Åsa Rydhard knows how to entertain a crowd—just ask anyone from her former church congregation. During her time as a pastor in the early 2000s, the Swedish native would pack the church to capacity with her engaging sermons, lively stage presence and passion for storytelling.
But after an internal quarrel, the entire church staff was fired, and that’s when Rydhard, ACG, ALB, says she lost her voice, her stage and her social network.
In 2010, she joined the Borås Toastmasters club in Sweden to find her voice again. Then, in 2014, Rydhard won first place in the Division G Toastmasters International Speech Contest. Now an entrepreneur in the communications field, her mission is to help small-business owners find their voices and use storytelling as a tool for social impact.
Tell us about your background.
When I was in school, I had a vague idea about what I wanted to do with my life. I attended three higher education institutes, and each time I was convinced that I had found my ultimate path. I first studied information technology because it was new and exciting at the time, but then it started to bore me, and I knew I needed more.
Since I felt a calling, I studied theology and trained to be a pastor—and I loved that. Working as a pastor is more than a normal job ... it’s a way of life! I loved leading others, inspiring them as a speaker and building a platform where I could empower people to grow. But after I was fired, I went on to earn a master’s degree in applied cultural analysis at Lund University. I continued to dive deep into my passion for strategic communication. This gave me the tools for understanding other people’s worlds, thoughts, beliefs and values. That is the foundation of what I do. I help people communicate with impact in a strategical way, through the power of story.
What’s your career today?
As a speaker and consultant, my most appreciated workshop is “Find your 7-Second Pitch.” My keynote is “Rock Your Story,” which focuses on strategic storytelling. My audiences can learn how to be seen and heard by engaging quickly and authentically with anybody, anywhere, anytime through the power of their stories.
In addition, I teach social impact and strategic storytelling through social networks and online, and give presentations as a teacher at the university level for two-week courses. I also give workshops for half a day or more. My keynotes are mostly for company meetings, and the audience size can differ from 10 people to hundreds.
How do you prepare for audiences of different cultures?
In 2017 I traveled to Germany, India, Amsterdam and Croatia for work. Presenting to people from different cultures is something we train for at Toastmasters in Sweden. The majority of members are from all over the world! Since I’m not a native English speaker, I prepare by writing or reading a manuscript before presenting, which allows me to speak onstage without notes. Being a non-native English-speaking person can actually be a huge plus when presenting to others who are the same. There is no risk that I talk too quickly or use fancy words, which is a common mistake of a native English speaker presenting to people from other countries.
What keeps you coming back to Toastmasters?
When I joined Toastmasters I had just lost my job and felt my life was ruined. But through my years in Toastmasters I found another, stronger voice. I also found my “7-Second Pitch” workshop, which made the core of my business and I now have an amazing new career.
I stay because I have many friends in the organization. As a lonely entrepreneur I find valuable business contacts though the network. Having the honor to present at conferences is also a way for me to give something back to the organization. After all, I have a lot to thank Toastmasters for.
Some people believe that they don’t need Toastmasters once they go professional. But, as I said, it is a great network to find friends. And only true friends will tell you when you overuse those dreaded “ahs” and “ums.” To work as a professional public speaker is a never-ending journey of learning, and Toastmasters is a great place to be if you want to continue growing!
To learn more about Åsa, visit her website.
Shannon Dewey is digital strategy and engagement editor for the Toastmaster magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.