The author of this highly rated article is Roger Knowles.
Roger is a practicing attorney and an experienced professional speaker.
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The magic woven by a first class speaker lingers in the mind like the memory of an early love. So it was with a series of speakers at the first annual convention of the National Speakers Association of South Africa.
The venue was inspirational, too. With its thatched bedrooms, main building wrought of stone surrounding a flower-filled square not unlike an English country garden and the whole surrounded by winding paths beneath spreading trees, the Mount Grace Hotel was a fitting arena for some memorable performances. Like the fellowship, the catering was rich, warm, exceptional.
All the speakers were good – what else would one expect of a gathering of professional orators? But some were astonishingly good.
Amongst the local and overseas speakers, South Africa’s Ian Thomas created the most vivid memory. He spoke with humour, eloquence and energy, his passion for his subject illuminating his story-telling. A game ranger, he described in exciting and chilling detail the savage expertise and extraordinary teamwork of a pride of lions hunting its prey. Magnificent photographs, some taken at night, illustrated his lively talk. From time to time, he seamlessly inserted observations to highlight the parallels with modern business – the references are surprisingly apt. This is his power and relevance as a speaker – one who would enrich the program at any conference.
W. Mitchell is an American. He appears in his wheelchair on the stage – a shocking image, as his disfigurement is immediately apparent. He was horribly maimed by an accident in which his body was smashed and then burned by petrol spilled on him from his own ruptured motorcycle tank. His hands are grisly stumps, his face a mask. His spirit was battered by this experience, and by another horrible event that robbed him of his mobility and sentenced him to life in a wheelchair – the ‘prison’ that threatened to trap his soul. He tells of his emergence from depression and near defeat with surprising humour and inspiring frankness. A soaring spirit underlies his story of triumph over grinding adversity. Sure to inspire any audience, he is a practiced and dramatic exponent of the speaker’s art. His lesson emphasises the need to adapt to change with courage and determination.
Reg Athwal is, surprisingly, an Englishman. Why surprising? Because he is a Pakistani by birth, raised in London by immigrant parents. Snappily dressed like the suit salesman he once was, he has a quiet but powerful voice. His accent is impeccable ‘Buckingham’ English, his appeal is universal. Speaking from a strong spiritual (but not religious) base, he recounted his experiences as an emerging entrepreneur. Like so many, he faced opposition from his father and early financial disaster. Bowed but unbeaten, he soldiered on and achieved success. His story is an eloquent lesson, inspiration to persist in the face of criticism and adversity.
There were others, but it is not possible to record them all here. However, the closing speaker was our own Stef du Plessis, co-founder of the NSASA with Clive Simpson. He related a fascinating journey through the bushveld with a wise African companion and guide. Rich with metaphors for his own challenging journey through life, his talk inspired us to press on with courage, enjoying the many experiences but never losing sight of our goals – in his case, his goal was to photograph the perfect sunset. Like the presentation by Ian Thomas, Stef’s magical narration was infused with the power, beauty and mystery of Africa. It was easy to see why both of them are such popular and successful speakers on the global stage. Book them through Bronwyn of Speakers Inc.
The convention was memorable and moving. We were inspired by wonderful speakers and workshop facilitators to take our careers from good to great. As a home for South African speakers, the NSASA is off to an excellent start.