While no one ever calls the Lebanese reserved, it is natural for humans to have a fear of public speaking. Apparently, the Lebanese are eager to overcome it.
Is it the outgoing personality? The confidence? Or always having an opinion? What is it about the Lebanese and public speaking that make such a good fit?
In the past decade, a huge self-help movement has evolved in Lebanon around public speaking. From Toastmasters to TEDx to a variety of competitions, people in Lebanon are flocking to public speaking opportunities. So set up the mic!
Toastmasters International – Where Leaders are Made
“I was really shy. When called on to speak, I’d go blank,” said Zahraa Shaito, Toastmasters International’s Area Director for Lebanon. She is now a frequent keynote speaker, who often trains CEOs and TEDx speakers in the art of public speaking. Toastmasters combines a supportive environment with challenging experiences for developing public speaking skills in a systematic way, she says.
“Today I can always find things to say. That came with lots of practice.” The “amazing support” at Toastmasters kept her coming to the weekly meetings, she said. Club meetings are workshops in which members learn by watching and doing, sharing suggestions and feedback with others who are there for the same reasons you are.
“Maybe we are driven by ambition,” Shaito speculated. “Lebanese people forecast what is needed – presentation skills, interview skills – and they will work on self-improvement. They know if they want an edge, they need to work on themselves.”
“Or a lack of inhibition,” she added. “We have no fear of trying new things.”
When storyteller, writer and academic Sadika Kebbi attended her first Toastmasters meeting, she was hooked. “Everyone leaves everything outside the door – the sectarianism, the titles, the affiliations, all the things that divide us. Once we step in that room, anyone there can become your mentor,” Kebbi said.
Through Toastmasters’ worldwide network, members challenge themselves in competitions in Lebanon, then the region and internationally. “I’ve met so many wonderful people,” she said.
TEDX – Taking your message to the world
Created in the spirit of the famous TED conference, TEDx’s mission is to share “ideas worth spreading.” TEDx’s great popularity in Lebanon and around the world “highlights the need for more positive voices, stories and actions,” said Sara Sibai, a TEDx organizer in the community.
“TEDx’s great popularity in Lebanon and around the world highlights the need for more positive voices, stories and actions.”
Patricia Zougheib brought TEDx to Lebanon in 2009 in the form of weekly salons she hosted, and still hosts, in her living room. In 2011 and 2012, Zougheib enlarged her effort to create TEDxBeirut, inviting Lebanese with novel ideas to audition for the chance to share their ideas on stage.
The idea caught on like wildfire, sparking others to create their own TEDx talks in public venues and universities in Lebanon. TEDxYouth was also developed for a younger crowd.
Sibai said, “TEDx allows me to tap into my passion for public speaking and storytelling by helping our speakers share their ideas in a way that can reach the hearts and minds of our audience.”
Anyone with a good idea can submit the idea to one of Lebanon’s many TEDx events and audition for a chance to present the idea on stage. A team of TEDx volunteers, often including Toastmasters, will train the speakers before their big day.
Like Toastmasters, the experience is more than skill training. Whether you are on the stage or behind the scenes, “it’s exciting to be a part of something meaningful and larger than yourself,” said Sibai, “to work on a team creating this unique platform for the community to share their stories, inventions, and new perspectives.”
Engaging Youth in the Public Speaking Challenge
Two nationwide competitions challenge Lebanese to develop their public speaking skills: the English Speaking Union’s annual National Public Speaking Competition for university students, hosted at the Lebanese American University, and the National Public Speaking School Competition for students in grades 11 and 12, held at Rafik Hariri University. Popular TV host Zaven Kouyoumdjian serves as the celebrity judge in both competitions, which crown Lebanon’s champion public speakers.
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