Erich Viedge District 74 Director 2011/12

Why do we speak, when there are books in the world?

Think about it. 

You can read between 200 and 300 words a minute. But we can only speak at around 140 words a minute. That means I can read this article aloud to you, and it will take 30% to 100% longer than reading it for yourself.

If speaking is so inefficient, why bother with speeches? Why does Toastmasters even exist?

Many people are religious. They spend 30-60 minutes going to church, then listen to a person speak at 140 words a minute, with lots of pauses and repetition and arm-waving, and then spend another 30-60 minutes to go home.

They could save all that time and money on transport by staying home and reading the Bible for themselves at 200+ words a minute.  

But people go to churches or listen to inspirational speakers, because listening to a really good speaker is inspirational. Being there is much better than reading it for yourself.

And what about you? Are you somebody people want to listen to? Will they travel for 30-60 minutes to hear you speak and pause and wave your arms — and then travel 30-60 minutes back home? And will they be happy they made the trip?

Because that should be the goal — every time you speak.

Earlier, I asked: Why do we speak, when there are books in the world? 

I learned the answer from the District 71 Director at the time, Theresa Dukes.

You may know that Area, Division and District Directors are not allowed to compete in speech contests. We are supposed to concentrate on leadership.

I was at the International Convention — the worldwide conference of Toastmasters held every August. 

Theresa asked me: “Are you going to the speakers workshop?”

I said: “What speakers’ workshop?”

She said: “The world champions hold a speakers workshop after every international conference. It costs one dollar to attend.”

I looked at her as if she was stupid.

I said: “I’m a District Director. I don’t compete in contests.”

She said: “Erich. Do you really think that we learn to speak in order to win contests? How are you going to lead a district if you can’t inspire people? Your year as district director is the most important speaking opportunity of your life!”

Can you imagine the impact if all 4,000 Toastmasters in District 74 made inspiration our goal?

How many times have you sat in meeting rooms, watching people give presentations — presentations that are not entertaining, not informative and sure as nuts, not inspirational.

If Toastmasters exists, how is it possible that boring presentations also exist? Our job should be to give people the skills to stop wasting the lives of their audiences.

These corporate presenters are missing a huge opportunity. Because, as Theresa shows us, nothing delivers inspiration quite like a speaker.

Inspirational books take hours to read. Inspirational movies take 90 minutes to watch.

But a really good speaker can inspire us multiple times, in just five to seven minutes.

With our 200+ clubs, our members are delivering around 1,200 speeches a month. 

That’s nearly 15,000 opportunities for inspiration every year! 

And we live on a continent that needs inspiration and leadership.

Every time we deliver a speech that inspires, we improve Africa. Every time we complete a Path, or serve as a leader in a club or district — from the role of evaluator / coach to the District Director, we take the total amount of leadership on our continent, and we increase it.

The next time you are listening to a speech — maybe at church, maybe at work, maybe at a family gathering or a community event — remember: you are a Toastmaster. Learn from those speakers and see how they inspire you and how they fail to inspire you. And then, take the opportunity to be the change you want to see in the world. Step up. Speak. Lead.


Erich Viedge was District 74 Director in 2011/12. Under his leadership, District 74 reached #8 in the world. His home club is Rosebank Breakfast Toastmasters.