TM logoFellow Toastmasters!  Thanks for coming to my old site.  *Sigh*  I’ve missed you.  We had a lot of fun here didn’t we?  Well, the journey continues folks!  Let me tell you About my new website!

Toastmasters was one of the great tools I was able to use in transforming my life.  Leaving the world of exotic dancing after 15 years was the biggest challenge of my life.  My confidence in the real world was SHOT.  But the things I learned and the people I met through Toastmasters continues to enhance my life to this day!

Paula Howley is a place where I want to explore some of the deep human questions that many of us talk about in our speeches.  Fear, hope, the masks we wear and the risks we take in stripping them off.  Come and join the conversation won’t you?  I know you folks are good at talking.  🙂  Hope to see you there!

Paula confidence

 

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.

BRING IT ON

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

Spent a lot of today trying to figure out what I want to say in The Big Speech, what my message is and I am feeling challenged.

I know what my keynote speeches are going to be about. They will be for a different audience and the content will be appropriate for them. I will be able to speak freely and at length.

My challenge for The Big Speech is that much of my life is inappropriate for Public Toastmasters Consumption. It’s not exactly ‘family viewing’ type of stuff, you know?

Darren LaCroix, 2001 World Champ says my message has to be me.  My experience, and what I have learned from it, how I got there.  I get that. So how do I tell these things to a TM audience?

Exactly 10 years ago tonight I was working at a strip club in Brampton, Ontario. It was my last night as a dancer.  Ever.  I didn’t know this for sure, but somehow, I knew this.  I even remember going into the club dressing room that night and having a conversation something like this with one of the girls.  I remember she was very tall and looked down at me as we conversed in the mirror.

“I’m going out to Vancouver tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah? Where are you gonna be working?”

“I’m not going out to work. I’m going out to quit.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know yet, but I met this really amazing man a few months ago and I’m going to be with him. I’m not coming back.”

“Oh you’ll be back.”

“No I won’t. I won’t be back.”

I said it with certainty because I knew it.

Lloyd and I had been conducting our ‘relationship’ over the phone for about 2 and a half months- he in B.C. and me in Ontario,  3000 miles apart.  Although I didn’t really know him, he had shared enough of himself with me so that I felt I could trust him, as I had felt the very first night we met.

Lloyd had done something for me that I hadn’t experienced in my entire life.  He respected me. He did it through his actions.  One night when we were talking on the phone for one of our hours-long marathons during Christmas break, he told me that ideally, we should wait until we were married to be together intimately.

That suggestion literally made my heart flutter. I had to catch my breath and I grinned like a fool.  My poor brain though!  My brain couldn’t begin to comprehend it because I assumed values like that were not only dead, but better off so. I’d never met a single person in the world like that.  I didn’t really think they existed.

I couldn’t deny what that suggestion did to me though. It told me that I was more to him than I had ever been to any man before him.  He was different and it gave me hope.  It changed my heart.  It made me more brave.

Those last few weeks before I left for BC were amazing and incredibly difficult. Lloyd and I spoke at length about spiritual issues.  I was a practicing pagan who was slightly opening the door to a fellow named Jesus.  Lloyd was a Christian who wasn’t living the life he wanted to live.

I also found it increasingly difficult to dance for anyone as I felt I was betraying Lloyd but I had lingering doubts in the back of my mind and wanted to make as much money as I could just in case it wasn’t what I thought it was.

At the same time, my dancing on stage was the best it had ever been and I felt utterly electric. I knew it was going to be my last week and I was going to be the most miraculous dancer anyone had ever seen. I dug deep and gave away my soul every time I performed.

Now I wanted my last night as a stripper to be something of a celebration of the end of what I considered to be a legendary career. Born on July 4, 1986 and dying on Jan. 19, 2003, the caricature known as Red Hot Paula Scott was one of the best dancers in Canada and I wanted her to be acknowledged. I felt I deserved at least that after all I had done in and for the business.  (I had been the chair of the Exotic Dancer’s Alliance of Ontario and the editor of its newsletter for a few years also.)

When I look back now I’m relieved it was so anticlimactic. I needed for it to be because it can be easy to romanticize this job, especially with distance and time. It’s a good thing I recently went through those dozens of micro cassette recordings to remind me of just how much general crap I had to deal with, how often I got wasted, how often I cried and how much I hated what I was doing.

However, there had been some changes happening in me since the night I met
Lloyd, my future husband and His good buddy Jesus and I was recognizing different values. Something was happening to my spirit. On what I was certain would be my last night, I actively tried to recognize the value of relationship, the value of time, and the value of love as a verb that did not involve sex.

There was a young man named Harry who had been in the club once earlier in the week. He had invited me to join him, he bought me a drink and began to tell me the story of he and his wife’s breakup. I eventually asked him if he wanted a dance and he said that he didn’t but that he would pay me for my time sitting with him. (A dancer’s favourite score.) He was so incredibly sad that it was painful to sit with him. He truly felt that most women were
rotten (or so he said, anyway) and that they were just out to get what they could from men. (Kind of ironic since that’s basically the way I felt about 99.9 % of men at this time.)

Well Harry came back to see me on my final night. I scribbled the following that night on a piece of paper which I still have:

Sat. night 9:45 p.m.

Harry, the East Indian guy came back. Third man to come back to see me this week- he was sad, so very very sad.  Still a mess from the breakup with his wife.  I had quite a long discussion with him.  He was aggressive about wanting to give me money – my intuition told me that it was to confirm his suspicions of the “evilness” and the “taking” nature of women.

He asked me several times “What do you want?” (In terms of money.)

I said  “I want you to take care of yourself Harry.”

He was quiet for a while, then he thanked me and tears were forming in his eyes. It was worth losing the money to restore a shred of faith in humanity.  I’m ok.  I don’t need more than that.

And here’s an actual glimpse into my world that night.  This is a direct transcription from my tape.  Bear in mind that I was still 11 months away from sobriety at this point.

Second last show (but I thought it was my last)- 12:30 a.m.

“Well, I’ve done what’s probably my last show ever- did the Beatles, of
course. And um, well I knew it was gonna be anticlimactic up there since
the place is dead but I kept reminding myself “No, no, do it for you, do it
for God, do it for people who care- even the ones who aren’t brave enough to
admit they care,” and there are SO many of them. Most of them actually.
Sad sad state of affairs.

Hmmm. I’ve had four glasses of wine, and I’m debating whether I should have
a fifth. *laughs*

I still have an hour and a half to kill and I really can’t afford it but I’m
probably gonna- sounds like an alcoholic to me. *laughs*

(sarcastic voice) Maybe I’ll join Lloyd at his AA meetings, we can go
together, how charming.   *laughs* (Lloyd had just informed me 11 days prior that he was getting sober.)

Yeah, I’m sure he’ll be real impressed with that……… Awww f***.

Anyway, I was just kind of… you know, the thing is, as a D.J. you should recognize things that are different and special and promote them and…..it’s been a 15 year career for me and this is the last day and ummm ….. I don’t think it’s cool that he didn’t acknowledge it in any way, shape or form at all. …….And so I will be rewarding him in kind. (Talking about my tip, or lack thereof for him.)

(So, it looks like although the money thing wasn’t as important to me, the
recognition thing was important enough for me to have taken retribution!!!! LOL!!)

Back to the tape 2:00 a.m.

(Imagine a slight drunken slur in all these words)

Hey, it’s almost 2 o’clock, they let me go early cause there’s nobody here.
But GUESS WHAT? Come on people, guess…. guess who had to do last show
tonight….Come on!!!! *laughs*

That’s right. Me.  Big surprise. So what did I do? I finished off with Tori Amos.

I thought my Beatles set was going to be my last set so I gave myself away to the people and it was brilliant….but oh….. the people’s response was kinda disappointing,  kinda poor!

Although I could see them wantin‘ to jam, they were just CHIC-KENS!

But ah, this time around, I found out like 5 minutes beforehand that I had to go on stage again and I said

“Oh.  S’gonna be Tori then.”

So I finished off with Tori to “Don’t Make Me Go To Vegas”, “Sweet Sangria” and uh….song # 11.  *laughs*

And I was there.  

I was SO THERE.

And then I was done.

And then I walked off stage and these guys asked me if I would like to “join their table” and I said
“No. No, I don’t want to join your table.”

And that’s all she wrote folks.

End of tape

Man, that part makes me laugh.  I can remember that final interaction and I was thinking “F you buddy.”  But I never said it.  I just wanted to get out of there and go see my man in B.C.

Now you see, GOD, in His infinite wisdom knew that I would cling to a memory of a great sendoff like a baby to his teddy so I am sure that He engineered that unremarkable evening for me and I thank Him profusely for that. For there have been some times since I quit when I have missed some things.

Mostly though, I miss the chats in the dressing rooms. Those were the most real of times. In the dressing rooms I saw people laugh, cry, sob, throw chairs, punch the mirrors, punch each other, secretly put flowers in someone’s locker, get high, hug, make out, attempt to steal, accuse someone else of stealing, scream, read, do homework, do taxes, do makeup, talk to their kids on the phone, get news of the death of a loved one, seek God, curse God, pound the floor in frustration, console, conspire, sing, eat, get drunk, pass out, philosophize, do crossword puzzles, despair, and hope.

And it’s not really the business I miss. It’s the girls. It’s those women.  Those women that so often are left behind in the world. The women who don’t think they’re worth waiting for, who don’t think they’re worth much more than any monetary value. The women who shaped my life from 1986 to 2003.

I always wanted to go back for them.  I hope to one day.

Now isn’t that a great story?  And I’ve got a million of ‘em.  And they are part of my life and part of what shaped me.  So the question is, how do I make that palatable for Toastmasters Speech competitions and do I even try?

I’m DONE.  I’ve finished transcribing the hundreds of notes I took while reading through 20+ years of journals.   I have 22 pages to distill and make enough moonshine that will induce giddiness, laughter and convince people that I have a message worth listening to.    The real work begins now.

Today I helped my daugher practice her first speech which is due on Tuesday for her home school group. The speech she wrote (with mum’s hands) has words in it that she can’t even read yet so she not only has to learn the speech but make sure she can remember how to read those new words.  Meaghan is a dramatic little ham so it was fun watching her perform today.  Funny thing is, she’s seen enough speeches to know what’s good and what’s not.  She practiced at least 12-14 times today and we even recorded her 3 times.  She watched her first one and looked at me and said “That was TERRIBLE mum.”  She noted on her own when something was too over the top, when she was moving around unnecessarily, being distracting, when she was speaking too quietly.

I am so excited for her and I hope she performs to her satisfaction.  I asked her permission to record and youtube her so you guys can see.   She asked if she could be the World Champion of Public Speaking too one day and I told her “not till you’re 18 so you’ve got 11 and a half years to practice.”  If anyone could do it, she could.

Anyway, watching her do this today made me ACHE for the same process which I miss very much.  I’m eager to get writing.  I have something in my mind already which I’m already half in love with and I know I will be able to use no matter what- I even have  kickass TITLE for it where the speech is described in IN THE TITLE (snoopy dance!) so it’s making ME a little giddy therefore I need to be discerning here to make sure I’m giving the message that God wants me to give.

I have to say that life is going pretty freaking amazing these days what with sleeping enough, meditative prayer every day and hardly any swearing.  I feel positively inspired.

I have to tell you though- I was bad today.  On purpose.  When Meg was first practising her speech, she said it TWICE and said “That’s enough, I’ll do more later.”

“What?  I thought you wanted to be GOOD at this?”

” I do but I want to go play Barbies.”

“Barbies?!  Meg!  If you want to be good at something, you have to work HARD!  Saying a speech twice is not working hard!  And if you want to be the best, you have to work the hardest!  You can only be a badass if you work hard!”

And she laughed.

“Be a badass Meaghan!  Come on, don’t give up, you’re just starting!  I’ll tell you what.  You show me you’re a badass and I’ll let you SAY it- ‘I’m a badass.'”

She laughed even harder.

“ok?  You wanna be a badass?”

“Yeah!”

“Alright, let’s GO!”

So like I said, she practiced at least 10 more times and I told her she was a badass and she said she was too.  Then she started calling herself a bad bass, which I told her was a misbehaving fish and she laughed until she fell on the floor.  I love my girl.  What a badass.