Sunday, February 26, 2017

     If I had never become a Toastmaster, I would have missed the opportunity to witness three amazing speakers this morning. Two of them were college freshmen, and the third was a handicapped middle-aged woman who could inspire the most stubborn listener. All three were fantastic in their own ways, and my takeaway, even as a seasoned public speaker and public performer was:  I can do more.

     The first young student speaker was a Chinese American who started her own chapter of Toastmasters at this fine liberal arts college. She spoke of the difference between “difficult” and “impossible.” I have lived her message for years, but her speech nudged me even closer to a program I have been wanting to perform but thought “impossible.” My program is certainly not “impossible,” but if I fail attempting it, I will be humiliated. Her point:  “How will you know if you never try?” She’s right. I will begin today to think about how I can take the first step in realizing the “impossible.” 

     The second speaker, a middle-aged amputee told her inspirational story, some of which I had heard before at a previous meeting. I had forgotten the courage and determination of this woman who never quits. She has skied competitively, sailed, played volleyball and golfed just to name a few of her challenges and successes. If you ever want to compare your sore shoulder or aching knee to someone, just try listening to this brave woman. A diabetic, an accident survivor who ended up with a fused neck—she’s seen it all, and she keeps on keeping on. 

     Finally, a young Cuban-American girl of 19 got up to talk about how she has had to juggle two cultures from an early age. She talks about how her parents constantly remind her of what it was like “back home.” She says she never wastes her food, always turns out the lights and actively takes care of the environment. In the middle of her speech, she went blank. Can you relate? She calmly walked over to the podium, picked up her notes and continued without a beat. She didn’t stammer, grimace or stumble. It was as though forgetting was part of her speech. I told her afterwards that her memory block was handled with poise and grace, and she should use that technique whenever she gets in trouble. She is one in a million who could get away with it. Another Toastmaster and I gave her some memory tips in the meantime. 

     I get nothing from bragging about Toastmasters. They don’t pay me to praise its wonderful training that I use every single day. Toastmasters has given me the confidence I need to perform, to embrace public speaking, to lead organizations and to listen with compassion and focus. Thank you, Toastmasters, for another wonderful morning of applauding the talent of our young people and toasting the courage of our disabled.