Did you know that Toastmasters has a Youth Leadership Programme that helps the young ones build their communication and leadership skills.
Toastmasters Youth Leadership Program (YLP ), is in my opinion a fundamental program to get involved in for any club. There are several reasons I strongly believe a club should become involved in the YLP.
From a club’s perspective:
• It promotes cohesion and teamwork. Club members plan, coordinate and present the YLP. This means that they get to know each other better outside of club meetings and in a different setting than usual.
• It is a great marketing tool. The club’s name is mentioned in the community as learners and their parents talk about the program. Parents start asking about Toastmasters and they see the potential value it could have on their personal and professional lives.
• The members learn. This point is often overlooked. During the YLP the club members present a variety of topics such as: the protocol in running effective meetings, preparing and delivering speeches, using gestures and controlling your voice, and giving effective evaluations. By presenting these topics, the club members also learn and therefore improve their abilities and the club’s overall standard.
From a learner’s perspective.
• Valuable skills. Whether it is improving speaking abilities, leadership abilities or gaining self-confidence, the YLP certainly impacts every participant.
• Prepares for the future. Participants receive beneficial skills that they are able to use in the future. For example, a participant might attend a YLP in Grade 6 in Primary School and then use these skills to address an audience at a school function as a school prefect.
• It helps to overcome a fear. On many occasions, club members have reported that the YLP encouraged participants to overcome fears or obstacles that they (the participants) never thought would be possible.
Finding his Voice- Louwrens
“Have a splendid weekend, boys and girls. Remember, we will start with the Oral Assessment next week,” I greeted the learners as they filed out of the classroom. There was, however, one student I was concerned about. His name is Louwrens Strydom.
Louwrens stuttered. I am not talking about a little bit here and there as he got stuck on a vowel or consonant; I am talking about his body shaking and the letter being forced, sometimes for several seconds, through his throat. He almost never answered questions in class. He slipped into class and out of class when the bell rang as he tried to make himself invisible. On the other hand, Louwrens was a brilliant writer, someone who devoured novels and he was a top student. He had learned to live inwardly rather than outwardly.
On that Monday I received a letter from Louwrens’ mom. She asked that I keep him after class and that he delivered his speech to me then. Normally, as a Toastmaster-teacher, I would not give in so easily as I wanted the learner to gain experience when standing in front of an audience, but in this case, I agreed it would be best. After class the students left. Except Louwrens. He took out his speech and headphones. I asked about the headphones and he strugglingly said that he played the music loudly so that he doesn’t hear his own voice.
Louwrens did his utmost best to deliver the speech. I did my utmost best to assess the speech. It was very challenging to listen to the content as it was painstakingly delivered word for word. The two-minute speech was well over six minutes and Louwrens was exhausted afterwards. He immediately got his things, greeted me and left. I sat there wondering what I could do to help him. I then got an idea: I asked Louwrens to join the Youth Leadership Course that my club hosted at the school.
I don’t know if Louwrens thought I was crazy, or his parents thought I was crazy, but he enrolled for the course. I explained to him, “Louwrens, you do not have to worry about delivering your speeches; you just write them. I will do my best to deliver them for you. I want you to learn the basics of public speaking so that one day you can use it in your own life.” He never missed a session and he wrote speech after speech. I could see a change in Louwrens as time went by. At the Gala Evening, Louwrens was the Timekeeper, and when it came to reporting on the times, his assistant gladly shared the times. I was so proud of him when I handed him his certificate of participation.
Later that year Louwrens received the opportunity to attend the The McGuire Programme in Cape Town. This programme helps people overcome stuttering. Usually they do not allow young people to attend the programme, but in Louwrens’ case, they made an exception. I wished him good luck and said I couldn’t wait to see him the next week to hear about his experience.
I was standing outside my classroom when I saw Louwrens come around the corner. From the way he walked I could sense that something in him changed. He walked upright, with confidence and with purpose. He walked right up to me and flawlessly said, “Good morning, sir. How are you doing?” I am sure my mouth was hanging open. I could barely get out that I’m fine. When I enquired about his weekend he effortlessly produced a three-minute account of his experience during the weekend. Amongst other things, he spoke to 100 people in a mall in Cape Town and he did announcements on the aeroplane on the flight back. My mouth surely hung open then.
Then he asked, “Sir, may I speak to the learners who are in your class now?” I had another grade 7 class, so I agreed. I was afraid what would happen next. Remember, this is the boy who had to deliver speeches after class without other learners around. I followed him into the class. Louwrens bravely stood in front of the class. “Good morning, everyone. My name is Louwrens Strydom and I used to stutter.” He continued to share his experience of the weekend without faltering once. He received a standing ovation from the learners. I immediately led him to the Afrikaans class. The teacher had tears in her eyes after he shared his experience with her. Later that day Louwrens took care of the announcements on the school’s PA system. He was a changed person.
I invited Louwrens to speak at our club’s year end function. The school’s prize-giving evening was held on the same evening. We first attended the school’s function. I waited for Louwrens to receive his academic achievement certificate. Along with his mom and sister, they followed me to my club’s year end function. Many of the club members knew Louwrens from the Youth Leadership Course. I introduced him and called him onto the stage. I could see the apprehension in their faces, “How would Louwrens address the audience?”
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Louwrens Strydom and I used to stutter.” He also noted that Toastmasters assisted him on his journey so that he could have the courage to speak in front of people. Louwrens delivered his speech with such poise that he had several members in tears when he finished. He received a thunderous applause and a standing ovation. I will never forget the smile on his face after the speech.
Louwrens has gone from strength to strength since attending the Youth Leadership Course in May, 2015 and attending The McGuire Programme in December, 2015. He is flourishing in high school and in 2016 he won First Place in the Afrikaanse Internasionale Skole-Ekspo for a descriptive essay he wrote. He has received Academic Colours for two years and was invited to an Academic Tour to America. In 2017 he was once again invited as a guest speaker at my club’s year end function. He delivered a very appropriate motivational speech to the audience and received another thunderous applause. Remember the name, because Louwrens Strydom is going places!
Note: I believe that The McGuire Programme was essential in helping Louwrens overcome his stutter. However, the Toastmasters Youth Leadership course assisted him in finding his voice.
Cornel van Onselen
Area Director – Pretoria