Becoming Better Communicators


“Communication works for those who work at it.” ~ John Powell

Jana Barnhill was elected Toastmasters International President at the 77th annual International Convention held August 2008, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She was only the fourth woman to serve as the top officer of the organization.

Recognized for her speaking skills, Jana placed 3rd in the World Championship of Public Speaking in 1993 and 2nd in 1996. In 1997, she became only the fifth woman in the organization to earn the coveted Accredited Speaker designation.

Jana Barnhill

Jana Barnhill

Professionally, Jana is a speaker/trainer for L.I.V.E. Speakers, Inc., a company she owns with her husband. She conducts seminars throughout the United States on management topics; including communication and leadership, team building, managing change and personality traits. She delivers keynotes and also serves as a speech writer and coach to other professionals.

Jana is no novice to staring trials in the face, while continuing to keep a smile on hers. Jana is a small plane crash survivor, suffers from a neurological disorder and her husband is battling ALS. She loves spending time with friends, theater, shopping, Christmas, movies, travel, anything fast, Disneyland (she has gone at least once, sometimes three times a year since 1991), entertaining and…shopping!


As my guest on this week’s Awakening to Awareness Radio Show, Jana shared how she never really sought a global leadership role; how community, culture, and connection are integral to the Toastmasters experience; how boomers can offer their wisdom and experience to help members of younger generations and; how listening is such a critical element of effective communication.

She shared two personal stories about being inspired and how mentoring builds confidence. She acknowledged that “people are her oxygen” and how they help to sustain her energy and positive attitude. Jana advocates for no matter where one is in their life, there are always opportunities to work on your communication skills.

Interested in learning more about Toastmasters, listen to the show podcast or visit

25 thoughts on “Becoming Better Communicators

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how little people actually listen these days. I’m a bit of an introvert so perhaps I’m biased towards listening. Perhaps like attract like as my closest friends are all mostly listeners than talkers.

    Communication is definitely an exchange and the more balanced the more both parties feel that they have gained. The trick is knowing when to talk and when to listen.

    Another great read thanks for sharing Eric!

  2. I have a number of wonderful friends who are brilliant listeners. I also have two friends who I greatly enjoy, BUT they cannot listen, even for a moment. We often nudge each other in our group as we observe them chatting to each other, but not listening to one word the other is saying.
    I am intrigued that toastmasters have had so few females in high office, when it is generally accepted that women are excellent communicators. I wonder are toastmasters listening to their members! 🙂

    • Toastmasters, Tric, was simply one of those ‘very slow to change’ organizations. They didn’t even admit women as members until 1973, some 49 years after the organization was founded. Since Jana’s term as International President, there have been other women in the top leadership post.

  3. This was a breath of fresh air for me today. To perceive “People are my oxygen” is a beautiful way to look at interactions with others. In so many ways, we truly are the oxygen for one another. Excellent posting, Eric.

    • Thank you, Kimberly. I wish I could take credit for Jana’s words but they’re all hers. And if you knew her, you’d agree that she is the oxygen to so many other people. Here’s to our new (at least to me) way of acknowledging and appreciating others.

  4. Thank you Eric for sharing such an important message. I picked up something that I have heard so many times before, but always seem to let slip on to the back burner.

    The most important part of effective communication is listening. Too many times, I “listen” with the intent of responding instead of listening with intent to truly understand and empathize. I appreciate the subtle reminder, even if it wasn’t intended, to focus on the latter, thank you 😉

    • Always a pleasure to share messages, Dave. Indeed, listening is critical to many of our interactions, not simply to communicating effectively. Even when we are alone in/with nature. The post was not intended as a reminder but if it served you well in that regard, then I am glad it did. 🙂

    • Exactly, Debra, and to Jana’s share (during the show), one cannot be a good speaker or leader “without first being a good listener.” The two of you (and others of us) are on the same page. 🙂

  5. The worst thing anyone can do to me is stand me up in front of a group of people and ask me to speak. I immediately forget all I’ve ever known, including how to speak.
    On the other hand I have no problem with one on one conversation or even small groups, and have been told a few times how easy I am to talk to. I’ve also been told I’m a good listener and that’s probably because I’d really rather listen than speak.
    Though my lack of ability to speak in front of a group has been a problem once or twice I don’t think we are all meant to be good at everything. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    • I hear and agree with you, Allen. I’ve seen countless people join Toastmasters because of their genuine fear of speaking in front of groups. Some of them overcome that fear and do quite well as public speakers. To your point, not all of us are meant to be good at everything. That is a healthy and honest view. If only people could use and be contented with their unique gifts…

  6. I’ve seen with my own eyes how mentoring builds confidence. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of it at various phases of my professional life, and then tried to give back. Mentoring younger colleagues has been, and still is, a favorite pursuit…you get when you give. Thanks for sharing her remarkable story!

    • My pleasure to share! Mentoring is actually the foremost reason I am still with Toastmasters. It can be and is quite rewarding to see adults grow and become comfortable and more personally skilled as communicators (as I know you know).

  7. I have been using, (and making) a “Talking Stick” during my circles. It is an amazing tool and helps us concentrate on what is important … listening. It’s also a great tool for parents teaching children respect and encourage them to listen to what they say and stay in the present moment. Listening is just as important as speaking their views and thoughts. The Talking Stick gives reverence and the opportunity to speak from the heart instead of the egotistical mind,

  8. Lovely share, Grace. Thank you. I especially appreciate knowing that a “Talking Stick” gives reverence and an opportunity to speak from one’s heart. That is equal parts beautiful and powerful.

  9. Jana sounds like she has touched many lives – and I like how you highlighted her here – aand I agree

    “listening is such a critical element of effective communication….”

    have a great day Eric 🙂

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