Two years ago, I decided to improve my Leadership and Communication skills. I joined Toastmasters International.
Toastmasters International is the leading movement devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality – a 292,000 membership strong world leader in Communication and Leadership Development, with 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. Since 1924, more than 4 million people around the world have become more confident speakers in front of an audience because of their participation in Toastmasters.
I remember the first time I attended a Toastmasters club meeting. That was at Leeds City Toastmasters Club, England. Though I had been speaking before the public at some level, I wanted to get professional training. I wanted to become a transformational speaker and a commanding communicator.
”Table Topics” is a segment of Toastmasters club meeting that allows people to speak extemporaneously. I went to watch, but I was called up to give an impromptu speech. I was nervous, but the speaker in me awoke. To my utter surprise, I was voted the best impromptu speaker. That increased my confidence. I registered to be a member, and I have never looked back ever since.
Last Thursday, I gave my 10th prepared speech from the Competent Communication Manual. Speech Project #10 is titled, ”Inspire Your Audience.” Here’s the executive summary and objectives of the project respectively:
An inspirational speech motivates an audience to improve personally, emotionally, professionally, or spiritually and relies heavily on emotional appeal. It brings the audience together in a mood of fellowship and shared desire, builds the audience’s enthusiasm, then proposes a change or plan and appeals to the audience to adopt this change or plan. This speech will last longer than your previous talks, so make arrangements in advance with your Vice President Education for extra time.
- To inspire the audience by appealing to noble motives and challenging the audience to achieve a higher level of beliefs or achievement.
- Appeal to the audience’s needs and emotions, using stories, anecdotes and quotes to add drama.
- Avoid using notes.
- Time: Eight to Ten minutes.
Here’s the text of that speech:
The days inch along slowly towards the end of their allotted time. Each passing day bears them swiftly on invisible wings to the finish line. The players strut their hour upon the stage. Then the curtain falls, and the players are dragged off the stage by death. Could contemplating death cause the remaining players to live differently?
Mr Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, most distinguished guests:
There’s good in bad. Candy Chang’s story accentuates this paradigm.
Candy lost a loved one and went through excruciating pain, grief and depression. Though she eventually found clarity in her clutter, she wanted to know what was important to the people around her. So in February 2011, she painted one side of an abandoned house in her neighbourhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint, and wrote an incomplete sentence, “Before I die…”
Anyone walking past could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.
By the next day, the wall was full of responses:
Before I die I want to sing for millions; before I die I want to write a book; before I die I want to build an orphanage; before I die I want to see my daughter graduate; before I die I want to hold an elective office; before I die I want to have dinner with the Queen of England; before I die I want to own an iPhone…’’
People’s responses made her laugh and cry. After posting a few photos online, she received many requests from people to make ‘‘Before I Die’’ wall in their community. Today, 510 ‘‘Before I Die’’ walls have been created in over 34 languages in 70 countries.
Candy’s story resonates with mine. I have lost three members of my family of seven: I lost my Mum in 2000; I lost my younger brother in 2007; and I lost my Dad in 2010. Some days I would wake up at dawn and would be lost in thought till the moon embraced the sun and the stars kissed daylight.
Bereavement is a time when your heart bows in grief and your soul trembles in pain. But ugly situations can make us think and act differently. It can teach us profound lessons.
Let me share three lessons from Candy’s loss and mine – lessons we should all embrace:
Lesson Number 1: Live Intentionally.
Don’t spend your life, your energies and your resources to climb to the top of a building only to discover that you placed the ladder on the wrong wall. You will live in regret. You would wish you could turn back the hands of time, but it would be too late.
To live intentionally, you must function according to Design. You are a product of intelligent Design. You are an ‘artistic masterpiece’ – a work of art like a painting, a poem, a sculpture, a graphic design, an embroidery, or a piece of music. The Designer’s intention occasioned your configuration. Birds have wings because they are designed to fly. Fishes have fins because they are designed to swim. You are how you are because of why you are. Explore your design. Live by design.
To live intentionally, you must function at maximum Capacity. Can’t you hear the music resounding in your ears, calling you to dig deeper? Can’t you hear the voice whispering in your heart, telling you to forge further? That voice whispers: You are more than this.
Lesson Number 2: Work Tall.
If tomorrow were your last day on earth, would you want to do the work you did today? If your answer is ‘No,’ change your work. Do what makes you fulfilled. Do what is important to you. Because when you’re gone, your work will stand as the single biggest testament to who you were, what you believed, and what you cared about. By “your work” I don’t mean your job, career, or occupation – but any way in which you create value by using your resources.
You may be a Pastor. You may be a Doctor. You may be a Writer. You may be a Speaker. You may be youth etiquette consultant. Your work may be raising your children, or other people’s children. Whatever your best work may be, get immersed in it. And be courageous enough to disappoint people who would want to choose for you what your best work should be. Never feel ashamed of your best work. I repeat, never. That’s what I mean when I say, ‘‘Work Tall.’’
Lesson Number 3: Make Significant Contribution.
Through photosynthesis plants receive carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Through respiration animals receive oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Sadly, may people only receive but never give. Don’t be like them. Life is not about consumption; life is about contribution.
That’s why Maya Angelou, the late renowned poet, said:
‘‘I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.’’
I call this ‘‘Personal Social Responsibility.’’ Throwing something back is Personal Social Responsibility. Throwing something back is the only way to make your life count even when you’ve stopped living. Throwing something back is the only way to be relevant even from your grave.
People will not remember you for the cars you rode, or the mansions you built, or the jewelry you wore, or the vacations you enjoyed. People will remember you for the contributions you made. You’ll fade away like stars of the morning. You’ll lose your light in the Sun. You’ll pass from the earth and its toiling. You’ll only be remembered by what you’ve done.
Have you heard of the man called Solomon Grundy? English nursery rhyme says he was born on Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, took ill on Thursday, grew worse on Friday, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday, and that was the end of Solomon Grundy. Don’t end like Solomon Grundy.
In conclusion, perhaps I should create a ‘‘Before I Die’’ wall at the entrance of this building so that each time we come to Toastmasters meeting, it will remind us to live full and die empty.
Your days are inching along slowly towards the end of your allotted time. Each passing day bears you swiftly on invisible wings to the finish line. As you strut your hour upon the stage, the clock is ticking. The curtain will soon fall, and you’ll be exit the stage called Life.
But before you do, let me remind you of three things you should do:
Number 1: Live intentionally;
Number 2: Work tall; and
Number 3: Make significant contribution to the world.
That’s how to live full and die empty.
After twenty-four months of thinking, researching, writing, editing, listening, rehearsing, speaking, and pushing on even at times when I didn’t feel like going on; after delivering 10 prepared speeches, I have earned the designation, CC (Competent Communicator) from Toastmasters International. Well, I have only learned the fundamentals of Public Speaking.
But I’m pushing on to The Advanced Speaker Series of Toastmasters International. That’s a whooping 15 training manuals, each having 3 Speech Projects. That means I must think, research, write, edit, listen to, rehearse, and present 45 speeches.
I must not faint; I must not fail; and I must not falter. Perhaps for another 2 years.
So help me God!