An Interview for District 71 Toastmasters

I was recently interviewed by Karen O’Donnell, Public Relations Manager for District 71 Toastmasters:

Why did you join Toastmasters?
About 5 years ago I was asked if I was able to deliver some training on fundraising (the area I work in). I said yes, but quickly realised I was terrified and knew that if I messed it up it would be a real missed opportunity. A friend had mentioned Toastmasters to me and, although I had assumed it would be full of boring old men smoking cigars, I decided to try it. I’d also just had a baby and was looking for an excuse to get away from him.

How long have you been a member?
About 5 years. I went as a guest for a few months before joining, and since then I’ve gone about once a week. If I don’t then I feel ‘the fear’ creeping back in and I become rusty.

How many contests have you participated in?
I think 5 International Speech Contests. The first time I didn’t even place at club level. The following year I got to Area and then got obliterated. Every year I got one stage further. I learned so much each time. Having said that, I still do terribly in Evaluation and Table Topics contests – to the point that I gave up entering them…for now.

Where do you get your inspiration for writing contest speeches?
I keep notes of possible speech ideas: things that happen to me; topics and ideas that catch my eye in the real world; or even things that I want to understand and explore more. Some of the ideas come to nothing. Some take ages to form.
My contest speeches usually evolve out of other speeches, which I then feed in to from ‘the best’ of other speeches or things that come to mind afterwards. Looking back on a speech, over time, I find other ideas and stories pop in to your head that you think, Yes great that would fit in nicely.

This speech mentions your area of work in your speech, what motivates you to do what you do?
I work as the Head of Fundraising for a charity, One In Four: we work with people who were sexually abused as children. Obviously the cause – the good work – motivates me, in that I see lives being changed every day and I’m surrounded by amazing people.
But I love fundraising – and have grown to love public speaking and training. I love that what you say and how you say it could be the difference between a room full of people deciding to donate thousands or sitting back and doing nothing.

Do you use Toastmasters in your line of work?
All the time: I do presentations about our organisation and pitch for support. I speak to groups of volunteers, I present to co-workers. And I train other fundraisers and other charities around the world to become better fundraisers and speakers. If I hadn’t of joined Toastmasters I honestly believe I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities. It literally changed my life.

When writing a contest speech, where does your passion come from?
To be honest I struggle with this. I like doing humorous speeches, or silly speeches. I like for the room to have fun and for everyone to be entertained. I’ve struggled with the passion and the inspiration side…maybe because I’m so cynical.
But it exists…it’s just important to find the few things I’m really passionate about: my parents, my son, the amazing charities I work with. Speeches around those are probably my best.

Who/ What has inspired you with your speeches?
Some people on the Toastmasters ‘circuit’ motivate me. I’ve looked at other members like Eddie O’Hanlon, Ray Langan and Fiona O’Meara…and I think ugh, I want to be that good. And then members like Elaine Staveley, Dermot Carey, Gillian Davidson, John Hennessy and Elaine Gallagher motivate me with their passion for speeches, their support and their feedback.
Really everyone in my club, and every club I’ve visited, inspired me because we’re all working to overcome something that’s held us back. It’s not easy to put yourself in that situation…the people that go to Toastmasters are amazing.

Whats the best advice you have received in relation to speech writing?
I always feel like such a fraud giving other people advice, because I feel like I still struggle.
But I think it’s important to write about what you know…specifically bring yourself in to your speeches as much as you can. Lots of people think they’re too boring, their interests are too boring or their work is to boring. But that’s nonsense. Outsiders don’t know anything you know, so it’s all new and can be exciting. The more you share of yourself, the more you open up, the better people respond.

How are you preparing for Washington?
I’m trying to deliver my two speeches as much as possible – it’s hard to find the time. But I’m trying to do at least one speech a week. And I’m trying to get feedback from people who know their stuff. Then it’s just about staying positive…I always have to trick my mind in to believing that I’m good, that I can win, that it’s going to be great. I don’t believe any of that…but I have to convince myself of it for 5-7 minutes

What advice would you give someone who is considering entering this International Contest next year?
First off: read the judging form. It seems obvious, but I didn’t do it for years until Dermot told me it was a common mistake. Sure enough, the judging form makes it clear what you’re actually being marked on! It changes the way you present yourself.
Then be clear what the goal of the speech is…what’s the purpose? What do you want people to take away? What are you leaving them with? All my previous speeches were let down by this…I never had a strong call to action or a message the audience would remember when they woke up the next morning. You can’t win a contest without that.

If there is one thing about Toastmasters that he would change, what would it be?
I feel like Toastmasters is moving away from ‘Public Speaking’ towards ‘Leadership’., which I’m wary of. Yes I think Leadership is important, and Toastmasters is incredible at helping you develop that. But I don’t know anyone that joined to become a better leader…we’re all here (initially, anyway) to become more comfortable with public speaking. I hope the organisation will never forget that.

What did you gain from Toastmasters that you weren’t expecting?
I’ve learned a lot about the most random things. Sometimes I could happily go to a meeting and say nothing…just sit back and listen to 3 speeches about the most eclectic subjects, delivered by someone who’s passionate about this thing I’ve never heard of. It’s so interesting.
And then networking. Not forced, awkward, business networking. Just an opportunity to meet really amazing people who…sometimes…you’re able to help out with something, or they’re able to help you. Several people I’ve met have ended up becoming long-term supporters of my charity, One In Four ( They’ve changed people’s lives. That’s amazing.

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