This guest post is by Thomas Iland, a man with autism who just became an accredited speaker via Toastmasters Accredited Speaker Program. You can learn more about Thomas journey here. Interested in guest blogging for Kerry Magro & A Special Community? LEARN MORE HERE. Thomas was one of our A Special Community interviewees. You can watch his interview below and donate to our nonprofit video series here.

I joined Toastmasters International in October 2014 to better my public speaking skills after making the determination that a career as a certified public accountant (CPA) was not for me. After three years, I earned the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) award, but I wanted something more…something that would really make me stand out not only as a speaker…but as a speaker with autism.

I found out about the Toastmasters Accredited Speaker program and that the designation represented the most elite of professional speakers in the world. I also noticed that none of the 75 Accredited Speakers at the time had autism…so I could be the FIRST IN THE WORLD! I had done enough speaking engagements to qualify for application by the end of January 2018 so I documented my speaking engagements, gathered the needed letters of recommendation and had an amateur video of me speaking get filmed (I spoke in front of only four people) and submitted my application to the judges for the first level of the application process.

A few months later, I received word back from the judges that I did not make it past the first level. However, I was extremely grateful for the feedback I received from the judges which included pointers along the lines of, “Let us see your audience and how they react to you…use your speaking space better,” and “develop a speaking style that’s unique to you and only you.” In hindsight, the judges were spot-on and, rather than abandon all efforts, I decided to apply again in 2019 incorporating their suggestions in my next application.

After many more speaking engagements, I resubmitted my application in January 2019 and, a few months later, I FINALLY got the news that I GOT TO LEVEL 2! I was so happy that my hard work and quick thinking had paid off! I alerted my Accredited Speaker mentor, Terry Mayfield, and he was very happy for me. I consulted with him some more about the speech I would give before a panel of judges at the Toastmasters International Convention in Denver in August 2019 along with Maurice DiMino, a newly-crowned Accredited Speaker in my district, meeting with him on multiple occasions to review and rehearse my speech before the final delivery.

I titled my speech ‘Competently Communicating Autism’ to go through the 10 speeches in the Toastmasters Competent Communication (CC) manual individually, relating each of the 10 projects to a time or situation in my life growing up with autism. After some research on the experiences of other Accredited Speakers, I discovered that my approach was too “Toastmasterish.” Even though I would be speaking before an audience of Toastmasters in Denver in August, the judges wanted to know how I speak to my clients! I do not take my clients on a tour of the CC manual and realized I needed to change my approach to the speech. I kept the title, but modified it to more personal storytelling, lessons learned and then sharing how Toastmasters helped get me to where I am today.

When it came time to go to Denver to give my speech, Terry, Maurice and Ellie Kay (another Accredited Speaker that belonged to one of my clubs, Improv Toastmasters) were all at the convention to give me encouragement and support prior to the speech including, “have fun” and “you can handle anything thrown at you.” I went onstage, looked around at the audience (there must’ve been nearly 1,000 people there!) and I began to tell my story as if I was having a natural, cool and collected conversation with the audience! Any nervousness or anxiety I had beforehand melted away once I began speaking,
for these were “my peeps” and I knew I had what it took no matter what!

About two hours after I gave the speech, I received the news that I HAD ACHIEVED THE ACCREDITED SPEAKER DESIGNATION! It felt absolutely incredible to master the art of socializing and communicating in the form of public speaking even though I have a social-communication disorder! This journey showed me that a positive attitude, hard work and determination in the face of obstacles can help you accomplish anything you put your mind and heart to. I hope my journey will show the world that anything is possible even if you have a diagnosis, limitation or similar difficulty…and that once you put aside your limiting beliefs, you will accomplish the extraordinary!

I want people inside AND OUTSIDE the autism community to see, hear and learn about my experiences. I see myself helping people realize their full and true potential (I’m currently training to become a Certified Human Potential Coach) as well as becoming a National Speakers Association Certified Speaking Professional (CSP). CSP requires at least 250 paid speaking engagements (I’ve got a WAYS to go before that!). Continuing with my attitude of wanting something more, I plan to compete in the 2020 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

For someone with autism to become a world champion of public speaking – that would be realizing my potential to its fullest!

Interested in guest blogging for Kerry Magro & A Special Community? LEARN MORE HERE

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