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May 2024
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A Song of Brotherhood

A devastating childhood experience helped me find my storyteller’s voice.

By Ankur Bora

Man on stage with arms wide open
Ankur Bora on the USA TODAY Network stage.

Just over two years ago, I began my dream with a small step. Initially, I started by doing what I thought was necessary. Then I began to see what was possible. Suddenly, I was doing the impossible. If I can do it, you can. Anybody can.

In 2019, I gave a speech at Highway to Excellence (HTE), the Bedford, Texas, club I’d joined a few weeks before. My speech, “Same Boat Brother,” was about growing up in India—including the sweet childhood memories of walking to school with my best friend. And how, during a local community uprising, I unintentionally became part of a mob that threatened my friend and his family. And how, eventually, a song of brotherhood brought us back together.

After the speech, I received a brown bag filled with handwritten notes of positive feedback. The compliments and appreciation boosted my morale and eventually sent me on a higher journey.

At HTE, I found Emily Murray, DTM, a special person who agreed to become my mentor. We met weekly for six months, and Emily taught me the craft of public speaking. I learned to animate my body and express emotions, to leverage hand gestures, and stir audience emotions with vocal variety.

Emily told me my speech had a universal message and asked if I would carry it to a larger audience. Her guidance and the beauty of the Toastmasters mentoring program triggered something so fierce in me I could not stop it. Thanks to Toastmasters, I began publishing my speeches and stories to social media sites. I received a tremendous response from fellow Toastmasters. In the fork of my life’s journey, I began to see infinite possibilities.

In early 2021, the USA TODAY Network accepted “Same Boat Brother” for its 2022 Storytellers Project. The project produces shows in 20 cities across the United States, and features a diverse line-up of people sharing true stories that affirm a belief in hope, perseverance, love, and compassion.

The beauty of the Toastmasters mentoring program triggered something so fierce in me I could not stop it.

The USA TODAY Network coaches recommended some changes to my speech. I had an intense conversation with one, who asked, “In your story, when you joined the mob and started shouting, what happened to you?” I reluctantly replied, “The compassionate comforting, caring me was suddenly overpowered by a beast.” Ultimately, her advice helped to unlock my authentic voice and engage with the audience during the program.

In early 2022, a reporter with the Austin American-Statesman newspaper in Austin, Texas, wrote a story about me and some of my fellow storytellers. In April 2022, I gave my USA TODAY Storytellers speech to a boisterous sold-out crowd in Austin. I was speaking to a non-Toastmaster audience for the first time but my Toastmasters training, including eye contact, vocal variety, and body language, gave me the edge.

“Your speech was touching … with a moral that is very much relevant in today’s times,” one of the audience members wrote me.

My speech at the Storytellers event was covered by local and national media and was a great moment of pride for me. Along my way in this journey, I discovered the power that had been within me all along.

If I can do it, you can, anybody can. Dear fellow Toastmasters, don’t you agree with me?


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