On Giving a Speech

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Oct 31, 2015

“Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

When I was growing up I never thought that public speaking would be one of my primary responsibilities in life. I was painfully shy and even the thought of getting in front of a few people to speak caused my mouth to dry up, my heart to start beating faster, my hands to get clammy and my legs to get weak. 

You can only imagine, then, how I struggled when I began to sense a divine mandate to consider any leadership role that required public communication. I was terrified. Those early speech classes were torment for me. To this day I have a tendency to over-prepare for any public presentation as a way of compensating for the remnants of those anxieties. 

I wish I knew then that I had been one of the 75 percent of people who suffered from glossophobia, the fear of giving speeches. Researchers tell us that this fear is mentioned even more often than death as one of those things a person would not want to do. I remember that even the fear of appearing nervous made me even more nervous.

All of these memories came back to me when I read about a speech that was given on August 15, 2015, by Mohammed Qahtani — a Saudi Arabian security engineer — when he won the title of Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. He survived seven rounds of competition that lasted six months and included 33,000 competitors from around the world. 

Toastmasters International began as a series of speaking clubs organized by Ralph C. Smedley during his time working for the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in Bloomington, Illinois. As the director of education at the YMCA, Smedley saw a need for men in the community to learn how to speak, conduct meetings, plan programs and work on committees, and he wanted to help them.

Smedley decided to organize a club where they could learn these skills in a social environment and the men responded well to the idea. The first unofficial Toastmasters meeting was held on March 23, 1905. As a world leader in communication and leadership development, today Toastmasters has 140 full-time employees with 332,000 members who attend one of 15,000 clubs in 135 countries.

The culmination of the annual competition brings ‚Äč10 winners of multiple contests who have advanced from all over the world to the finals, which were held this year in Las Vegas, Nevada. The third place winner was Manj Vasudevan of Singapore with the speech titled, “We Can Fix It.” The second place winner was Adita Mahaswaran of Mumbai, India, with the speech “Scratch.”

The title of Mohamed Qahtani’s speech was “The Power of Words.” From the very beginning of the speech, he connected with his audience through drama and humor. Throughout his presentation he never lost sight of his message. He told a series of stories which kept him right on his theme. He also was not afraid to be personal by carefully crafted self-revelation.

In spite of Qahtani growing up as a stutterer, and at times still suffering from it, he uses humor instead of his lack of eloquence to get his point across. And though he opened with humor to get them laughing and relaxed, he ended with giving the audience a feeling of hope. 

I wish I had heard about Toastmasters International when I was young. I am sure the training I could have received would have enormously reduced the struggles I had with public speaking. If you are interested, there are actually 15 clubs in a 10-mile radius of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and all you have to do to join is fill out an application and be willing to pay dues of $36 per month every six months.

Mark Twain said, “There are only two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”  

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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