“When I started in Wharton it was very, very scary and it was very difficult to feel that I was supposed to be there.”

Lord (at podium) hoists a glass with some of her fellow Strictly Speaking Toastmasters Club members.

Business administrator, Wharton Real Estate Department
Length of service:
12 years
Other stuff:
A course shy of a degree from Wharton Evening, she’s a certified Toastmaster, a mentor and a
community volunteer.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

The same Lisa Lord who served as mistress of ceremonies at last month’s Martin Luther King commemorative ceremony on campus claims she used to be shy.

Lord has not only lost her shyness. The University City High School graduate has come a long way from her first job at Penn. She credits the women in her family and the many people she met at Penn for the changes. Most recently, she credits the Strictly Speaking Toastmasters Club that she helped found, and which meets on campus, for giving her public speaking skills and leadership training. She says anyone over 18 is welcome to meetings.

Q. Why did you get involved with Toastmasters?

A. Well, I was terrified to speak in front of groups, and even just in individual conversations. I was very shy and introverted.

There’s one thing I can say that kind of prompted me. Of course, attending Wharton, a management program at Wharton no less, you have to do many presentations in your classes.

And I do remember the first time I had to do a team project and we had to do a presentation, and I remember dreading it… I actually during my tenure at Wharton really tried to avoid those classes where I had to get up and do presentations, but of course it was unavoidable. So that was one of the reasons why I got involved in Toastmasters. A lot of people say that their number one fear, above death, is public speaking.

Q. How did the club begin?

A. That’s one of the greatest things about Toastmasters. They make it very easy for folks to start clubs. At the time I was a volunteer for the Urban League Young Professionals, and through some folks at the Urban League Young Professionals, we definitely saw a need for this in the West Philadelphia area.

Q. Who belonged when you started?

A. They were mostly from the Urban League Young Professional Group and some individuals who were just friends. There was a friend of mine, who I remember sort of pulling her arm and making her come because it’s just easier to handle when you have some support.

Q. Has the group’s population changed?

A. It has. The membership is constantly changing . It’s a volunteer organization. People come and go.

Q. Do you still do volunteer work?

A. I am intimately involved in my neighborhood association, which is the Garden Court Community Association, and I’m on the board. I also participate in a mentor program here through the Center for Community Partnerships.

I’m also involved with my church. I don’t hold a position there. There’s a women’s ministry that we have and Bible study that I attend Wednesday night, and Sunday school.

Q. Who do you mentor?

A. I have a high school student. She goes to University City High. [I] like mentoring a young woman who I could see may be facing some of the same issues I faced as a young teenager growing up in West Philadelphia trying to navigate through systems. One of the things that Toastmasters has really been instrumental in helping me is really to improve my self-confidence. I think that is critical.

Q. You come across as incredibly confident.

A. Do I really? One of my friends tells me she can’t believe I was ever shy or that I had a self-confidence problem. My mother was always very encouraging. But sometimes your environment affects you.

I grew up very poor actually, and so it was very difficult for me in certain situations, in particular when I started in Wharton it was very, very scary and it was very difficult to feel that I was supposed to be there. Even in addition to the academic challenge, socially and just interacting with some of the students who come from a wide range of backgrounds was very difficult.

I had a few people here who mentored me. There were two students, two men who were Ph.D. students here, were some of the original influences. One of the Ph.D. students in the regional science department [where Lord then worked] tutored me in math, which is how I got through the extensive analytical, quantitative classes in Wharton. It’s tough coming from an urban, inner-city high school, which I don’t think prepares you totally.

Q. What other experiences gave you such self-confidence?

A. In addition to my mother, who has been very influential in my life and was always supportive and encouraging of everything I did, some of the women in my family were heads of households, so that was encouraging.

My first supervisor in regional science, Helen Neff, was one of the influential people in my life and also was very encouraging to me and supportive. Through the Triple A [African American Association] organization, there were lots of women who I saw who were doing things [I admired].

I remember I was on the Women of Color Committee and that was something that was very inspirational to me and encouraging to me, seeing some of the women achieving very high levels of excellence in different areas. I can remember attending my first Women of Color meeting [the annual luncheon]. I think it was no more than maybe 75 people there. It was a long time ago. I would say that was one of my initial motivators.

The Strictly Speaking Toastmasters Club meets the first and third Monday of every month at the Penn Bookstore. For more information, contact http://members.bellatlantic.net/~bermanj/toastmasters/club.html or 215-476-5239.


Originally published on February 1, 2001