule another International Conference on Quality Standards sometime next year.

About the author:

Alaina BlanchardAlaina Blanchard has diverse experience in the pharmaceutical, medical device and biotechnology industry. She provides value to an organization by simplifying complex processes and reducing regulatory compliance risk. She can help bring order out of chaos, without going overboard. She collaborates with multiple levels of an organization to achieve results. Her strengths and expertise include performance metrics, Root Cause Analysis of significant trends, organizational management, writing investigation reports, and audit preparation.

Alaina has a Master in Public Health in Biostatistics from the University of Michigan and holds the following ASQ certifications: Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence, Quality Auditor, and Quality Engineer. She also has a Lean Six Sigma certification from Baxter Healthcare.

November, 2014 Meeting Feedback

 

We aim to improve your meeting experience.  For that reason, Last month we polled attendees following the November Meeting.  Here are your results.

Mini-Survey Results
Category Mean
quality of event 4.705882353
scope of info 4.558823529
usefulness of info 4.441176471
Presentation quality 4.705882353
Overall meeting value 4.235294118
Motivational experience? 4.294117647

n=18

Categories rated on a scale of 1-5, with 5 indicated the highest satisfaction level.

Comments received:

Great topic; is of use to me to include in my knowledge base. Very nice presentation. Presenter (Dan Burrows) knowledgeable and confident. Nice pace.
Nice to see something other than a medical-oriented presentation
Please send out this presentation to meeting attendees.
Good foundational information. Good examples and definitions. He was a pleasant presenter.
Great job staying on time!   Interesting topic. Good Speaker. Thanks.
Appreciated the relevant, technical info.

Looking to grow your soft skills? Join a Toastmasters Club to grow soft skills and more! by Gina Gotz

gina_kotz_gray_ge_hr_friendlyHave you ever wondered how great (or even good) public speakers and leaders got that way? Have you ever wondered if they were always that way? I used to wonder that, too—as I often had great ideas at work, both in meetings and in writing.

However, when I would speak in front of small groups of people (less than 10), I would invariably get butterflies taking flight and doing somersaults in my stomach. I was sure that everyone in the room could hear my heart pounding wildly in my chest, and I would feel the growing warmth of nervousness around my collar. Does this sound like something you’ve felt, too? If so, read on. And even if not, read on anyways! I love sharing with others my experiences in Toastmasters.

By 1997, I felt that my nervousness when speaking was holding me back from reaching my full potential at work (and elsewhere). So I joined a Toastmasters club. Back then, my employer, W.W. Grainger, had a onsite corporate club. Within a couple of months after joining, I gave my first speech, called an “Icebreaker”, which is a 4 to 6 minute talk about any aspect of yourself. I noticed, very soon after joining, that Toastmasters is all about “learning by doing”. With the guidance and tips in the Toastmasters manuals, Toastmasters meetings function as 60 to 90minute mini-workshops where members deliver prepared speeches and do short “off the cuff” speaking, too.

Members give each other with helpful written and verbal speech evaluations. These evaluations are invaluable feedback given in a safe and supportive environment. This aspect of “safe and supportive” was one of the main reasons I stayed with the club for a while. I enjoyed supporting others through their icebreaker speeches with valuable feedback in the same way that I had received support from my fellow club-mates.

The following year, after leaving W.W. Grainger, for some reason or another I didn’t give Toastmasters a second thought—that is, until one day, a whopping 12 years later, in the fall of 2009. I was working at GE Healthcare by this time. The same day that I spontaneously recalled how helpful the W.W. Grainger Toastmasters Club experience was, I received an email from the GE Healthcare Toastmasters club right in my building. The club was having a first anniversary party! I knew this was a sign and I joined the club at work the following week.

I learned a lot more about Toastmasters my second time around. I learned that Toastmasters is no “flash in the pan” group. Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization founded in 1924. Toastmasters clubs meet in hundreds of countries worldwide. In the Chicagoland alone, there are over 200 clubs. Local area and division trainings as well as and district conferences provide affordable, often free, trainings for its membership. Also, Toastmasters also holds an annual international conference for its members. In addition to learning about the Toastmasters organization, I also became more involved in the GE Healthcare Toastmasters Club, first becoming a club officer and later the club president. Serving the club and its members was a great experience. I also got smart—I learned more about the educational programs Toastmasters had to offer. I vowed to myself that this time I wasn’t going to just be “passing through.” I wanted to stay with Toastmasters to see how much I could accomplish and how much I could learn.

During my time with Toastmasters, my managers at work were also taking note, too. One manager who knew me both before and after I joined the club at GE actually told me, “Gina, I’m not sure what you’ve been doing in that Toastmasters club, but it really shows in how you speak!”

Being able to communicate well can sometimes give you an extra edge when managers are selecting leaders for special projects at work, facilitator for panel discussions, and even business and professional events. When you work on communicating well, leaders and others take notice. New avenues of opportunity might open up to you. What you say can have more impact when you are effectively practicing good communication.

Four years and 11 months from the time I joined the GE Healthcare Club, in October 2014, I earned the highest educational level that a Toastmaster can achieve: Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). But I didn’t get there alone. Through completing over 40 speeches, teaming with others on several leadership projects, and serving for one year in a District leadership role, among other Toastmasters projects, my fellow Toastmasters and my family supported my commitment to my journey of personal growth.

If you want to become a better communicator and leader, Toastmasters is a great place to do it. For around $100 per year in dues, your takeaways, confidence, competencies, and friendships will increase a hundredfold. I know mine did. I joined Toastmasters to overcome fear of speaking, and I stayed for the networking, friendship, servant-leadership opportunities, and the fun of getting together with my Toastmasters friends at meetings and elsewhere. The time commitment for Toastmasters is entirely up to you. It is a self-paced learn-by-doing program, and you definitely tailor your own experience based on what you want to get out of Toastmasters.

If you want to conquer your own “personal butterflies” and pounding heart (or name any other nervous ailment you get when speaking in front of others), visit several Toastmasters clubs to check them out. And then join one of the clubs that makes the best fit for you. Then stand back. Watch your attitude and your skills change. Embrace the experience, and work on your own personal transformation.

Don’t be like me and wait twelve years to find out what it’s all about. Imagine all you can learn now by finding the club nearest you today. To find a club that meets on a day/time and place suitable for you, go to toastmasters.org and click the “Find a Club” link. To learn more about Chicagoland District 30 Toastmasters, see d30toastmasters.org.

Who knows? Like me, you might wind up pleasantly surprised to gain even more than you expected.