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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.

 

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Paradigm shift

After spending two months in San Pedro City, Laguna as guest of Kap Jun Ynion, I saw concrete proof that “zero corruption” does translate into better public services and greater efficiency in governance.

Like so many others, I threw my full support into the “matuwid na daan” slogan of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III when he assumed office on June 30, 2010. It didn’t take long before the enthusiasm wilted and was replaced by disillusionment. Corruption remained rampant despite the filing of graft cases against three senators. Worse, the Aquino administration cloaked its allies, who were as voracious in plundering the national treasury, under a mantle of protection.

God knows how hard I fought to expose massive corruption in Iloilo City, filing cases against the Senate President and the City Mayor. I also inundated the Commission on Audit with requests for vital documents. In the four years I mounted that battle, I was met only with frustration. Tthe Office of the Ombudsman under its new head, Tanodbayan Conchita Carpio-Morales, does not seem eager to indict the respondents, not for lack of evidence, but simply because they were pro-Aquino.

It reached a point when I was ready to throw in the white towel. There is no way we can lick corruption. Our nation will drown in it, I told myself.

But watching how Jun Ynion translated the “zero corruption” advocacy into a working model in Barangay San Antonio opened my eyes to a new possibility for my own mission.

Instead of fighting corruption and be beaten by the system, here’s an opportunity to push “zero corruption” and persuade the people to embrace it.

This requires less energy because the emphasis is on the positive. Because of his position as the local chief executive of the barangay, Kap Jun didn’t take long in dismantling the remnants of corruption from the previous administration. It wasn’t an easy ride; he encountered heavy turbulence in the first six to 12 months. Kap Jun wields strong political will, and he was able to remove the infrastructure, including people, that bred the corruption.

Now Kap Jun is focused on proving his point: that with zero corruption, every peso in the public treasury can be used to maximum effect. All goods and infrastructure are procured at the lowest cost. Overpricing is taboo, and not a few employees of the barangay had to learn this the hard way — the lost their jobs.

Barangay San Antonio was the second biggest barangay in San Pedro City, next only to Barangay San Vicente, when Kap Jun came to office in November 2013. It has an annual budget of P35 million to serve 70,000 constituents. The amount may seem big for a barangay, but then Barangay San Antonio has a population equivalent to a mid-sized municipality.

I’ll skip the details of what Kap Jun has done for Barangay San Antonio. But it dawned upon me that the battle against corruption can be pursued — I believe with greater potency — by demonstrating that it promotes the welfare of the people and enable government to do more for less.

Indeed, history teaches that the greatest causes were won not with hostile activities, but more on the foundation of love and understanding. It’s about winning the hearts and minds of the people. This was how Christ taught his disiciples, who in turn spread His word. So, too, did Mohammad. Mahatmi Gandhi didn’t bring the British to its knees by leading a violent revolution; he advocated non-violent resistance.

Hence, as a journalist, I made up my mind to change my approach to the problem of corruption. I’ve seen that hurting our officials with exposes on their corruption didn’t change the way they went about their business. It is effective in attracting readership. However, the readers are not moved to action by the scandals they read. It’s as if nothing happened after they put down their newspapers or shut down their computers.

From now on, I will channel my energies to writing about success stories on corruption-free governance. Not all politicians are bad. We need to reinforce the core values of the good politicians by making them feel their brand of leadership is appreciated. Hopefully, the idea will spread, and more politicians will seek more of the public approval than gain the scorn of the people.

This doesn’t mean I will abandon my cause against corruption. I will continue to carry on as a watchdog. But it will be more on a positive tone. In Toastmasters, I learned that criticism can be made more palatable by couching it in pleasant language. Once you tell a person, more so a public official, that he did a something wrong, it’s likely he will put up a defensive posture and thwart the message. I’ll “suggest” to them how the law might apply to specific anomalous transactions and gently nudge them to rectify their actions.

In essence, I’ll shed off the image of a fault-finder, always ready to pounce with a dagger. This will be replaced with the image of a coach, understanding that mistakes can be made and giving our officials the benefit of the doubt as to their motive. After all, nobody is perfect. There is always room for improvement.

I feel encouraged with this paradigm shift. There is already one instance when Mayor Jed Patrick E. Mabilog canceled a contract which I pointed out was legally infirm. Next time, I’ll remove the hostility in my commentary to lessen the resistance to the message. Perhaps we will be able to see less transgressions of the law, particularly the procurement law.

On the Iloilo Convention Center, I’ve done enough. I have delivered the message about the anomalies that transpired. The case, upon a motion for reconsideration, is pending with the Office of the Ombudsman. It was a Quixotic crusade. Now that the ICC is being rushed toward completion, I will keep quiet about it. I don’t want to put more pressure on our DPWH. The career officials are always the ones caught in the middle. I’ll give them room to finish the project.

I’ve made my point, and I will let the judicial processes take its course.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of work as I embrace this paradigm shift with Kap Jun Ynion. He has embarked on a courageous journey to change politics in San Pedro City. As a loyal friend, I will help him in every way I can to succeed in his mission. After all, we share a passion for good governance and scorn for corruption.