I was a bit uncertain about how to start my interview with Bill Monsour DTM. Besides being known as a guru of the easy-Speak club administration software, he’s also an international speech champion, past parliamentarian and Toastmaster of the Year of District 59. Before I could ask my first question, however, Bill turned the tables on me and politely asked why I wanted to interview him. I did not know at that moment that my plan for a short interview would quickly become quite fun and inspirational… and not so short, after all.
Pedro – Bill, everyone knows you are the easy-Speak ‘guru’. How did you get involved in this project?
Bill – My background is theatre, acting, dancing and singing, which is another side of presenting in public from speaking. Easy-Speak is the software that powers our club administration website www.tmclub.eu, used by all Toastmasters club in Continental Europe. When I was asked to get involved in the project nine years ago, it was actually just to help with promoting this tool to all the clubs in our district. Later, as I became more and more involved, I began to provide tech support and training. Since I am not a programmer, however, it was from the side of understanding the end-user.
Pedro – What do you do to be so successful as a tech support person?
Bill – First, you need to be friendly and sympathetic to the end-user’s needs. It also helps if you are familiar with the whole Toastmaster’s program. Often, in order to show people how to use the easy-Speak system, I first have to help them understand what their officer role is. Then I can explain how easy-Speak is designed to support the Toastmasters Club Leadership Handbook and the learning exercise of being a club leader.
Pedro – Ok, you think that people should know their officer role in order to use easy-Speak correctly. In your opinion what do you think is necessary to be a good officer?
Bill – Actually, I think about this question often since I’m always looking to encourage any Toastmaster who has leadership potential. I have spoken at many, many officers trainings all over the District, and if I get the chance to speak again at a training, I would start by asking why they want to be an officer of the club. If they don’t say that they want to practice their leadership skills, then I would suggest they think about the wonderful opportunity they have as a club officer to participate in a role-play in a small business environment in which they can get feedback and support. This is the spirit that I think is necessary to be a good officer because, if people see running a club as a learning opportunity, they will engage more, they will read the Toastmasters handbooks and they will look for improvement.
Pedro – Do you think Toastmasters is about role-playing?
Bill – I believe that absolutely everything with Toastmasters is a role-play and role-playing is a very effective learning method. First you read some theory and understand the role-play exercise. Then you run the role-play, doing your best to apply the theory. Afterwards, by evaluation, you learn what to improve. Sadly many officers miss this learning opportunity and are not getting the most out of their time as an officer.
Pedro – What are you learning in your role as a system administrator for the website www.tmclub.eu?
Bill – I have learned how important IT management is for the success of a modern business. Look at the Toastmasters leadership exercise… you have the District Director, the Club Growth Director, someone in charge of Education and so one, but the Toastmasters program doesn’t have an IT Director. Why not? Nowadays, every big company has an IT Department. Of course, the World Headquarters of Toastmasters International started an IT Services department a few years ago, too. But why isn’t it already a part of the leadership development role-play in our clubs and district? There are the roles of “Webmaster” and “Web-site Committee” which appeared in the Competent Leadership manual some years ago. But, IT is much more than supporting a club website like on the tmclub.eu platform. Think about all the social media today and helping our members with all their technical questions.
The easy-Speak software was developed by Malcolm Warden DTM in England, who made it available for clubs around the world. The system is designed as an administrative tool: communication, public relations, administration and everything else you need for club and district meetings. By the way, we are always looking for volunteers to help on the easy-Speak Support Team as developers and also for support and training.
Pedro – Where can people sign up to be an easy-Speak Support Team member?
Bill – The volunteer should have some free time and some sort of interest in technical things, as well as good social skills. It’s hard to find people like that who are not already too busy with other Toastmasters projects. But, if this sounds exciting to you, contact D59ITManager@gmail.com for Pau Rey who has taken over coordination of support and training for the district. My job, nowadays, is to focus on database system maintenance, like adding clubs to the database, merging duplicate user accounts, catching spam and maintaining the email system.
Pedro – You’ve been talking about your work for the Toastmasters community. Looking at your extensive LinkedIn profile, however, I was wondering how you manage everything?
Bill – For work, I’m a self-employed trainer of presentation skills, so my schedule is flexible and I can fit many things in. It takes good planning and time management. I also just love what I do and I like to keep busy.
Pedro – Can you summarize your path as a Toastmaster and tell me why you joined?
Bill – I joined Toastmasters in 2002 and since then I’ve been participating very actively by competing in speech contests, running different workshops, founding clubs and I have filled many club and district leadership roles. After 13 years, I am still discovering there is so much more to learn as a Toastmaster. For me, it is like a fitness program for my mind. I plan never to stop my Toastmaster’s addiction. To quote Diana Ross DD [Distinguished Diva], “if there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it.”
Last year, in the Netherlands I set up a nine-month program called the X-Train program — a series of workshop days to help members develop their training skills. Participants gave many short workshops for practice. The reason why I started this program was to improve the quality of training at our officer trainings. I hear many officers say that it is only at the end of the year they finally understand what they should have been doing the whole year long. Meanwhile, that year the club quality may have suffered by less-than-great leadership. I think we can do better in preparing incoming officers so they do well right at the start of their leadership year.
Also, nine years ago, Elizabeth Nostedt DTM and I co-founded the ‘The Professional Trainer Group of Toastmasters” in Continental Europe to help experienced trainers learn from and support each other, and also to let us mentor those toastmasters who want to become professional trainers one day. Now Agnes Tarnai DTM is co-manager of this project and we have a Facebook page, but later this year we will announce a new website, a speaker’s directory and a new name for our group. How does the European Trainers Network sound to you?
The main reason I joined Toastmasters was because I wanted to get evaluation for my own skills as a professional trainer. My clients don’t know how to evaluate me in an effective way as Toastmasters do. Toastmasters also gives me many examples of good and poor habits to use when I need to explain to my clients why they should do this and not that. I joined Toastmasters, as well, partly in order to network. I’ve even been offered some paid work through referrals from fellow toastmasters.
Pedro – You said your background is in theatre, singing and dancing, so I have to ask you this… searching online, I found a Bill Monsour on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com). Is it you?
Bill – Yeah! Ha, ha. Did you see the movie I was in?
Pedro – Not yet…
Bill – The movie is called Oversexed Rugsuckers from Mars; you should see it. It’s got aliens, murder, thrills and nudity! Very funny. One film critic calls it “the worst film ever made” so that means it is very special, right? Before I got my university degree in management, I studied acting in New York, and later I studied singing and did auditions in Hollywood. I’m still acting in movies from time to time. Next September go see the film Alberta where I play a cagey Canadian real estate agent.
Pedro – How useful is that acting experience in your daily life?
Bill – I apply my knowledge of performance on the stage in a business environment. For example, when I coach people on their speeches, their storytelling, their voice, their body language and how to connect with the audience, most of my understanding and exercises come from my theater school training. The important thing is to exchange some kind of energy with your audience. I call it building a “heart bridge.”
Pedro – How important is it to connect with the audience?
Bill – It is essential. We know it’s very important to consider who your audience is, because you’re doing it for them. However, it’s also important to find your passion for your speech topic. If you don’t have that passion, the audience will feel it’s missing and be turned off. This happens in every art form, not just speaking. You need to take advantage of the human connection… show your personality and humanity. You can’t relate to your audience as if you were talking to robots, especially not when you’re performing live.
Pedro – Is that one of the key points of your coaching work?
Bill – Definitely. I remember once I did a workshop for Toastmasters officers about how to run contests. I only had 45 minutes to speak, so I didn’t have time to teach them every fact, tip and trick that I have learned. Therefore, I focused my session on the ‘why’. Pedro, have you ever seen Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle? The one where you find the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’? Many managers tell people what to do and how to do it, but they don’t tell why. They should start with the why. So, as I didn’t have time to speak about everything, I helped them understand why contests are such a valuable education for the people organizing and participating. Helping to run a contest should be a fun learning opportunity for everyone and not an obligation. If the people participating are not motivated to read any of the Toastmasters preparation materials, don’t see it as an role-play exercise, and don’t ask for an evaluation of the event afterwards, then it’s a missed learning opportunity. I will repeat what I said before that everything in Toastmasters, including this interview, is a learning opportunity.
Pedro – Bill, we are reaching the end of our interview.
Bill – Wait! This interview was too serious. We need a wild story!
Pedro – I’m not a wild guy… You’re our hope.
Bill – Ok, I’ve got a little story to share. When I won the District International Speech Contest in 2005, I then had two whole months to prepare another two speeches for the World Championship of Public Speaking in Canada. Now the rule is changed to only one more speech, but back then it was two more. I’m not joking when I say that those months were the most nerve-wracking and intense two months in my life. Did I have two ready and polished world-class speeches in my repertoire to present at the international conference? Nope! But, I thought I could work fast because I had written my winning speech for the district contest in only three days; a great idea for my speech just suddenly had appeared to me. I checked it with some friends and that was enough to win that year. No offence to the other contestants that year, but I do think that speech quality in our district has shot way up since 2005.
I ended up drafting about ten speeches about death in my family, organ donation and other really deep and emotional topics. But each time I performed them in my club, people groaned and said that I couldn’t go to the contest with such dark, sad stories. Looking back, I think the topics were not bad themselves, but I did not know then how to tell the stories with a bit of humor and lightness mixed in. I mean, the speeches were so drowned in emotion that the audience had no moment to come up for air!
Weeks of mounting stress went past and by the time I boarded my flight to Canada, I still didn’t have an acceptable speech written! It was during that 8-hour flight to Toronto that I relaxed and wrote a fun, honest speech that I would later give at the contest. A tip for aspiring champions, I can recommend KLM for writing speeches.
On the contest day I awoke feeling ready to compete with a speech that I could be proud about. But then, at the contest briefing only a few hours before the contest, they instructed me to use face makeup because of the strong lighting needed for the official video cameras. Makeup?!#*! Where was I supposed to find makeup at the last moment? But, keeping calm, I walked into a local drugstore to tell my dilemma to a kind salesman and that man offered to make-up my face for free, with the best products in the store, if I would only have dinner with him the next night! Willing to give my all for my district, what else could I do? In many unexpected ways, my trip to the Toastmasters International Convention was an unforgettable and richly fulfilling experience.
One lesson I brought back from the Convention to our district was that speech champions generously support other contestants. Since then, I’m happy to see all our district contest winners mentoring and sharing their experience with so many other Toastmasters. That’s great, isn’t it?
Pedro – That’s the true Toastmasters spirit. We like heavy metal in our lives. Bill, I don’t have English words to express how thankful I am for your time and for everything you’ve been doing for the community, so I’ll say it in Portuguese: muito obrigado!
Bill – Thank you for your time, too, Pedro. I enjoyed talking with you. Good luck with all your future interviewing!
A true leader is someone that inspires us. Thank you Bill for inspiring us.