Becoming a good public speaker, one speech at a time

These days, achieving success and sustaining it requires hard work, perseverance, and good public speaking skills.

Just look at the big names in business — the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jack Ma, just to name a few — and one could easily understand why.

It’s not enough to be able to steer your career or business toward lofty heights of success; you also need to articulate your vision and ideas in order to achieve your full potential in whatever it is you are trying to be or do.

Unfortunately, public speaking skills aren’t usually taught in schools. There are speech classes, but these are wholly inadequate, and are more focused on elocution. And most people don’t even get past their fear of standing before audiences to talk.

The good news is that there is a pathway to becoming a good public speaker no matter what your age is. Toastmasters International offers a proven program to introduce people to the wonderful world of public speaking, step by step, beginning with the simple “Icebreaker” which helps a novice overcome the fear of public speaking.

Toastmasters meeting

A typical Toastmasters meeting.


I must say that I was already quite good at public speaking since high school. The leadership roles that I had gave me good exposure, and I develop a confidence in talking before audiences. I was also a school paper editor and newspaper reporter in college (I was just 17 when I started writing stories for a weekly newspaper in Roxas City). And I worked part-time for a radio station.

But my growth as a public speaker was greatly enhanced when I joined the Iloilo Executive Toastmasters Club sometime in 1990 or 1991. The club had lawyers, professionals and business people as members. I found the 10-speech project manual for starters a very effective avenue for enhancing my public speaking skills.

Later, I moved over to the Excel Toastmasters Club.

I eagerly joined the area, division and district competitions. My favorite was the Table Topics competition where speakers are made to pick a topic, spend 2 minutes organizing the speech right there and then, and deliver it in 2 to 3 minutes. In 1999, our Excel TM Club reached the District Finals for debate in Manila. My team mates were Atty. Joebert Penaflorida, Chris Montano and Ruben Magan Gamala. We landed 1st runner up, although our loss to champion Cebu became a hot topic afterwards. Most delegates at the District Convention believed we should have bagged the championship.

In 1995 I went to work in New Jersey. My passion for Toastmasters remained strong, and I joined with NJ-based Filipinos to form our own club. One of my co-founding members, Tony Figueroa, is now an officer of Toastmasters International and a Distinguished Toastmaster. This all-Filipino club (at the time) rose to distinction quickly. I represented the club in Table Topics and went all the way to the District Finals (covering the states of New York and New Jersey) in Manhattan. I competed with the best speakers from the two states. I didn’t win but the experience really bolstered my confidence even more.

Recently, I learned that the Iloilo Executive Toastmasters Club was being revived with prodding from the late Atty. Leonardo Jiz. I hopped aboard again, and this time, I intend to serve as mentor to new members.

I have seen men and women start with Toastmasters literally frozen in fear the first time they stood before audiences. It’s not surprising the first speech project is called “Ice Breaker”. First time speakers experience their baptism of fire, so to speak, by simply “breaking the ice”, or overcoming the fear.

Many times I have seen the faces of these neophyte Toastmasters brighten up with glee after the “Ice Breaker”, often exclaiming “Did I really do that?” After speech project number one, it is usually much easier for them to step to the next speech projects. The nice thing about Toastmasters is that the entire club provides positive feedback and support for each member who delivers a speech. Each meeting ends with an evaluation session in which assigned “mentors” give the speaker comments on how to improve his or her delivery.

The supportive atmosphere at Toastmasters is what makes its program effective. This is an opportunity for everybody to learn public speaking skills, one speech project at a time.


Going back to the ‘Great Books’

I was schooled in public elementary and high school in Roxas City.
I wasn’t a diligent and studious student who earned praises from teachers.
At no time in my elementary and high school life did I carry more than one notebook, for the entire school year!
I didn’t do homework; heck, we didn’t even have textbooks for ourselves (we had to share a textbook 3:1, or three students per book, in high school).
But I read a lot. And I read the classics when I was in college.
The library became my refuge. It started at UPV where I was a freshman student. Then it continued at the Colegio de la Purisima Concepcion where I saw that the last borrower before me was often 10 or 15 years before.
And so I support this initiative to bring back our high school and college students to the classics, or a broader humanities program that would also include immersion in the arts, music and theater.