Reg Boaler’s speech that won the Toastmasters’ District 96 International Speech Contest, held at the Grand Villa Hotel in Burnaby recently, was a work in progress 10 years in the making.
In fact, he made a major tweak to it the morning of his final oration and he’ll keep refining and honing it right up until he presents it again at the semifinals of the World Championship of Speaking, part of the Toastmasters International annual convention, being held in Chicago, Ill., Aug. 22 to 25.
Sometimes those tweaks come after Boaler presents the latest version of his speech to his local Toastmasters chapter. Sometimes they tickle his consciousness as he’s trying to fall asleep and he’ll arise from bed to write them down.
“Every word has to count,” said Boaler, who lives in Port Coquitlam. “Every word has to convey a message, a feeling, a smell.”
Engaging his audience’s senses is something Boaler has learned since he first joined Toastmasters, a worldwide organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills, in 1985. He had a fledgling business supplying equipment to restaurants and bars and he wanted to become a better communicator with his employees and customers.
“I always admired people who could speak off the cuff,” said Boaler. “You just have to do it and with repetition, it comes.”
He also discovered it tickled his competitive instincts.
But to take his oration skills beyond impressing his local club mates to wowing the judges at the regional and international levels, Boaler needed a topic he could be passionate about, one he could speak to from his heart and not be afraid to let his vulnerability come through. He found it in the journey back to health his 23-year-old son, Russell, went through after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.
It was an emotional subject, to be sure, Boaler said. But it was also one filled with pathos, struggle, courage, and dark humour, as well as a positive message of resilience and survival. And, most importantly, it was deeply personal.
“I know this story so well, it’s in my DNA,” Boaler said.
Two years ago, when Boaler was living in Richmond, he won the international speech contest for District 21, which covers the area south of the Fraser River, as well as the Okanagan, and Gulf Islands. The move to a new district allowed him to present his speech to new listeners and gather new ideas for its refinement.
To prepare for the international stage in August, Boaler will sharpen or pare each of his speech’s 883 words even further for maximum impact, rehearse every nuanced gesture that reinforces the message of those words and fits comfortably between the 4:30-minute minimum and 7:30 maximum length. Against more than 100 of Toastmasters’ best speakers from around the world, there’s no room for error.
“I’ve got 108 days,” Boaler said last Wednesday. “I’m going to be working on my speech every day.”