My Turn: Teamwork at World Cup

My Turn: Teamwork at World Cup

Two South African Toastmasters
volunteer at historic soccer event.

By Aletta Rochat, ACB, ALB

The eyes of the world were upon South Africa this summer for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This historic event was the first Cup on the African continent.

In nine different cities around the country, more than 3 million people gathered to celebrate and cheer on their teams. Two South African Toastmasters, Alistair Lawton and Romano Verspaille, share their World Cup experiences and how their Toastmasters skills served them well: 

Alistair Lawton
A member of Good Hope Toastmasters in Cape Town, Lawton served as a volunteer during the Cup. He said his Toastmasters training helped him perform well in a 30-minute panel interview that he had to pass to be selected as a volunteer. To put this into context, 75,500 people applied to be volunteers, and only 17,500 were chosen.

“Toastmasters has given me the confidence and ability to talk to complete strangers with the greatest of ease,” says Lawton, who is proudly South African and wanted to do his part to make this event a success. “I knew I had to communicate my passion in order to be chosen.”

One of his volunteer roles was particularly meaningful to him: Lawton helped out at the Disabled Parking area at the Cape Town Stadium. As the survivor of a serious car accident 12 years ago, he feels strongly about assisting those who are “less-abled.”

Lawton works in his family’s business, Quadrata Cape, which supplies tiles to architects and property developers. He says he enjoyed befriending strangers at the World Cup, joking with them and making them feel special. “A stranger is a friend you haven’t yet met,” says Lawton, who met people from many different countries during the tournament.

Leadership skills developed in Toastmasters also came in handy. Lawton headed up a team of volunteers – and had to do so efficiently: Time was of the essence with such an elaborately orchestrated international event. He had to tactfully assert his authority with spectators, motorists and even the drivers for high-ranking government officials – who sometimes chose to park illegally! 

Romano Verspaille
Verspaille says he also drew strongly on his leadership skills. A member of Midrand Toastmasters club in Gauteng, he is a freelance tour operator for Tourvest Inbound Operations. During the Cup, he was part of a team assisting guests of eight different World Cup sponsors – 60,000 people in all.

Verspaille says he couldn’t have become a tour guide in the first place if not for Toastmasters. When he joined the Midrand club, he was eager to develop new communication skills – but found himself terrified to give his Ice Breaker.

“How could I possibly talk to a busload of tourists, microphone in hand, with a trembling voice and shaking legs?” he recalls thinking.

It took a long time, but with the encouragement of his club members Verspaille managed to overcome his fear. “I now know how to talk to people as if they were my friends,” he says.

Table Topics training, in particular, proved invaluable, since critical-thinking and time-management skills are so important for a tour guide – especially when schedules and itineraries are swapped at the last moment. One day, he took 20 people on a shopping trip and came back with 26.

To Verspaille, being part of a World Cup group was similar to being part of a Toastmasters team.

“It’s all about teamwork and helping one another to grow,” he says. “Believe me, in the end it pays off.”

Aletta Rochat, ACB, ALB, is a member of Cape Town Toastmasters in Cape Town, South Africa, and the Public Relations Officer for District 74. Reach her at