We are often asked, “How did you come up with the idea for SPEAK?” It all happened over dinner at an Italian restaurant in Venice, CA. One of my wife Suzie’s closest friends, Deb, along with her husband, Paul and their kids, were out from Manhattan for a west coast visit. We were talking about projects I was currently working on when Deb told us the story of a woman she worked with at American Express who was socially very shy, had a hard time looking anyone in the eye and was the last person you would expect to present in front of 500 American Express executives. But when offered the chance, she in fact did stand up in front of those 500 executives and gave a presentation that impressed her superiors and stupefied Deb. Deb felt compelled to find out how Pat got up there and did such a great job when she had always seemed so shy. So Deb asked and Pat replied proudly, “I joined Toastmasters.” So Deb suggested to me at that dinner, “you should check out Toastmasters. There might be something there.”
When Paul and I first began the journey of SPEAK, our intention was to explore the fear of public speaking, the reported #1 fear in the world, even greater than the fear of death. We wanted to explore both its physical symptoms and the emotional paralysis it causes in the extreme, hindering some from living productive lives and closing their world off from all of its possibilities. We wanted to identify such a victim and watch them go through the process of blossoming from a half catatonic mute into Tony Robbins, while participating in a Toastmasters club. What we discovered along the way was so much bigger than just conquering your fear of speaking in front of others. In fact, conquering that fear was just the beginning.
When Toastmasters first invited us to their convention, we were introduced to their international speech contest that crowns ‘The World Champion of Public Speaking’. Here, we met the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the people who had conquered their fear of public speaking and now had an even bigger mission, to tell their story.
Our journey filming the finalists took us to the four corners of North America and along the way we encountered every type of person you can imagine on the social, political and religious spectrums. No matter who they were, The CEO, the homeless man, the 1st degree murderer, they all had a story to tell. The characters that we follow in the final film are some of the most compelling and inspiring people I have ever met in my life. These contestants focused all of their efforts to be the best, not just the best speaker, but the best human they can be. They took on life’s hard moments, learned from their mistakes and dug deep inside themselves to live their dreams and share their experiences with the world.
“Your life tells a story, “ a contestant once told me, “and there’s someone out there that needs to hear it.” Those words ring in my ears and have been a central mantra for us as we finished the film. Your life does tell a story and there is someone out there who needs to hear it. We are thrilled you are getting the chance to experience these amazing people we have grown to love and admire. Be inspired. Come find your voice. SPEAK.
Co –Director, SPEAK
It’s every filmmaker’s dream to discover a wholly untouched world from which to tell a story. Our dreams came true over an innocent dinner party conversation. A friend told Brian to “check out Toastmasters”, and we were frankly desperate for a project. We knew nothing about Toastmasters, or public speaking, or the Toastmasters International World Championships of Public Speaking. What we did know is that we wanted to tell a story, to make an original, moving film with great characters.
I went to the first meeting I could find, the Beverly Hills 90210 Toastmasters. I sat down in the back of the room and took it all in. I had no idea what Toastmasters was. What I saw definitely piqued my interest. There was laughter, and feedback, and applause, and the speakers all had an immense amount of passion. There was this fantastic, refreshing supportive energy permeating the room. “Something’s going on here”, I thought to myself. When I met with Brian, we agreed we had to pursue this, even though we had absolutely no idea where it was going.
A few weeks later, Ann Hastings said to us “you should come to our convention in Phoenix this year and see the World Championship”. So Brian and I flew out to Phoenix. We immediately thrust ourselves into the convention, meeting as many people as possible. I was astonished. There were people from every continent, people of all colors and backgrounds, all of who had flown in to Phoenix for the convention. Soon we met 2001 World Champion Darren Lacroix in the lobby, and he immediately set up interviews with all the world champs that afternoon. The interviews were captivating, full of wisdom, passion and insight into life. Darren then took us down to a training session for Bryant Pergersen, a finalist of the contest who was rehearsing his speech. Bryant, the “James Brown of Toastmasters”, worked on his speech over and over and over, and the stress of the competition, the deep desire to win it, totally drew us in. Now we were finding the drama. Two days later, after witnessing the World Championship, it was decided: we had to make this film.
Toastmasters International graciously gave us exclusive rights to do a documentary on the organization and the contest. I have to say, sitting in a bakery in Great Falls, Montana at 5:30 in the morning, sub zero wind chill outside, two cameras, two people, a credit card with a ten thousand dollar limit, watching a local speech contest…I was thinking that maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all. We continued for months, traveling thousands of miles to dozens of contests – from Montana to Indiana to Vegas to North Dakota to Wetaskiwin and on and on – and by the time we met our finalists and went to Calgary, we knew we had fascinating characters from a totally original world. We knew we had a story. We had what we wanted. And, somewhat unexpectedly, our story had a point that we feel is universal and profound.
The point of the film is this: every person has a voice that matters. Every person has a story to share, a story that someone needs to hear, because if you share your story, you can change somebody’s life. Public speaking is not scary at all if you speak from the heart – if you tell the world who you are, what you’ve been through, what your dreams are, and what you love. Every person needs to find their voice, and share it. Come find your voice. SPEAK.
Co –Director, SPEAK