Manner of Speaking: Speaking About Social Responsibility

Manner of Speaking: Speaking About Social Responsibility

Use your communication skills to
inspire, educate and help others.

By Heather O’Neill, CC

What is the difference between Superman and Bizarro? How about Wonder Woman and Catwoman? Spider-Man and Venom? All of these comic book characters have similar powers, but the hero in each pair uses those amazing powers for good while the villain uses his or hers for evil. While I’m sure that no Toastmaster uses their speaking abilities for dastardly deeds, we might want to ask ourselves: “Am I doing enough good with the skills and resources I’ve been given?”

We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our audiences to take our message to a new level – to help people grow, give, be...better. As U.S. President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition... that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world...”

Whether you speak to corporations, small businesses, local libraries, schools, others in your own company or simply to those at your Toastmasters meetings, there are ways to incorporate an altruistic message.

These days, corporate social responsibility is highly valued in the business world. Many companies strive to be environmentally conscious, donate to a roster of charities or ask their employees to volunteer for various nonprofits. Can you use your super speaking powers to save the environment, or is there another worthy cause you can champion? Ask yourself how you can encourage, educate, inspire and motivate people with your presentations. Here are a few ideas to consider for your company or for you, personally: 

Serve the Community
If you work for a company, give a presentation that encourages your fellow employees to band together on a project you are passionate about. You could center your talk on positive ways to benefit your community. The camaraderie, positive energy and constructive results will stimulate future action. When people work together, the possibilities are endless. 

Help Those in School
You can help people not just by the speeches you give, but by the actions you take. For example, many have drawn on their Toastmasters experience to work with young people, volunteering as teachers, tutors and mentors. I volunteer with Junior Achievement, a program to help K-12 students develop entrepreneurial skills and become financially literate and work-ready. It gives me the opportunity to see how much fun kids have while they learn valuable life skills. As an added bonus, my sons think I’m pretty cool for doing it!

Pat Kelly is a member of my Toastmasters club – the Barnum Square Toastmasters. She has inspired me and many others as a teacher and Toastmasters mentor for an amazing 50 years. A longtime elementary school teacher in Connecticut, Pat uses her communication skills – sharpened over years of Toastmasters training – to help students, and she happily gives countless hours beyond her normal classroom time. One experience in particular stands out for Pat where she made a difference in a young man’s life as well as her own. The high school student wasn’t allowed back into his school due to behavior issues, so Pat tutored him two hours a day for six months.

“He worked hard, one-on-one, without the distractions of a regular school day,” she says. “He went on to graduate with his class and that was a proud moment for him and for me.” The extra time she spent working with this student made all the difference.

Another longtime Toastmaster, Bryson Dean, is helping young people as well. The 70-year-old retiree from Iowa City, Iowa, volunteers her time and efforts to Speak Up!, an eight-week non-Toastmasters program that teaches the basics of public speaking to fifth graders. “We explain what a lectern is, we talk about how to organize a speech, brainstorm ideas with the kids, have them write down their ideas, and then after about three or four sessions they start giving their speeches,” says Dean, a member of the Old Capitol Toastmasters in Iowa City.

                    “Toastmasters are often in the enviable position
                    of truly making a difference in the world.”

Noting that she was a very shy youngster in school, Dean says the most important Toastmasters principle she draws on is the value of giving encouragement and support. “Some of the previous volunteers in the Speak Up! program had apparently been overly critical,” she says. “When I evaluate the kids’ speeches, I always congratulate them just on the fact that they did it! They got up there and spoke. Some of the students are more confident than others, so you really want to encourage the others.”

Dean volunteers through Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which presents Speak Up! It is a large volunteer network in the United States for people 55 and over. (For more information, visit

Toastmasters like Pat Kelly and Bryson Dean have used their talents and time to positively impact young people. Whether you mentor someone as a volunteer or simply focus on benevolence in your paid engagements, your attention to the individual can make a difference. 

Stay Positive During Tough Times
Author and former Toastmaster, Mary Marcdante, explores many universal and positive subjects through her books, blogs and presentations. During these often-difficult days, she notes, “It’s so important to keep yourself and the people around you in a mindset that ignites inspiration, appreciation and enthusiasm – the three key qualities that help you generate inspired action during challenging times.”

For a practical tip on staying motivated and passionate about life, Marcdante suggests asking yourself these three questions each day:

  • Who do you appreciate? Tell them.
  • What are you grateful for? Tell yourself.
  • Who and what inspires you? Tell the world.

Nourish the Individual
I am always reading. I believe that if I can learn even one bit of information that can help me, my family or an audience I’ll be speaking to, then the effort is worthwhile. We can think that way about our presentations too: If we can help just one individual, then we have provided a valuable service. What might your audience need from you? Perhaps a chance to think about how they can overcome personal challenges. Or some ideas on ways they can improve themselves. Or inspiration to create change.

Find your passion – your superpowers, if you will. Speaking from the heart will make for more persuasive, commanding presentations. And remember this: Whether you’re giving a speech, doing volunteer work or fighting for a particular cause, your influence can improve one person’s life or rally an entire community to take action. Toastmasters are often in the enviable position of truly making a difference in the world. And they don’t even have to wear tights. Now, that’s super! 

Heather O’Neill, CC, is a member of the Barnum Square Toastmasters in Bethel, Connecticut. She is a writer, speaker and environmental advocate. Reach her at