The Power of Words – How I misjudged Toastmasters

Words

 

As a presentation and public speaking coach I’ve always been aware of Toastmasters International and its worldwide reputation for helping people to improve their communication and public speaking skills. 


My curiosity has led me to attend several of their meetings in the past to experience for myself the value they offer. After 6 visits as a guest to different locations I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me.


What I found lacking wherever I went was individuality and authenticity. 


In fact everyone sounded the same. 


It seemed to me that its Members were being given a rigid template for public speaking and my personal experience was witnessing speaker after speaker imitating each other and following ‘the rules’.


I left each meeting disturbed that such an established and highly respected organisation seemed to me to be ‘cloning’ speakers.


Whilst I decided that membership wasn’t for me I know many people who have enormous admiration for the organisation and claim it has transformed their presentation and public speaking ability.


I recently watched Mohammed Qahtani’s winning performance to become the 2015 World Champion of Toastmasters International and could easily see why he had won the competition.


If much of his skill and success is indeed attributed to his membership of Toastmasters then I’m happy to say I may have slightly misjudged them.


Here is what I saw.


A brilliant opening


He pretends to begin to light up a cigarette before uttering a word until he sees his audience’s reaction. He gets their attention and gets them laughing as he fabricates a story in support of the tobacco industry. 


It was hard not to wonder where on earth he was going with his defence and a combination of surprise, intrigue and laughter secured him an instant connection.


He got straight to the point


His message was clear, powerful and simple and we didn’t have to wait for it. 


That message was that words have power and he demonstrated that by showing that you can tell someone a lie and get them to believe and act on it through the way you deliver it.


Descriptive language to create contrast


“Your mouth can spit venom, or it can mend a broken soul”


He lets us in


It’s long been my experience that a little self- disclosure can greatly affect the way you relate to and connect with your audience.


Mohammed did this beautifully as he shared a personal story about his 4 year old son writing on the wall with crayons.


He moves and takes us with him


As he told us the story about his son writing on the walls he took 6 steps to his right as though he was taking us into his son’s room with him to see the wall. He pretended to write on the wall the way a 4 year old would and when he told his son to stop he stooped to his knees so we could see him talking to his son.


He did far more than let us in, he took us with him.


He asked a thought provoking question


“Have you ever wondered why nobody cares about ‘global warming’? Even though it’s a very serious issue”


It’s a subject t that affects us all but very few of us take the time to stop to think about it and the question created that opportunity.


He made it real


His impression of a scientist trying to tell us about global warming on the television is something we can all relate to and begin to realise why it’s not something at the forefront of our mind.


He shows us how easily a critically important message can be lost in an instant.


He’s congruent


If you take a few minutes to watch his speech you will see complete congruence between his message and how he delivers it verbally and non-verbally.  


Powerful pauses, perfect pacing and a mindful use of every feature of his voice helps him to deliver his message with passion, belief and impact.


He closes with a call to action


His speech was carefully crafted to deliver a compelling message and was not only interesting and rich in content but took his audience on a journey using humour, contrast, stories and depth to end with a very powerful call to action.


“Words have power, words are power, words could be your power. You can change a life, inspire your nation and make up this world a beautiful place. Isn’t that what we all want it? Isn’t that why we are all in this whole? Your mouth can spit venom or it can mend a broken soul.Ladies and gentlemen, let that be our goal.”


If Toastmasters were instrumental in helping Mohammed Qahtani to craft and deliver such a persuasive speech then I’d be the first to admit that perhaps I was a little hasty in judging and dismissing them so easily.


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Image: Courtesy of flickr.com


 

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