I remember that night. My wife and I stayed up to hear him speak. We wanted to go to sleep because it was late and we had to work the next morning. But history had been written that night. We were drowning in emotion. We were seeing something that we and many others around the world never thought we would see in our lifetimes. Barack Obama was just elected the 44th President of the United States of America.
By that time, we were all excited not just at the fact that he was the first African-American man to be elected to the Presidency, but more so to hear the beautiful and emotive symphony of words he would weave in his acceptance speech. This is what I was waiting for.
For the 18 months or so leading up to that night, I followed many of his speeches, watching them on YouTube and marveling at his oratory mastery. I wanted to be able to speak like him. In my career which started off in the teaching profession and later ending up in the oilfield in the discipline of health and safety, I am always in front of people speaking. To be effective, I must do that one thing very well. This is why his electrifying style of speech and his comfortable stance at a lectern aided by his sharp intellect really impressed me.
On a parallel time line, I had gotten into what I have since referred to as my reading binge. I read books in the business and philosophy segment voraciously, one after the next and in some cases two at a time. One of the authors who caught my attention was Malcolm Gladwell. In his book “Outliers,” he talks about his 10,000 hour rule. He suggests that outstanding successful people achieve because they practice their craft for a minimum of 10,000 hours. The Beatles, Wayne Gretzky, Luciano Pavarotti, David Beckham and many other outliers display skills that the ordinary hobbyist is unable to replicate because they have practiced and played for the equivalent of 4 years, working at it for 8 hours a day and 6 days a week. Usually, taking a normal life into consideration, this actually takes 10 years or so. In order for me to speak as powerfully as the new leader of the free world, I needed to get my 10,000 hours in.
Where could I do that?
After some research, my friend and brother Brent and I found what we were both looking for right beneath our feet. There was a Toastmasters club 2 floors down in our office building. We joined the club in 2009. At the time of joining the club, I was an HSE Advisor at my company. There was no real progression path beyond this particular role for me and I suppose improving myself was the only way for me to progress my career. I fell in love the the process of crafting my ideas into a fluid and impactful speech, rehearsing the timing and the accompanying facial expressions and body language. I would get high on being in front on an audience ready to listen to my ideas and when they responded positively I was absolutely over the moon. This was an exciting journey into something I absolutely enjoyed. It was an all-consuming endeavor. Passion consumes your entire being. This is how Toastmasters made me feel.
Let us fast forward to today. Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances, I had to leave the club suddenly in 2011. In the time that I was at the club, I left the company that I had been working for and held a couple of consulting roles, in some cases earning almost 3 times my previous salary. In 2011, I eventually took up a HSE Manager position for a leading drilling contractor. In the time that I have been there I have earned a reputation for being an electrifying speaker. Generally, people prefer that I speak last because they dread having to speak to the crews after I am done with them. It is hard I am told to say anything to impress or to move the crew after I have done my thing. When I walk in front of them, I own the room and they gladly give me permission to hold their attention. The value proposition that I have is not just knowledge and experience, but also the ability to articulate those ideas powerfully, whether it is with the client or with the crews on board the rig. This becomes important when convincing a unionized group on a matter of concern, or challenging a point of clarification with the customer. I enjoy a great deal of respect and consideration in my role because of this ability and I remain entirely grateful to the Toastmasters organization for allowing me to develop this skill, my career and my entire life.
In every person I meet, I often find an opportunity to coach them on their speaking style and methods. As a matter of fact, I recommend to all the safety officers and offshore paramedics who report to me that they all do some guided work on their public speaking. Naturally, I can only speak faithfully about Toastmasters.
Toastmasters changed my life. Every professional, regardless of their role needs the training and polish that Toastmasters clubs give to you. It will help you in job interviews, performance appraisals, negotiating for a raise, conflict resolution, sales meeting and presentations, as well as mentoring junior staff. In short, it will propel you from good to great. It did for me, and I long to come back to continue to further refine my craft.
Written by: Ed Braithwaite
Posted by Peter Anthony Gales for Ed.