WHEN retired vet Craig Challen clambered from a flooded Thai cave to replay the dramatic rescue of a young soccer team to the international media, he fell back on skills learnt at Banyandah Toastmasters in Maylands.
Apart from being a seasoned cave diver, Dr Challen’s experience anaesthetising animals on the operating table made him a perfect fit for the challenging rescue. His dive buddy, Dr Richard Harris, was in charge of sedating the 12 boys to keep them from panicking in the narrow underwater passages, so Dr Challen was able to assist with medical checks and sedative top ups.
When he emerged from the cave for the final time, the world’s media was waiting.
“The thought crossed my mind that I wish I’d kept doing it and wouldn’t be so out of practice,” Dr Challen says of his time at the Toastmasters public speaking club.
“My experience over the last year snuck up on me. I never expected it to have the level of attention that it did.”
Following the rescue and becoming co-Australian of the Year alongside Dr Harris, he’s been inundated with speaking requests and interviews: ”I’m almost speaking as a full-time job.”
Dr Challen says even a small amount of public speaking training was useful.
“You never know when something’s going to pop its head up”.
Public speaking’s one of the most common phobias.
Even though he’s faced down some of the scariest caves in the world (he holds records for the deepest dive in the Pearse Resurgence in New Zealand, heading down to a breath-squeezing 194 metres), Dr Challen was still nervous getting up in front of an audience in those early days at Banyandah.
“It’s a funny thing, personal courage, it’s very situational. There are some things that individuals have no fear of, but the general man on the street might be terrified of it,” he says.
A non-profit educational group founded in 1924, today there are thousands of Toastmasters clubs around the world; Maylands is WA’s oldest.
Formed back in 1974 and now named “Banyandah Toastmasters” (an Aboriginal word meaning “place on the water”), Dr Challen is coming back to the club to celebrate its 45th year and talk about his time in the public eye.
Current club president Kym Godfrey says it will be a chance for people to see how meetings run and experienced Toastmasters present, how to improve their public speaking skills and hear how Dr Challen benefited from his training.
“When Craig was attending Banyandah, he had no idea his training would be put to the test in such a public way to a global audience,” Mr Godfrey said. “Seeing Craig’s example has really made me aware that none of us know when the spotlight might be thrust on us and putting in the practice in a safe supportive environment can really help you to feel well equipped and confident.
“As long as people practise and present they will improve.”
The club usually meet at the Maylands Dome Cafe, but the 45th birthday is on Monday September 9, 6.30pm at the Maylands Tennis Club. It’s free but RSVP to perthtoastmasters.com/45
by DAVID BELL