|About the author: Harry Dhillon lives in London, and is a father, a husband, an IT professional, and a real estate investor. He has a stutter but he prefers to call himself a ‘public speaker’ rather than a ‘stutterer’. He has founded, and is the President of, Kings Speakers, an official Toastmasters club for people with a stutter. He now spends more and more energy on doing workshops and speeches and has had the fortune to present in England, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and Holland.Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Web-site : www.kingsspeakers.org
Skype : harry_dhillon100
Anais Nin said “The quality of our lives shrinks and expands in direct proportion to our courage”.
For a person who stutters (PWS), having a simple conversation can be an act of courage. Standing on stage and giving a public speech requires courage. Immense courage. And the rewards are equally immense. The beautiful thing is that doing public speaking is one of THE best ways for PWS’s to come to terms with their stutter and to un-leash the enormous potential, which is often lying hidden just beneath the surface.
My own personal and public speaking journey has been documented on ISAD previously (http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad13/papers/dhillon13.html) . My life has been, and continues to be, transformed by Toastmasters. So I wanted to “pay it forward”, and share the benefits with others. With this in mind, I founded Kings Speakers Toastmasters club in London – a public speaking club for people with a stutter. It’s a special place. It’s where first timers
usually walk in hesitant and nervous, unsure if they are doing the right thing. But after attending just a handful of meetings, many have experienced positive changes that surprise them. Within three months, many of them are hooked, and after six, you cannot get some of them off the stage!
There is no magic formula that produces this result. A gardener knows that to create beautiful flowers, you simply have to supply the right soil conditions for the plant, the appropriate amount of sun-shine and feed it regularly. Nature does the rest. Every one of us has the potential to blossom. It’s just a case of creating the right environment – a place where people are supported and understood, where they are helped and mentored, where they can laugh, have fun, and at the same time grow at their own pace and in their own unique way. Human spirit does the rest.
Kings Speakers provides this environment. When people ask me how much work was involved in setting up the club, I respond with the following analogy. Imagine for a second, that you had to open a new store on a high street. This would be difficult enough. Now imagine that your store could only let in 1% of the people who were walking on that high street. A challenge? Definitely. And….. this 1% were the people who did NOT like shopping. Hmmm. Now that really would be a tough project!
Why would someone in their right mind create a public speaking club for people who don’t like speaking at all?! Maybe it was the absurdity of the task which attracted me? Maybe it was the “I’ll prove that it can be done” ego-talk? Maybe I saw the enormous benefit it would have on other PWS’s? In hindsight, I think it was a bit of all three.
The story begins in Feb 2011, when, having seen my BBC interview on the Internet, the PR department of Toastmasters World Head Quarters in California emailed me. They wanted to know how they could help. This is how supportive the organization is. As a result, three months later when the International President, Pat Johnson, was in London, we met up to exchange
ideas. That afternoon, the seeds for Kings Speakers were sown into my psyche.
A few months later, I started the ball rolling. But I knew it wasn’t going to be simple. There would be many problems to overcome. How would I find PWS’s and tell them about the club? How would I get them to attend and do the one thing they are most frightened of? On a regular basis? What venue could we use? Given that the club would have no members initially, how would I fill the agenda with 20 people at every meeting? (Unlike a support group, where a meeting can be held with 3 people or with 30, a Toastmasters meeting has a formal agenda which requires at least 12 people, and preferably about 20, who agree to speak during the evening.) Where would the money for the start-up come from? So many things to address. So many questions.
But, if the passion is strong enough, then problems are replaced by progress. Slowly, and surely, things came together. The British Stammering Association very kindly helped me to promote the idea on their web site and Facebook page. I advertised on Meetup.com. I used every Toastmasters contact I knew to raise awareness. For six months, I used personal money to pay for the venue hire and running costs. I individually answered dozens of emails and phone calls every week. In the first few months, I would spend up to 15 hours a week on this project. It became all-consuming. My stress levels rose noticeably. People around me were telling me “you’re no fun anymore”. I reframed this as a compliment, because it implied that I had been ‘’fun to be with’ previously. At times, I even entertained the thought of giving up. But the darkest hour comes before the dawn, as the saying goes. After many ups-and-downs we reached a landmark – we achieved ‘chartered’ status – official recognition by Toastmasters International. Yay! All the hard-work had paid off. Setting up the club has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But, as it turns out, also one of the best. I was presented the “Toastmaster of the Year” award in London for my efforts. I felt honoured and had a lump in my throat as I gave an acceptance speech in front of a large crowd. But a far bigger reward for me is our meetings. Seeing the glow on people’s faces as they take to the stage, having seen them come so far in just a few short months, is heart-warming. Watching people laugh, cheer and encourage others as they challenge themselves is rewarding. And seeing that lives are literally being changed, is the biggest reward of all.
But we’re not just about public speaking. There is a strong social aspect to the club too. After each meeting, we head downstairs to a glorious wine bar, for well-deserved drinks. Many friendships have been made at the club, many happy memories created, and many touching moments shared. There is a very strong ‘family’ feel to our group and the sense of camaraderie is obvious.
Kings Speakers is now a well-known club in London. We take part in official speech contests, competing with non-PWS’s from other clubs. And we do pretty well! We invite Toastmaster celebrities as guest speakers. There are workshops where we learn how to speak with greater confidence, how to think on our feet, and how to offer feedback in a diplomatic and supportive manner. These are all essential life skills, which are very beneficial in real-world situations like work meetings, interviews, or in personal relationships. In fact, I always feel touched when a member casually reveals that they speak more in work meetings nowadays, or that they’ve had the courage to ask for a salary increase, or that they’ve become more assertive. I saw a member speak in front of 120 people and afterwards he told me that he would never have dreamt of doing that only 3 months previously. Another member, Usman Choudhry, through communication and leadership training at Kings, raised a staggering amount of £45,000 for our national stuttering association. If ever there was a measurable benefit created by the club, this surely is it!
Our members are pushing themselves in all sorts of ways, and exploring un-chartered territories. Their confidence levels have risen, their self-esteem levels have risen, and their belief systems are changing. They are seeing speaking situations in a new light. And they are seeing their wonderful personalities come to the surface. All this by doing the un-thinkable.
So, what next for Kings? By next summer, we aim to be the best Toastmasters club in our area. This is measured by pre-defined goals which
every club tries to achieve. And we are ahead of the target. But there is a greater goal. A far bigger goal. Someone once said “If you tell people your dreams and they’re not laughing at you, then your dreams are not big enough”. The bigger goal is this: there is no reason why every major city in the world, from London to Los Angeles, from Singapore to Seoul, from New York to Nairobi cannot have a club like Kings Speakers. All it takes is for one local person to make a decision. A decision to step forward and take charge. And Kings Speakers would love to help make this possible. We will act as club mentors, and guide and support others, via email, phone, or Skype. So, if there are any PWS’s reading this, who also happen to be experienced Toastmasters, and if they feel passionate about starting a club like Kings in their city, then……lets’ do it!
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