WATCH: man with dyspraxia who defied odds to pass driving test gives award-winning speech

Belfast Toastmasters is an organisation which has helped its members grow in confidence by teaching them the secrets of public speaking.

Tuesday, 11th January 2022, 4:53 pm

President Phil Sturgeon gave an example of the confidence boost public speaking can provide.

He said: “One of our members Lee Maguire has a developmental condition called dyspraxia which affects his coordination and fine motor skills.

“He joined Toastmasters as a way to build his confidence and social skills.

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A rousing reception for a speech at Belfast Toastmasters

“He won the 2016 Humorous Speech Contest for a speech called ‘The Drive Within’.

“The title comes from a specialist’s assessment that he would never be able to drive due to his eyesight and coordination.

“Lee went on to pass his test and travel the world for eight months.

“Lee has won many more contests and set up his own Toastmasters club in his home town of Monaghan.”

President of Belfast Toastmasters Phil Sturgeon

Phil said the common reasons for people to join Toastmasters are to progress their careers or in preparation for a wedding speech.

He said: “We’ve 31 members, many of them would have joined related to their career. They either find themselves in a new role where they have a team to manage or their role may require them to deliver training. They want the confidence to be able to stand up and speak with authority.

“I found myself in a similar situation. I’m in HR with the Salvation Army, my role was growing into delivering more and more training. The first time I stood up in front of about 20 people to deliver half a day’s training I felt myself really wooden, unanimated. I felt so nervous I felt it was painful for the audience as well.”

He said another common reason for joining was due to an upcoming best man’s speech or groom’s speech.

Delivering a groom’s speech is something Phil himself never got to do. Although he married Laura in 2020, their wedding was significantly scaled down due to the first Covid lockdown and they had a ceremony with just 14 people ... and no speeches.

Belfast Toastmasters used to meet in a room at the Europa Hotel but due to restrictions the meetings are taking place online for the time being.

Phil said: “We’ve picked up so many members since lockdown who have never delivered a speech in person. These members are from all over Ireland, we’ve got members in England, we’ve got folks dialing in from South Africa and Australia.

“It’s a lovely club because we have such a diverse range of members who all bring their own stories with them.”

Discussing nerves, Phil said: “Overcoming nerves comes in part with practice.

“In Toastmasters you’re standing in front of an audience of 31 members. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed, you’ve never get anything other than well dones and positive feedback.

“Your evaluator will give you feedback on what you did well and how you can make it even better.”

He continued: “There are a series of learning pathways for every reason you might want to improve your public speaking – there’s pathways on humour, on leadership, on coaching, on persuasive influence.

“The first speech of whatever pathway you’re doing is called the icebreaker, that’s nothing more than standing up for four minutes to introduce yourself to the club.”

Phil said: “In Toastmasters one of the first things you learn is how to structure an engaging speech. It pulls in the three elements of classical Greek rhetoric – pathos (emotion), ethos (credibility) and logos (logic). You have to try to appeal to someone’s heart, their mind and use your authenticity to instil them with confidence. I find that many MPs and business leaders today are lacking at least one of those elements.”

The first Belfast Toastmasters meeting of the New Year is on Thursday, January 13 at 7pm online via Zoom.

The club meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

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