Interview with Debbie Liebenberg – Runner up in district conference Humorous Speech Contest!

Hey Debbie,

How fortunate we are in Bohemian Toastmasters to welcome our new star rising to the stage. During your times in our meetings we have all seen your enthusiastic drive to further develop your extraordinary personal public speaking skills. But before we dive into these, we’d like to get to know a bit more about you…

What’s your origin story – where are you from and how did you end up in Prague (Czech Republic)?

I was made in Zambia and born in South Africa. 12 days after I was born I was on my first flight to Zambia where my parents were living. We lived there until 1990 when we returned to South Africa. My family moved around quite a lot so while I was born in Welkom I also lived in Polokwane, Wittedrift, Grahamstown and Cape Town. In 2011 I started working for a German company in Cape Town and heard all about Europe through my colleagues. I guess it gave me a bit of wanderlust because I soon had my heart set on travelling to Europe. I had never left Africa (at the age of 26) so I had a modest plan to spend 6 months in Prague and then go home. I fell in love with the place and now I’ve been here just over five years!

Who is your favourite public speaker; and how has he inspired you to help stand your ground?

Nelson Mandela has inspired me in so many ways. I loved his sense of humour but also admired his ability to be stern when necessary. He was fearless and fair. He chose his words wisely and he always spoke with ultimate conviction. Mandela might not have won any public speaking awards, but he taught me the importance of choosing my words wisely. I think anyone can train to be a decent speaker – we can follow tried and tested guidelines and grow our skills – but there is no use being a good speaker if you don’t have a message to share.

How did you hear about Toastmasters; and what made you join the Bohemian toastmasters?

I first heard about Toastmasters when I was around 10 years old. A family friend used to stay with us once or twice a year for a Toastmasters conference in Welkom. I started competing in public speaking competitions in school around that time so I enjoyed talking to her about speeches and speaking. About two years ago I thought about how much I used to enjoy public speaking and debating in high school and I asked myself ‘Why did I ever stop?’ Next thing I know I was researching Toastmasters clubs in Prague and Bohemian toastmasters really stood out to me – now I’m here.

As an active member we have seen you deliver some great table topics and prepared speeches. What is your secret ingredient?

Vodka. Just kidding! There are two things that have really helped me: 1) Practise – use every opportunity to speak if you have something to say. 2) I really enjoy myself! When the nerves start to kick in I remind myself that this is my hobby, this is what I choose to do for fun, so I’m going to have fun!

Going further on the latter – the prepared speeches – this had brought you into the competition format of Toastmasters. How did you experience standing in front of a bigger crowd than regular meetings?

I absolutely loved it! Sure it is a little more scary than a regular meeting but hey, this is my rollercoaster. I also have to mention that I would have never made it this far if it hadn’t been for all the great feedback and support from the members of Bohemian Toastmasters – Thank you to all of you for the oodles of positive energy, support and advice. All the speakers in the contest were exceptionally good so it was such an honour to perform with them. Even though the crowd was much bigger, these aren’t ordinary people, these are toastmasters. They know how much it takes to get up there and perform so the atmosphere is friendly and supportive.

How was the experience outside of the competition during the district conference? What was your biggest lesson?

The guest speakers were phenomenal. Some great ideas were shared and it was amazing to see top speakers, from all over the world, giving their absolute best. One of the most interesting things for me was when Darren Tay (2016 World Champion of Public Speaking) said that most speeches are rewritten over 100 times.

What is going to be your next challenge to tackle in toastmasters?

I am still trying to complete my competent communicator manual so that I qualify for the International Speech contest next year. Luckily, I have a determined mentor (Lenka Dvorakova) who encourages me to compete in contests and I think there is also something to be learnt from this – new Toastmasters: You don’t have to wait to compete in the humorous speech contest. Do it! Do it! Do it! Other than that, I really want to improve my table topics. I find the prepared speeches are a lot easier (because you can prepare) but the table topics, that’s where true skill comes in.

What is your favourite role during a toastmasters meeting?

I love being a speaker – table topics or prepared speech – it’s the best way for me to learn how to improve and I enjoy telling stories. My second favourite role would be evaluator because I think giving people positive and negative feedback is a useful skill in most areas of life.

What about life outside of toastmasters – what is your big dream?

I don’t have one big dream but rather I intend to live my dream life – as long as I can do the things I love doing often then I’m happy.

What are the things you love doing?

Telling stories (public speaking and writing), collecting stories (reading and socialising) and making stories (learning, and travelling/exploring). I also deeply enjoy music, painting, learning languages and hiking.

Do you have any other hobbies or other interests in Prague to recommend?

I run a Creative Writing club called ‘Scribbles & Giggles,’ where anyone and everyone is welcome to exercise their writing muscles in a fun and friendly environment – I find that these exercises also help me with my speech writing and table topic skills.

Thanks for your time Debbie. We are happy to have you in our Bohemian family. We are extremely proud of your accomplishments and wish to support you in your further development. As such we look further to your next speeches!

See you at our next meetings and let’s celebrate!

BTM – VP PR Cedric Plettinx

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