It was Proust that said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Indeed we all need new eyes to break new molds, see things in new light, and make new connections we never saw existed before if we are to make progress in any area of our lives. Years back I made a startling discovery that transformed my world and made me begin the transformation from an industry-following caterpillar to a market-leading butterfly. I discovered the closely guarded secret of the world’s greatest presenters and in this piece I share with you how you can join their ranks.
Globally powerful conference organizers, some of the most prestigious Speakers’ Bureaus, and some of the most internationally renowned professional organizations such as ATD (Association for Talent Development), SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management), IFS (Institute of Financial Services, and CIPM (Chartered Institute of Personnel Management) to mention but four scour the globe annually to find the best of the best speakers to keynote their conferences. These speakers have the powers not only to persuade, but to motivate and inspire people to high heavens. Using just words strung together to become enchanting stories, these top flight speakers elevate the spirits, rekindle the heart and engender hope. They give succor to the weary, strength to the weak, and direction to the vagrant using powerful stories. What is their secret? What did they do to ascend such lofty heights of flawless performance?
About the year 2005, I happened upon an article I considered at the time one of the best of all time. It was on the subject of personal excellence. Towards the end of that article, the writer remarked with an air of finality ”if you wish to write and speak as phenomenally as I do, join Toastmasters.” I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself, sure those must be a special class of comedians. A year later, I attended a seminar organized by the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria at Hilton Hotel, Abuja, where about 12 CEOs made presentations. Of the lot, one was head and shoulders above the rest. His presentation was electric, he presented with class and panache. The whole presentation was enriched with multimedia, with video and audio clips. I was curious, so I chatted him up in the course of the conference. You know what he told me? He proclaimed with pride gleaming in his eyes, if you want to be able to present the way I presented, join Toastmasters. It was then that I connected the dots.
Toastmasters International is a global movement where speakers and leaders are literally minted all over the world. There are Toastmasters Clubs in every corner of the world, and at the last count clubs numbered about 15,550. It’s at clubs meetings that members learn communication and leadership, the top skills that set apart the best from the rest. William Blake it was that said, “on one side there are things that are known, on the other side there are things that are unknown, in between them are always doors.” Toastmasters International is the secret door you need to move your act to world-class. There are no professors, teachers or tutors in the clubs, every member learns by doing, that is, by speaking. Through a system of evaluations, and systematic member hand-holding, members move progressively from amateurs to world champions.
Though Toastmasters is an amateur club, as I indicated earlier, by following their proven approach, begun in 1924 by its founder, Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, you begin making the transformation from an industry-following caterpillar to a market-leading butterfly, speaking with panache, aplomb, and polish. In the club meetings you learn the very rudiments of professional speaking. You learn how to speak with clarity, the use of body language and how to inspire with stories. As Christiana Baldwin once said, “words are how we think, stories are how we link.” Members have witnessed extraordinary transformations in speech delivery, self-confidence and platform dexterity within six months after joining the club. From the Toastmasters amateur learning platform, you can join the truly professional ranks, such as the National Speakers Association, Global Speakers Federation, and others if you wish to take your game a notch higher, but begin from the beginning. All the same, why should you join Toastmasters you may ask? Because, if I may say, there are no prizes for average performance!