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Sep. 19, 2020 | Saturday
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All hail the toastmaster: Overcoming a fear of public speaking was only the start
Miguel Mori. (Supplied)

Pushing beyond his comfort zone, Miguel Mori has been on a five-year, “life-changing” journey with Toastmasters, earning the Distinguished Toastmasters Award this year. He says he plans to keep the momentum going with the hope of inspiring new speakers and leaders.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization “run by its members, for its members,” Mori says.

While the desire to overcome anxiety speaking in crowds as a musician initially drew him to the program, Mori says Toastmasters taught him “much more” than just public speaking.

“If you ask any Toastmaster their reason for being there it’s going to be different. But the reason for staying, it’s kind of similar. There’s a sense of community afterwards,” he says.

Gaining experience and building confidence public speaking is just one limb of the organization.

“You learn very quickly when you walk through that door that there’s the public speaking side. And there’s the impromptu speaking side, which, of course, is if you’re doing interviews or things like that, which is helpful.”

“But then there’s the whole leadership side as well. It’s taking on both meetings and board roles and taking on planning projects in the community,” he says.

Mori’s education through the program has helped him as growth manager for the family-owned Mori Gardens. Working in marketing, he says the leadership skills gained have also helped him cultivate relationships and co-ordinate events for the community.

“NOTL Toastmasters and Rotary do have a partnership. We’re going to be defining what that is … I think it’s up to the two organizations to find what they want to do with it.”

Now, he is the vice-president, education for the Niagara-on-the-Lake club, which he helped create in 2018 with fellow Distinguished Toastmasters Katharine Parsons, Charles Kennedy and Mario Hundertajlo.

“(They) assisted me greatly on my path as a Distinguished Toastmaster and continue to be a huge support for the club and its members … Only one per cent of Toastmasters reach DTM and the four of us reached within six months of each other, all having been members for five to six years during our journeys.”

At a certain point along the Toastmasters journey, Mori says members are encouraged to either sponsor a mentor or to start their own club. He saw “a want” for NOTL to have its own and with nothing directly in town, he says the four of them came together to form one.

It didn’t come without its roadblocks.

Mori says to officially create a branch of Toastmasters the club must have at least 20 members. Without having the numbers in the beginning, he says the group got off to a rocky start.

“We created it, we brought down world-class speakers, amazing people to help us out, and then no one showed up, and this happened for a little bit actually ... (Niagara College) helped us out a lot by giving us a room. And we went for about six months with a couple guests here and a couple of students but we weren’t getting the people we needed in order to get the club started.”

Mori says they took a route that many clubs don’t and began offering a six-week intensive course. With the assistance of Pen Financial Credit Union in St. Catharines, which he says offered a space, the group began attracting more people.

“And, you know what, it turned out that was what people really wanted,” he says.

At first he says he expected the workshop to support more of a wine tourism-oriented group, but it actually attracted more people from entrepreneurial groups.

“It was your real estate, your mortgage brokers, your people that were kind of making their own way and wanted to move themselves forward, which is really interesting,” he says.

While fear and anxiety can often hold people back from joining the program, Mori says it’s important to know it’s a place for all.

“The biggest thing is that it’s for everyone. Everyone has different reasons.”

He says there’s no one walk of life; everyone’s there to learn.

“You have a person that starts and they can’t speak, they need help, but you have another person that’s in their 50s, 60s, that’s an amazing speaker, but they can’t use PowerPoint at all. And so, they need help using technology to communicate better. And so, the two are able to mentor each other in different ways to move forward. And I think that was always an important part,” he says.

While everyone has a different goal, each person comes to the table with a different skill “that’s valid as well that we can all learn from.”

So, although it can be frightening to push through your comfort zone, Mori says it’s worth the effort.

“I think, the same thing for everyone is you’re in your head at the beginning, when something is scary, when you have anxiety.”

His journey began with a six-week Speechcraft program, which is an extended workshop on communication and leadership run by Toastmasters. Due to his own anxieties, combined with his work schedule, he says it became too overwhelming.

“I actually dropped out.”

He tried again with another club, attending several meetings before dropping it again. On his third try he joined Cariboo Club in B.C., “finally giving myself the kick in the butt,” to stick it out.

“Pretty soon you realize, ‘Hey, if I have a goal outside – I want to come up as a facilitator, I want to lead workshops or something like that. This is actually the place to practice where I’m not judged in the same way.’ Everyone here is just helping me move forward.”

What really drew him to it “is that everyone here has a totally different goal, not everyone wants to public speak or public speak for the same reason … Each person is really finding the confidence in delivering the message that they have.”

The NOTL Toastmasters is now holding meetings via the Zoom meeting app. If anyone is interested in joining or sitting in on a class, Mori says to reach out to the club at NOTLtoastmasters@gmail.com, or to check out the website at www.niagaratoastmasters.com.

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