In the beginning…

It was almost 2 years ago that I decided to put everything I had into pursuing one lofty goal – winning the 2013 World Championship of Public Speaking. Most of this blog follows that year-long journey, the fun I had, the frustration I experienced, the people I met and the things I learned along the way.

I also discovered that my motives for wanting to win the World Championship weren’t about winning the World Championship at all.

That year, through working with life coach Micaela Pennell, I discovered that my motives for wanting to win were thus:

1. I wanted to feel worthy, amazing, proud of myself and satisfied with myself.
2. I wanted to know that people are proud of and happy for me and would admire me.
3. I wanted to leave a mark with my life and then get on with real life.
4. I wanted to know that I was capable of the discipline necessary to achieve something truly difficult and to know that I was good at something of worth.
5. I wanted others to believe I was a good speaker, someone notable and worth listening to. Someone who walked the talk.
6. I wanted to know that if I set goals for myself I could achieve them and that I could become more evolved through a learning process.
7. I wanted to show myself that things I thought were out of reach were not necessarily out of reach if I learned HOW to reach for them.
8. I wanted to further expand my relationship with God.
9. I wanted to prove that I could entertain people and impart messages of value while doing so.
10. I wanted to further develop my writing, thinking, comunication, disciplinary and interpersonal skills.
11. I wanted to know that I could do the hard stuff.
12. I wanted to prove that my voice matters.

My journey for the trophy came to a rude halt half way through the competition rounds when I came in second to the man who is representing our Toastmasters District in Kuala Lampur this year. At least I lost to the best.

But afterwards, even though I was very disappointed, I realized that I had met most of my criteria along the way.  The goal was not the goal. It was simply a focal point I used as I worked to become who I am supposed to be.

If I had gone on to the World Championships in Cincinnati last year, Head Start Public Speaking For Kids would not exist. Therefore, Cincinnati was not where I was supposed to be.

Headstart logo final
So after all that, as I pondered the question “What now?” the idea for Head Start began pushing its way into my consciousness, demanding to manifest right here on the Sunshine Coast. Shannon Woode, one of my Youth Leadership Program student’s moms from last year kept pushing for it until I thought “Ok. Ok. What the hell. Can’t hurt to try.”
What? Can’t hurt to try? Well, SURE it can hurt, genius! It can hurt when you decide to give a small business a shot, and put a whole bunch of money and time and hope into building it and promoting it and it fails. It can hurt a whole LOT.

But you know what hurts more? Not knowing. Not trying. Regrets. I really hate regrets. That was a lesson I got from giving the big trophy a shot. There’s nothing like having no regrets.

So, with my husband’s support I went for it.

And because I know the value of public speaking for people and for young people in particular, and because I know how much fun the kids end up having and because I know how excited the parents get when they see the differences in their kids, I expected the public to come out in DROVES.

World Champion of Public Speaking

Yes! The glass is half full!

Isn’t optimism adorable? You could just squeeze its little cheeks. It has all these plans! Expects the best! So wretchedly cute.

Yes, I was expecting to have 4 full classes of 15 students each that year – I had purchased for it, I had planned for it, I was fully prepared for it. Or so I thought.

Well, the public did NOT come out in droves, they leaked out in barely noticeable dribbles. I didn’t have 4 classes of 15, I had ONE class of EIGHT. Now THERE’s a fun lesson in humility eh? If I was lucky, I might break even.

I was disappointed and more than a little embarrassed at my unmatched enthusiasm.

But! Who’s to say I was unmatched? I was indeed matched. I was matched with the enthusiasm of eight really cool and interesting kids from ages 8 to 14. They were ready to go. I quickly ditched my disappointment and embraced the opportunity to pass on what I have learned in a very relaxed environment.


As a result, these kids got the full meal deal. I gave them what I thought Toastmasters should have given me and missed out on. I showed them great speeches by great speakers and helped them see what made them great. I asked for and got permission to use teaching tools from World Champions and the kids ATE. IT. UP. I opened opportunities to meet and see the champs. I made them re-do their speeches- as many as 5 times! Some days we just ate chips and laughed a lot. Sometimes the parents would come and pick them up with comically raised eyebrows to absolute raucous noise, wondering how on earth this chaos could possibly relate to public speaking.

“What are you guys DOING in there?” we heard more than once.

Every week they had a chance to be silly, clever, pompous, show-offy, unsure, cocksure, ridiculous, daring; every week a time to experiment with SELF EXPRESSION. And of course, the Skittles Battles – the weekly prize for impromptu speaking became highly coveted even though EVERY week, the winner shared the spoils with everyone.

And I began to see that this one small class was exactly what needed to happen in this first year of existence. It was a learning curve for me too. I have this tendency to say YES!!! YES!!! YES!! far more often than I should, taking on responsibilities that I have no business taking on and then getting mad because I have too much to do. I see that occasionally God has mercy on my fool self, stops laughing at me for a while and smacks me over the head with a spiritual frying pan, thus enabling me to briefly see things as they really are.

That’s when 3 more kids joined the class for the last 2 months and it was a beautiful shake up and wake up. We tried a new format, had some new energy – new eyes to see things through.

More than I bargained for

And something else really cool happened. As the kids gave more and more speeches they got to know themselves and each other better. As my friend Shelley said “Most kid conversation is about farts and that’s about as deep as it gets.”
But these kids were talking about themselves and who they were. What was important to them. They were opening themselves up to each other, displaying courage in their vulnerability. Developing deeper friendships with each other.
I found myself falling in love with these kids, each of them so different, so funny, so heartbreakingly brave and beautiful. They were working HARD. Some of them were drafting speeches 7 and 8 times. Most Toastmasters I know don’t do that. I was so proud of their efforts and was so pleased that so many of them saw and appreciated public speaking as an art form.

Last week we had our year end presentation night. I didn’t even MC this time- I had the kids do it. I sat back and watched- taped the whole thing, feeling like a mama bird delighting in the babies’ flight. Trying to hold back tears of pride that threatened to burst into sobs.

head start public speaking for kids

Head Start Public Speaking For Kids Class of 2014!

I know that this coming year I’ll be ready for what I THOUGHT I’d be ready for this past year. I know what worked well and what didn’t. I feel way more confident going in. I feel like I got this. I already have enough kids signed up for 2 full classes in 2 different towns. Everything happens for a reason, right?

This week we had a party – just our own private year-end potluck to get together one last time and celebrate the immense accomplishments of this year. All the parents and kids came. I didn’t really get it at first, but the party, they said, was in my honour. In my honour? I thought we were just having a party.

head start public speaking for kids

Some of the Head Start kids chowing down

head start public speaking for kids

Some of the gifts from my amazing kids and their parents










They laded me with beautiful gifts, this community of artists, homemade cards, poetic verse, holy words, pies baked with fruit picked from the back garden, hugs that were long and real and full, so full of love.

One at a time, at different times during the party, they came to me, parents and kids, and they filled my mind and heart with words of love and gratitude.

One my kids who is moving and not coming back next fall and is one of my most gifted kids, hugged me with true sentiment from his often-goofy heart- a gift of love that touched me more deeply than I could have imagined.

“I’m really gonna miss you.” he said.

“Oh man, I’m really gonna miss you too.”  It hurts me to think about this hilarious, strange, and  lovely boy not being in my life anymore.

Geez, I never really expected any of this to happen.

A couple of months ago, after her daughter Jillian performed a speech at a special 30th Anniversary Toastmasters meeting of my club, Shannon Woode gently held my arms and looked me in the eye as she said “You have done an amazing thing. My daughter loves your class and it has done so much for her. I hold you in such high esteem Paula.”

What? Come again? Did you really say that to me? Did a human being on this planet actually say those words to ME? It seems utterly mind-boggling considering………….everything.

But they are precisely the words that my soul has longed for my entire life.

I know in the deepest part of my heart that that never would have happened if I’d won the World Championship. Like I do with so many of the Champs, I admire what they have done as speakers and some of them even as human beings. But that kind of deep connection and gratitude only comes from the giving of one’s self. God I’m glad I had the chance to fail big so I could really understand and live that.

The goal is not the goal. The goal is the focal point to help you become who you are supposed to be.

I look at the motives I had for winning the World Championships of Public Speaking in 2013 and see that I have now fulfilled every single one of them working with these amazing kids and their parents. Every. Single. One.

What these people have given me: their time, their trust, their love, this experience, and hey, let’s face it, their money too, has been priceless to me. Could winning the World Championship possibly compare to the way I feel right now?

I feel like a crazy raging success. I feel like a SuperStar. I feel like I’m on top of Mount Everest waving a giant flag. I feel like I have done something way more important and meaningful than winning the World Championship of Public Speaking. I feel like I have left a mark that will last. I feel respected. I feel loved. I feel like my voice truly matters.

I feel ALIVE!

head start public speaking for kids

Better than a million trophies