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Pastor’s public speaking skills lead to international acclaim

Special to The New Tri-State Defender

“I tried to keep my cool as they were preparing to announce the winner of the semifinals, but when I heard my name, I must have jumped toward the ceiling twice before I regained my composure and walked to the stage,” said the Rev. Eric Ovid Donaldson, pastor of Unity Christian Church, reflecting on his trip to Malaysia to compete for the World Championship of Public Speaking.

Donaldson was one of only nine finalists in the competition representing nearly 300,000 members in more than 120 countries. More than 30,000 contestants competed around the world, and less than 100 advanced to the international competition.

“You could say this is the “American Idol” of public speaking, but it’s far more international in its reach,” Donaldson said.

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., the organization’s membership exceeds 292,000 in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries.

Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. Donaldson is a part of the Unity Toastmasters Club, which holds its meetings weekly at the church.

“The funny thing about all of this is that I am the shy, quiet, gentle soul of my family,” he said. “Up to the age of 45, I would open my mouth and people would say, ‘Speak up, we can’t hear you.’ That’s why I keep asking the question, ‘How did I become the preacher? How did I become one of the top speakers in the world?’ Then I realized that I was asking the wrong question; not how, but why?”

Donaldson always looks for the opportunities his success brings. While others might look at his newfound notoriety as an opportunity to launch a public speaking and coaching career, he is developing further plans.

“I look forward to getting my message of healing and hope to the world, no doubt! I am dedicated to the discovery, development and perfect unfolding of our divine purpose and potential. I want to see everyone do well, but I also want to encourage everyone to do good in the world”

That became evident as Donaldson and one of his ministerial colleagues, the Rev. Kevin Ross, senior minister of Unity of Sacramento, collected “A Trunk Full of Love,” cards, letters of prayers, and condolences that they took with them to offer to families and friends of those bereaved by the two ill-fated Malaysia Airline flights MH370 and MH17.

Following Spirit, they had no idea who to give the cards to other than drop them off at the ticket counter at the airport, which was closed upon their early morning arrival into the country. However, on the way to the hotel, they discovered that the Malaysian government declared a National Day of Mourning on the day some of the remains from MH17 would be returned.

Donaldson and his colleagues returned to the airport that day and stood for 3 hours with the mourners – pilots, flight attendants, ticket agents, grounds crews and others – as ambulances carrying the bodies passed in procession.

After introducing themselves, Ross and Donaldson passed out all the cards that were collected from their churches and friends to those in attendance. The people were extremely appreciative of the gesture. The intention was not meant as a religious act, as much as a gesture of global friendship and compassion.

“Winning my semifinal round and finding myself in the finals of Toastmasters International's World Championship of Public Speaking in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is a life-changing experience – but so was this,” Donaldson said.

“It dawned on me that this trip was about so much more than competing. It was about connecting. It was about compassion. For me, it was about ministering through my words and my actions. That’s the ‘why’ of it all.”

Upon his return home, the Memphis City Council honored Donaldson with a proclamation for his success in making the finals of Toastmasters International’s World Championship of Public Speaking.

This accomplishment is big.

“Eight of us in the finals didn’t win, but the impact we all can have in our communities is tremendous,” said Donaldson, noting that his life has changed. “My prayer is no longer what has happened, but what can happen from here.”

He said he wants to see others have as much a “horizon expanding experience – especially our youth, and others, who may be gentle souls with something to say – like me.”

Unity Christian Church is located at 3345 McCorkle Rd. The Rev. Eric Ovid Donaldson may be reached at (901) 654-5634. Unity Toastmasters meet every Thursday from 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. You can follow Donaldson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rev.donaldson or www.twitter.com/EricOvidDonalds.

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