Original speech date: February 15th, 2016
Project: Competent Communication #10 (Inspire Your Audience)
At our 25th club anniversary and open house, I got to give an inspirational speech (inspired by Ken Robinson's "The Element") and tell a story about who I was, why I joined Toastmasters, and how Toastmasters changed me.
Good evening, everyone. My name is Isaac and I have been a member of Central Austin Toastmasters for the past six months. As a certified mathematician, I can tell you that's a really small number compared to 25 years. But as your fellow human, I can also tell you that, in that time, a lot of things happened to me. The second biggest thing that happened? I quit graduate school. Toastmasters gave me the guts and a reason to quit.
The number one, biggest thing that happened is what I want to talk to you about tonight, and that is, I found my element in speaking. The element refers to a set of conditions under which something that you are passionate about and something that you are talented in come together.
I want all of you to discover your element in speaking. By doing so, not only will you find that you are more confident, energetic, sincere, inspirational, and spontaneous when you speak, you will also find that you understand yourself much better. You will know the strengths and weaknesses that you have, use your strengths to come up with and deliver the best speech that you can give as of now, and continue to work on your weaknesses and get better each time.
Well, that's great, Isaac! But how do I know that I found my element? My answer to you is this: Listen to your body and mind.
When I speak, and I see that I'm not connecting with my audience or myself through words and body languages that well, I get tired, and I feel like I just want to go home and crawl into my bed and quietly cry to sleep. Haha, that last part isn't true, but I am sure you understand this feeling that I'm talking about. On the other hand, when I am in my element, I feel focused, energetic, and true to myself. I can sense my identity and purpose and well-being; I know who I am and I know what I want to do and I feel great!
I also find that, when I am in my element, time flies by. I gave my best speech—I call it the GOAT speech (the greatest of all time speech)—when I got to talk about infinity and the surprisingly many problems that infinity creates. As usual, I had to deliver my speech between 5 and 7 minutes, and I thought I had. When I had practiced my speech at home, I would always come in at 7 minutes and 30 seconds—which is ok; it's allowed by the competition rules! It wasn't until my time report that I realized that I had spoken for 8 minutes and 30 seconds. I was so into my presentation and felt so connected to my audience and myself that I didn't realize how much time had passed by!
That's when I decided that I don't want to be in a cubicle, sitting in front of a computer all day, with no one to interact with except my computer programs. I want to be out there, meet people, and talk to them and listen to them. When I told Tom, my advisor, that I'm leaving, I got the impression that he didn't understand why. It's ironic, because he's the one who first made me go to Toastmasters. Go, or no funding for you this semester! He thought that I needed help in public speaking because I talked quietly and not a lot, but the truth is, I just didn't find my element in graduate school.
Now, if you're still wondering how can I discover my element in speaking, the great news is that there are three people who can help you. The first is actually a group of people that we often call a club. A club consists of people who share the same goals as you, who make you feel like it's ok to be you, who influence you, inspire you, drive you to be your best, and remind you that you are not alone.
Toastmasters is a great example of a club. Now, there are many Toastmasters clubs even in Austin, and it's important that you find one that is right for you and you alone. I still remember, on my first day, how Mike told a humorous tall tale about Pecos Bill, the greatest American cowboy, and Sylvie brought in her viola and showed us how to tune the instrument live. What really struck me that day weren't the speeches, though. It was something that Jason said to me after the meeting.
He said, and I paraphrase: Feel free to join another Toastmasters. I was dumbstruck. Here I am, I finally showed up, and you're turning me away already? After just one date? Haha, I realized soon after that Jason had said those words because he had my best interest. He knew that it was important that I find a club and club members that are right for me. Allow me to offer you the same advice: Find a Toastmasters that is right for you. Feel free to join another Toastmasters.
The second person who can help you is a mentor. This is something that Ed and our club are working on right now. Mentors have discovered their elements already, so they can easily recognize your passions and talents. They help you create the map to reach your full potential, offer you advice and encouragement along the way, and even allow you to make mistakes and falter a little, then help you get right back up.
The last person who can help you is you. You know better than anybody else what you think and what you feel. You may have noticed that, all this time, I never told you what my element is. It's not because I want to keep the secret sauce to myself. No, it's because I know every one of us has a unique element. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for me.
Even throughout your life, your element continues to change to reflect who you are now. What worked for you back in your 20s may not work for you now, in your 30s or 40s, and what didn't work for you then may actually work now. The only way you will know is by trying. Create ideas about how you can speak; try them out; if they don't work, imagine other possibilities; try those out; don't ever be afraid to fail to speak.
In summary, the element refers to a set of conditions where your passions and talents come together. Each one of us has our own element in speaking, so it's not like I can say, hey, here's a list of elements, pick one that describes you the best. It doesn't work like that.
However, there are two signs that tell you that you have found your element. First, you feel differently inside. You are focused, energetic, and true to yourself. Second, time works differently. In addition to these two signs, there are three people that can help you. A club, like Toastmasters, a mentor, and last, but most importantly, it's you who can help you discover your element in speaking. Find it, embrace it, and please, take care of it.
I'd like to end with an excerpt from an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson. He is a Scottish writer best known for "Treasure Island," "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and "Kidnapped." His essay goes like this:
"There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk; to be affable, gay, ready, clear, and welcome; to have a fact, a thought, or an illustration, pat to every subject; and not only to cheer the flight of time among our intimates, but [also] bear our part in that great international congress [...].
And it is in talk alone that we can learn our period and ourselves. In short, the first duty of a man is to speak; that is his chief business in this world; and talk, which is the harmonious speech of two or more, is by far the most accessible of pleasures. It costs nothing in money; it is all profit; it completes our education, founds and fosters our friendships, and [it] can be enjoyed at any age and in [...] any state of health."
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