"When my name was called, it seemed so surreal," the Rev. Eric Ovid Donaldson, senior minister at Unity Christian Church in Whitehaven, recalled after winning Toastmasters International's District 43 International Speech Contest held recently in Tupelo, Miss.
"At one moment, I was supporting our Unity Toastmasters Club, and in the next moment, I'm being invited halfway around the world to compete in the semi-finals at the World Championship of Public Speaking."
Thousands of Toastmasters from around the world will be traveling to this year's International Convention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to watch The World Championship of Public Speaking.
Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches lessons in leadership and public speaking. Rev. Donaldson is one of many people who participate in Toastmaster meetings locally to hone their communications skills.
"You would think I would have an advantage being that I preach regularly, but not so," said Donaldson. "I've lost several times over the years to contestants with phenomenal presentation skills; and that was at the club level. Some of them are members of my church."
Donaldson came to Memphis in 2010 to pastor Unity Christian Church. When he discovered that a Toastmasters group met weekly at the church, he soon joined.
Toastmaster clubs such as Unity Toastmasters strive to provide a supportive and positive learning experience to its members, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.
"This year I was so busy with other projects in and around the church I wasn't going to compete. But when I was asked, I couldn't say no," said Donaldson. "I really want to encourage everyone to participate and get involved with Toastmasters because of what it can do to bring people out of their shells and enhance their market value and effectiveness in their jobs. So I competed at our club's international speech contest, and this year, I won."
And he kept winning, overcoming stiff competition in the Area and the Division contests before reaching the District competition, which included contestants from Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The secret to his success, said Donaldson, is three-fold: A caring club, a thirst to improve and his faith in God.
"This win was a team effort. The members of Unity Toastmasters really worked with me every week to prepare me for each round. Their love and encouragement was infectious. It made me want to do well. I think that's what Toastmasters is all about, and it's certainly what our church is about."
(For more information about Toastmasters International, visit www.unitychristianchurch.info or www.toastmasters.org.)