BSA member David Jones was the UK and Ireland winner of the 'Topics' contest at the Autumn 2010 Conference of Toastmasters International in Dublin.
The Topics contest involves giving an impromptu speech for two minutes. The eight finalists are brought into the room one at a time and given the same topic or question to speak on. There is no preparation time: the contestant is given the topic and must speak immediately.
The UK and Ireland final was in front of an audience of 300. It was the fourth round of a competition that started two months earlier with contests in all 250 Toastmaster clubs.
David has now won the UK and Ireland title three times, which is unprecedented.
David has had a stammer since the age of six. He says, "I had speech therapy when I was at secondary school but didn't find it very helpful. I did the Starfish project about eight years ago, which I found much more effective."
How do you feel since winning?
"I have been on a high since the contest. I really wanted to win, so the buzz is huge. There's a strong sense of camaraderie in Toastmasters, and many people have been congratulating me. The first time I won the UK and Ireland title in 2004 I was thinking 'perhaps it's just beginner's luck'. Being a stammerer, I didn't have very high self esteem. Now I have won again, I'm beginning to believe people when they say I'm quite good at it."
What does it means to win at this level?
"Toastmasters has lots of great speakers, so winning makes me feel very pleased. I am hoping that winning at this level will lead to many more invitations to speak to audiences outside of Toastmasters."
How has Toastmasters helped you?
"I have been a member of Toastmasters International for seven years. I usually speak at every meeting, so it has given me a massive amount of experience of standing up and speaking in front of audiences. Not only does that improve your confidence and help you to overcome your fear of speaking in public but the feedback you get helps you to improve your communication skills. Toastmasters is the most cost-effective public speaking training there is."
How about your stammer?
"As someone who stammers, Toastmasters has been invaluable. The more I speak in public the easier it gets and the more I enjoy it. There are still words I sometimes stammer on but my fluency has increased dramatically. Years ago, speaking in front of any sort of audience would terrify me because I would always be thinking "I'm a stammerer". The pressure of not wanting to stammer would increase the likelihood that I would stammer. It was a vicious circle. As I got more experience, I became less nervous and less obsessed with trying to hide my stammer. Ironically, getting more comfortable about stammering publicly has reduced the stress and improved my fluency. The interesting thing is that I now stammer less on stage than when I'm just talking to one person."
"I have given a few talks to raise funds for the BSA. I have also done about 350 stand-up comedy gigs, which can be very scary. But after stand-up, no other form of public speaking seems quite as bad. I also enjoy after-dinner speaking, and I'm hoping to do a lot more of that."