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A training ground for speakers and leaders at NS

August 2016

Leaders of the NS Toasters on Track – Atlanta employee resource group are, from left, Mark Myers (with GreatNS hat), Maria Newton, Dariel Mitchell, Chelsey Parker, Jelili Agbabiaka, and Fangping Yu.

At Toastmasters, NS employees strive for GreatNS

In a company culture where employees love to invent “NS” words – think WiNS, WellNS, YoungNS, BizNS, VeteraNS, GeneratioNS – Mark Myers has introduced another winner: GreatNS.

Myers, manager network support services, manages Norfolk Southern’s IT Help Desk. He also is an officer and member of NS Toasters on Track – Atlanta, one of NS’ employee resource groups and an affiliate of Toastmasters International. Myers, who handles publicity for the NS club, introduced GreatNS during a speech at a recent club awards ceremony.

“NS is great because of its focus on shareholder value, meeting customer needs, attention to detail, and diversity of combined thought processes – to name a few,” Myers said. “Each employee can speak to the GreatNS. It’s a slogan that represents every department, person, and initiative within our company. The GreatNS theme exemplifies NS Toastmasters clubs – being a Toastmaster can help you speak more eloquently and more convincingly when given the opportunity.”

For employees in Atlanta and Norfolk, which also has an NS club, Myers offers an invitation to join the GreatNS of Toastmasters.

“We are looking for those who take GreatNS seriously,” Myers said. “We are not looking for great speakers and leaders, but rather individuals who desire to be better, who want to improve and help others improve – an improvement that will positively affect our company’s bottom line.”

Club leaders share Myers’ enthusiasm, ticking off benefits that accrue to NS and employees who participate. Club members work at their own pace through manuals that focus on speaking and leadership skills.

Atlanta club president Maria Newton, senior technology analyst, describes Toastmasters as “an in-house master’s degree program for communications and leadership.”

“Toastmasters is like a lab where you can take chances and learn and grow without consequences,” said Newton, who helped form the club in 2008. “The benefit for any employee is that it helps them become a more effective communicator and a more effective leader. That benefits Norfolk Southern because it creates a base of employees and team members who are confident in how they interact with other people. It creates an environment for producing results and for developing current and future leaders.”

Like NS’ other employee resource groups, Toastmasters offers an excellent opportunity for networking and building relationships across departments, Newton added.

In Norfolk, the Toastmasters club is looking to rebuild after losing members to retirement and job changes, said club president Greg Reeves, claim agent. Reeves joined the Norfolk Toastmasters ERG three years ago. He said speaking at Toastmasters meetings helped him overcome his nervousness in front of groups and to better engage his audience. He learned from members’ feedback, for example, that his habit of pacing and making excessive hand gestures during presentations was distracting.

“I didn’t even realize I was doing that until someone brought it to my attention, because that was my comfort zone,” Reeves said. “Toastmasters meetings give you an environment where you’re being critiqued, but you’re not being judged. We’re giving pointers and helping with your presentation skills.”

In June, CEO Jim Squires attended an Atlanta club meeting and discussed his experiences talking in front of large audiences, Myers said.

“It was really an encouraging thing,” Myers said. Squires also presented club president Newton with a special honor – a Toastmasters “Trailblazer” award for her participation earlier this year in Toastmasters International’s “World Championship of Public Speaking” competition. After winning at the area and division levels, she advanced to the district level, which involved 17 Toastmasters clubs representing more than 300 members. There, she placed second in the prepared speeches category and third in a “table topics” contest for impromptu speaking. Newton is the first Atlanta member to earn a Trailblazer award.

“At Toastmasters,” Myers said, “it is people helping people, which is a characteristic at NS that propels us to GreatNS.”