The Art of Speaking  

Tips from a world champion public speaker

Speaking of champions

YouTube /Wade Paterson

Growing up, Mohammed Qahtani rarely spoke.

His reluctance to communicate stemmed from a traumatizing experience he had in Grade 1. Mohammed’s teacher placed a book on his desk and asked him to read to the rest of the class. Despite having a speech impediment, Mohammed did his best to read the words out loud, however, he couldn’t hide his stutter.
His teacher slapped him across his face.

“There is no hope out of you,” he said.

Decades later, Mohammed would go on to be crowned Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking.

I had the chance to learn about Mohammed’s remarkable story during an interview for my new podcast Keys from Keynotes. The goal of the podcast is to tap into the knowledge and expertise of some of the world’s best public speakers, and share what gives them confidence from the stage.

Mohammed’s transition from being unable to speak without stuttering to becoming world champion took years of perseverance in the face of ridicule.

During his last year of high school, a classmate challenged him to face his fear head on and volunteer to read the morning announcements for the school. Mohammed took his classmate’s challenge. It was a disaster. Four hundred students laughed at Mohammed as he stuttered through the announcements the next morning.

Frustrated, Mohammed confronted his classmate later that day and asked him why he would allow him to be humiliated. His classmate responded with words that would stick with Mohammed throughout the rest of his life: “Success doesn’t happen the first time. Go back and try again.”

Mohammed read the announcements the next day. And the day after that. And while he struggled each time, he noticed small improvements, so he kept going.

In 2009, he joined Toastmasters. At that point, he had overcome his fear of speaking and actually enjoyed the process of being on stage. Six years later, Mohammed’s speech “The Power of Words” won him the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking. You can watch that speech here.

It doesn’t take long to realize why Mohammed’s speech earned the gold medal. Within the first few moments, he grabs the audience’s attention by pretending to light a cigarette on stage.

As Mohammed explains, an introduction is one of the most important elements of a speech.

“If you do not hook me in the first five seconds, my mind will automatically skip,” he says. “Do something spectacular within the first few seconds of your speech that will grab the audience’s attention.”

Mohammed is also an expert at injecting humour in his speeches.

“The audience loves two things.They love to laugh and they love to hear stories,” explains Mohammed. “You have to walk a thin line, because you want to be motivational and inspirational, but at the same time, you do not want to come out as a clown who just makes people laugh all the time.”

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my conversation with Mohammed was what he experienced after becoming world champion.

“It’s not as glamorous as you might think it is,” he says.

Outside of the Toastmasters organization, few people are aware of who the world champions of public speaking are. Sure, Mohammed had the opportunity to give a few speeches internationally following his victory but there wasn’t an abundance of money or fame that came with the title.

He encourages those who compete in Toastmasters competitions to really think about why they are entering the contest. If it’s to win a trophy, they are probably entering for the wrong reason. According to Mohammed, the “why” should be the opportunity to influence the audience and make a difference in the world.

“Every time I take the stage, whether I speak to thousands or even two or three people, I always give it my all. If I can only influence the life of one person, that person can change the life of another person, and that other person could change the lives of two other people

YouTube /Wade Paterson

. It could start a ripple effect that I might actually be able to change the entire world, just by (influencing) one person.”

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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