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July 2024
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Meet Shawn Ellis

Keynote speaker for the 2024 International Convention reflects on the value of resilience.

By Ruth Nasrullah

2024 convention keynote speaker Shawn Ellis smiling in jeans jacket and striped red and blue tie
Shawn Ellis

Public speaking is not the field Shawn Ellis ever pictured for himself. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, from his home in rural Missouri when he was 17 to pursue a music career. When he realized that was not the career path for him, he enrolled in college. There, he wrote a paper about “how to help people find more meaning in their work” and the topic sparked his passion.

“I fell in love with the intersection between life and business,” says Ellis, the keynote speaker at this year’s International Convention in August.

After college, he considered several careers before taking a job with a speaker’s bureau—as someone who booked public speakers, not as a speaker himself. Five years later he started his own company, which managed and marketed speakers, but it took some musing about resilience and inspiration before deciding professional speaking was his path.

“The phrase ‘the moment matters’ just came to me,” he says of the phrase that became a guiding principle, reflecting the importance of staying in the present. “That was the beginning of my speaking career.”

In the 13 years since then, he has been expanding this message, a process informed by events in his own life. After a divorce, he moved from Nashville to Columbus, Ohio, to be closer to his family. Adapting to change became as much of a personal mantra as a speech topic.

“Zooming out beyond my own experience, I realized that really what we’re doing [in life] is just adapting,” he says. “We never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next or one moment to the next. Enhancing our skills in adaptability is really critical.”

In this episode of The Toastmasters Podcast, 2024 International Convention keynote speaker Shawn Ellis shares his journey of resilience and a sneak peek of his upcoming presentation.

Dealing With Change

In his keynote session, Ellis will share strategies for transitioning and thriving in an ever-evolving world. His focus on the art of resilience has been especially strong as the world has seen changes come at a faster and broader pace—think the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence or the COVID pandemic. He labels one approach the “5 Cs”: calm, clarity, courage, confidence, and community.

Ellis has written a book about the 5-C system, and how to incorporate it into one’s life, and also discussed it on his podcast. The system emphasizes the importance of being clear about your values and goals and being guided by them in your life and career choices. Being crystal clear about your values while also being flexible is a success mindset, according to Ellis.

Ellis describes himself as a storyteller who draws on strategies rooted in mindfulness, neuroscience, and psychology to help people lead better lives, and leaders and teams to flourish when faced with change.

When it comes to his “moments matter” mantra, he says, “In essence, the idea is that we can all name moments that have shaped us, but our lives are actually defined by how we shape the moments.”

“We can all name moments that have shaped us, but our lives are actually defined by how we shape the moments.”

—Shawn Ellis

Ellis uses this concept as a framework for his speeches. He also finds humor to be key, particularly because groups he speaks to generally have undergone, or are undergoing, what he describes as “a season of change.” Humor defuses the stress of change, says Ellis, noting that “it’s a way to bring levity to topics that are heavy, or to bring light to areas that can be dark.”

Jan Lawson, an independent-event consultant who has known Ellis for many years, describes him as “super authentic.”

“Shawn is very service oriented,” she says. “He doesn’t just go up there and read a prepared speech. He really walks the talk.”

Ellis sees his theme of resilience reflected in Toastmasters’ history. The founder, Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, had a vision and the organization has carried it out through these many years of change.

“I’m sure there was no way that [Smedley] could have imagined where the organization would be 100 years later. It’s just a testament to resilience and adaptability.”

Recognizing how his philosophy and Toastmasters’ mesh has him enthusiastic about speaking at the annual convention.

“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to join the members and share something that I hope will continue into this next 100 years,” Ellis says. “It is an honor.”


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