Nate Otto



How long have you been in Toastmasters?

Since January 2005.

What keeps bringing you back to Toastmasters? 

I enjoy using it as a creative outlet, practicing the art of speech craft, and engaging with new people.

How did you first hear about Toastmasters?

A coworker told me about the Capella University corporate club in Minneapolis.

What was your first impression of Toastmasters?

It was not a good impression.  The Capella club members were too friendly and inviting.  They were overeager to “sell” the club.  It was suspicious.

Why did you join Toastmasters?

I got over the first impression and realized Toastmasters was a useful way to network within the company.  Many of us early club members remain friends 12 years later.  I also enjoyed the mild adrenaline rush that came from giving an icebreaker.

How has Toastmasters impacted your daily life and/or your work?  How has it helped you?

More than anything else, Toastmasters made me a better writer.  It taught me to write succinctly with  proper topic structure and sentence variety.  And reviewing speeches taught me solution-oriented writing.

These writing techniques help me in my current role as a software engineer.  Here effective written communication between coders and non-coders is essential.

What have you learned about yourself or what have you learned the most during your time in Toastmasters?

I learned the value of quality feedback.  Giving honest, constructive feedback is probably the most difficult task in Toastmasters–and the most important.  I don’t support the sandwich approach:  “You did this well.”–>”This needs improvement.”–>”But you did this well.”  I prefer the “What I saw you do…” -> “What I think you can do next….”  Either way, thinking about giving and receiving feedback is the single most significant lesson I’ve learned from Toastmasters.

What have been some of your challenges in Toastmasters?

I use audience laughter to determine how well a speech is going.  If an audience doesn’t laugh enough, I get concerned that they find the presentation boring.  That sometimes applies to social situations too.  The problem is, not all speeches and conversations are humorous.  To fix that, I plan to speak on serious speech topics, look for other audience cues, and find other tools to sustain their interest.

What are your future goals in Toastmasters?

It would be fun to take a political topic and try to change somebody’s mind.  There are interesting studies about how people form and change their opinions.   I’d like to dabble in that black art.

Who and/or what is your inspiration in life and why?

My family is an inspiration. I grew up in poverty in rural North Carolina.  A generation later, my brother and I have children who live comfortable lives; for example, our kids sometimes eat at a restaurant and think riding in a car is no big deal.  That’s a major source of pride for both of us.

Other than that, Swedish statistician Hans Rosling stands out as an inspiration.  He was an excellent public speaker who promoted the idea that the world, when viewed from an analytical perspective, is a far better place than news headlines suggest.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy carpentry–particularly designing and building full-sized wooden sailboats.  My wife and kids take up a pleasant part of my time after work.  Each year we train together with our friends for an Eau Claire Marathon event–usually a half marathon, 5K, or relay race.  Hiding in the woods (camping, canoeing, and fishing) plays an increasing role in my off hours. I’m hooked on Harry Turtledove’s alternate history books.

Other community organizations I am involved in include the Chippewa Valley Developers Group and the Altoona Lions Club.  I maintain the website and the blog