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find your voice, change your life

It was one of the most amazing nights of my life. I had just won a major speech contest and the World Championship of Public Speaking was in sight.  Finally able to eat something after the nerve-wracking competition, I found myself at the buffet with the President of Toastmasters International. Toastmasters teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.

He was travelling the world, eager to connect with Toastmasters everywhere. Always curious to know the impact of the organization on its membership, he asked me how Toastmasters had made a difference in my life. I thought for a moment and replied, “Toastmasters helped me get divorced”. He looked stunned for a moment and then said with a grin, “Of all the times I’ve asked that question, I’ve never once had that answer before!”

I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was quite sincere. Like many people, I had unfortunately found myself in an unhappy marriage that defied numerous attempts to fix it. It was around that time that I joined Toastmasters, and my club of supportive, kind, and talented people turned into a positive and uplifting refuge from my daily personal misery.  But while my fellow club members were amazing, it was the process of learning how to be an effective speaker – finding my authentic voice – that was truly transformative.

Until you experience the dynamism of public speaking training, I don’t think you truly understand that it’s about so much more than writing and delivering a speech. There’s something about being ‘on stage’ in front of people that inspires honesty, particularly during improv speaking exercises. When challenged to speak on a topic for which you have no preparation, did not know you would be called on to speak about, and may have zero knowledge of, you will shock yourself with what comes out of your mouth.

The act of speaking without preparation does not allow you any time for self-doubt, self-judgement or self-editing. Yes, I teach people how to structure their thoughts in such a situation, but there’s no time to evaluate and discard phrases – you must simply jump in and trust that ideas will come to you. And miraculously, they do! And what often comes to you is a heartfelt and honest reaction to the topic.

It turns out that not having time to doubt or edit yourself results in the ‘real you’ showing up. It has stopped amazing me how much I learn about my students in public speaking classes – I now expect it.  Students express genuine surprise that they shared thoughts publicly they had barely admitted to themselves, never mind those around them. The act of speaking turns out to be an act of growing.

The more I learned to embrace my own voice, my own ideas, and my own skills, the more my confidence grew in all areas of my life. My marriage began to transform, not because my husband had changed at all, but because I had. Eventually, my confidence grew to the point where I knew the healthiest choice for me, as well as him, was to end the marriage.

I’m not saying that speaking is the answer to all of life’s problems. But I know for sure that developing the confidence to actually deal with those problems is a critical life skill. I have taught thousands of workshops on thousands of topics with thousands of people, and I can say without hesitation that public speaking is the only course I’ve ever taught where people blossom before your very eyes. When I teach leadership skills, for example, it has sometimes been up to 20 years before students tell me they had an ‘aha moment’ about something they learned.  With public speaking, I’ve seen people transform in a matter of days, let alone weeks.

After the night I met the Toastmasters President, I went on to win more speech contests. But the most memorable one turned out to be my last. I knew for sure that I had given the best speech of my life. And in that moment, I no longer cared if I won or lost. Because the greatest victory was that I finally believed in myself.

Ready to reshape your expectations and embrace your unique message? Join Shona and her partner Jan Bailey in partnership with XcelerateHER & Sandbox Centre for Empower HER Wisdom, a 6-week program that helps you identify, craft and launch your important message to the world. This limited registration program runs September 14 through October 23 – reserve your seat today. The world is waiting to hear from you!

About the contributor:

In their highly interactive workshops, OVATION speaker trainers have helped countless individuals transform their ability to connect to their audience and deliver authentic and meaningful messages with impact. Now, more than ever, communication with some oomph is an essential skill. At a time when our emotions swing from overwhelmed to irrational, our ability to communicate effectively follows suit and it can be hard to remove the anger, frustration or even fear from our voice, let alone from our message … and that can have all manner of consequences.

Shona Welsh, BA, MCEd, CHRL, CCC is a communication and speaking expert who has won numerous speaking, writing and learning design awards. The author of several books and designer/facilitator of hundreds of international workshops in speaking and communications, she has held international senior executive positions over three decades. She teaches extensively about leadership, communications, and innovation with numerous universities and colleges.

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