The Artful Craft of Public Speaking

Can anyone learn the skill of effective public speaking? Yes. But leadership cannot be learned in a day. It takes practice.

By Margaret Lindsay Holton
Published April 01, 2013

I recently attended James Burchill's Business-in-Burlington's much hyped March 21st event at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Over 500 small and mid-business types milled about, chatting up old and new contacts.

Truth be told though, regardless of the very pleasant surroundings, free hors d'oeuvres and engaging exhibitor displays, it was hard work if one was coming in cold.

I noticed a few shy wall-flowers clinging to the perimeters not quite sure when or where to 'dive in'. Those familiar with other BiB events had a decided advantage, and most of those merrily schmoozed with other familiar faces. All in all, the place was rocking.

Even so, one moment stood out. The entire event came to a stand still when Burlington's Mayor, Rick Goldring, took to the podium. He spoke for a few minutes to welcome the guests and congratulate them on their assorted start-ups and on-going ventures. When he stepped down, there was a decided lull in the conversation as his 'tone' set in,' and then, participants intensified their busy chatter.

Burlington's Mayor, Rick Goldring (Image Credit: City of Burlington)
Burlington's Mayor, Rick Goldring (Image Credit: City of Burlington)

What struck me most about the Mayor's short presentation was his 'delivery'. He spoke confidently, combining a deft interweaving of chummy casualness with polite formality respectful of his civic station. His voice was clear, warm and, to all listening, encouraging. He spoke very well. It was a crystalline rosy moment that made all listeners feel a part of one big happy family. And, as such, he did a very good job of it, as our civic Leader.

I started to wonder what specific attribute made this happen. Looks? Can't hurt. Personal attire? Made an impression for sure. Nice tie? Sure. A title? It definitely helps, especially when infused with passion and vision. So, Passion and Vision? Yes, both. But personal passion or an invigorating vision won't get a Leader anywhere without one underlying capability.

Earlier, I had seen the Mayor stand alone in the wings quietly glancing at some notes. He was preparing before he spoke, and on cue, he delivered. His brief speech was, in sum, an insightful lesson about the ongoing art and craft of public speaking.

Paletta Mansion (Image Credit: Mansions Toastmasters of Burlington)
Paletta Mansion (Image Credit: Mansions Toastmasters of Burlington)

Art and Craft of Public Speaking

Can anyone learn this skill? Yes. But leadership cannot be learned in a day. It takes practice.

In Burlington, one of our best unsung resources for honing this necessary leadership skill is Mansion Toastmasters.

This eclectic group is a local club of Toastmasters International, founded in Santa Ana, California in 1924 by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley. It was Dr. Smedley who conceived and developed a simple framework to help others speak more effectively.

Mansion Toastmasters of Burlington's mission is "to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment, in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which, in turn, foster self-confidence and personal growth."

From their website, "A company's success depends on communication. How well they communicate can determine whether a company quickly grows into an industry leader or joins thousands of other businesses mired in mediocrity." True enough.

So, what actually happens at one of these meetings? "A typical toastmaster evening provides a variety of presentation and speaking challenges. These are varied in length and complexity and are assigned in direct relation to the Toastmasters' expertise. Toastmasters learn by a) seeing good work presented and evaluated, and b) imitating successful techniques. Toastmasters meetings are spiced with laughter, creativity and camaraderie. We have fun!"

Toastmasters have fun on Hallowe'en! (Image Credit: Mansions Toastmasters of Burlington)
Toastmasters have fun on Hallowe'en! (Image Credit: Mansions Toastmasters of Burlington)

Mansion Toastmasters

I went to my first Toastmasters meeting on Wednesday night and had a blast. It really was fun, as well as emotionally engaging and intellectually challenging. I watched and listened as everyone struggled with various levels of fear, shyness and "nerves" to be both 'present' and 'public'.

It was an inspiring introduction to the artful craft of being a 'public persona'. Everyone, myself included, had to 'stand and deliver'. The pace was very fast, with a short five-minute break halfway through the proceedings.

Some spoke better than others, but at the end of the day, it wasn't so much a 'competition' as an opportunity for everyone to better their presentation skills.

At all times, members and newcomers were encouraged with ongoing positive reinforcement through hand-clapping by the entire group. Sounds silly, but it works.

A Timekeeper made sure everyone stayed on track. Sort of. At times it did appear a bit chaotic and seemed to fall into an impromptu 'free-for-all'. But the mentors, or more seasoned members of the group, were quick to re-focus the ebullient chatter.

Evaluators judged the Speakers, and they, in turn, were judged by the General Evaluator. Time just flew past.

Also from their website: "Using the speaking and leadership skills developed at Toastmasters, people become more active in business, churches, service and charity organizations. Toastmaster members are able to organize activities, conduct meetings, and speak in public as their organization's representative. Some even become active in local, state or national government."

Most would agree that Burlington's Mayor, Rick Goldring, has become a much better public speaker after a few short years of practice. Know this: you can do it too.

Toastmasters meet every Wednesday night at Paletta Mansion (Image Credit: Margaret Lindsay Holton)
Toastmasters meet every Wednesday night at Paletta Mansion (Image Credit: Margaret Lindsay Holton)

Every Wednesday night throughout the year, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm, guests can join this small engaging group of 20 to 30 people (over the age of 18) when they get together at the Paletta Mansion on Lakeshore Road in the Cumis Room.

Learn to refine your listening and speaking skills. Guests can attend for three 'free' visits. After that, membership, at $250 US per year, is required. Based on what I experienced in those two very short hours, the price is well worth the price of admission.

Check it out:

A mid-career Golden Horseshoe artist and author, Lindsay is available for commissions and assignments via 'mlhpro' at 'hotmail' dot 'com'. See samples at


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