This coming Wednesday, September 26, 2018 two amazing things are happening. One, I turn 52 years old. My brother is very proud of me, but then since, as he puts it, “he raised me from a pup” I suppose he’s earned it. When I look at the obstacles that I’ve overcome, the things I’ve survived and the risky deaths I’ve avoided I am a bit proud of myself as well.

I’ve had my fair share of challenges in this life, as we all have, and I’m happy to say I’ve grown much more comfortable with myself over the years. It wasn’t always so. Being a young gay man in the AIDS decade was scary, painful and often a source of bullying and hatred. Today it’s a very different world – thankfully. Who knows, someday I may even be completely over the trauma of those years. But not yet. Those wounds are deep, and I can still feel the pain. It’s not the same as the sexual assaults so many people have been subjected to, but it makes me sympathetic to them.

Facing our fears and traumas is an important part of growing. I’ve had to face mine – like the first time I was in court as a young divorce attorney trying to get a judge to pay attention to the arguments I was making. She was a renown man-hating judge who barely heard, let alone listened, to the arguments I was making. Those days are long gone, today judges and courtrooms are old hat as I argue for more custodial time for a father, or try a domestic violence case.

There did come a time though when I wanted to learn more about speaking. I wanted to have the feedback of someone who knew what they were doing, and it wasn’t coming from the people in the black robes. So I sought out Toastmasters International – where leaders are made.

Toastmasters program was created in 1905 by Ralph C. Smedley, who was working as Director of Education at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Bloomington Illinois. Smedley saw the need for the men to learn how to properly speak in public, conduct meetings and work on committees together. The first meetings were not all that different from what they are today – a perfect opportunity for people to face their greatest fears, in an open and nurturing environment.

I joined Toastmasters in 2010 to improve my public speaking. I was comfortable in front of people, I just wasn’t very entertaining or polished in the way that a good professional speaker is. When joined the local Santa Monica Club #638 – Westside Toastmasters, we had a wide variety of speakers. From those who could barely squeak out a 90 second answer to an impromptu question like “What’s your favorite type of pie?” to those who literally ranked as the second best speaker in the world, the late Robert Mackenzie, who was an astounding speaker, actor and mentor to me.

The standard for years has been to complete what is called the Competent Communicator (CC) manual – a series of 10 speeches that provide the solid foundation for a good stage presence and interesting, informative and entertaining speech. I started down the road to completing the CC manual and it took about 9 months for me to be done.

Toastmasters is known not just for its public speaking however, there is an entire leadership course that is also contained in the program. In a streak of 1950’s creativity that manual is called the Competent Leader. I completed that in about 12 months also. That part of the program focuses on collaboration, committee work, service to the club and the wider organization to go from never led a meeting to chairing a committee. For those people who are shy, new to the business world or looking to improve their presentation and leadership skills there are no programs that I know of, that can provide the level of training, opportunity for growth, and positive feedback that Toastmasters can. Especially for the low membership rates of $17 a month.

Which brings me to the second amazing thing that’s happening tomorrow night. As they do every Wednesday night, Club 638 is meeting at the Ken Edwards Center 1527 4th Street, starting at 7:00. This particular meeting is special (not just because it’s my birthday) but because the Westside Toastmasters Club is holding an open house and inviting the public to come experience what Toastmasters is all about. The party starts a bit early at 6:45 and there is no charge to attend, there will be loads of food, fun and information. Parking is not validated, but there is on-site parking. The meeting will run to 9 p.m. and you do not need to RSVP.

If you want to bring me a cupcake for my birthday, I’ll be most appreciative – I like all flavors, plus you can see me speak on what Toastmasters has meant to me.

 

DAVID PISARRA is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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