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Speaker Discovery Series: Everyone Has a Story to Tell

August 15, 2017

By Laura Champion 

The Speakers Discovery Series was an idea that has been brewing in my mind for quite some time. I have been a member of the AFP Toronto Congress Education Committee for the last two years before becoming chair this year. Each year I would have people say to me, “How do I get to speak at Congress? I apply, and I am turned down over and over.”

When I looked at the reasons why many of these applications were being declined, I realized it was their lack of AFP-based speaking experience. But how could they get experience if they couldn’t get accepted? There just wasn’t a clear path, and it was deterring new speakers, which in turn meant that Congress was continuing to choose from the same pool of speakers.

Finally, the idea came to me: why not replicate something that is already working to help create new and interesting speakers for other sectors? Being an avid podcast listener, I thought about The Moth or Risk – real people, telling real stories that connect with the audience. The plan was born!

The last three months have been a whirlwind of pitching, planning and coordinating, but thanks to the AFP staff and dedicated committee, we saw the project quickly get off the ground. Thank you to Scott Jeffries, Jessica Wroblewski, Yunis Kariuki, Sam Barr, and Liz Dempsey for their amazing dedication to this event.

Held at the informal Tranzac Club, the night was kicked off by the magnetic Maeve Strathy followed by eight speakers brand new to AFP: Alexis Gaiptman, Lindsey Hutchison, Michelle Leong Francis, Sheidell Magalong, Dan McKinnon, Cindy Wagman, Andrew Wilkins and Cara Williams. These speakers had been given the instructions of no props, no slide decks—only great stories. Each of their stories, about eight minutes in length and connected to fundraising, centred on the night’s theme of “Firsts.”

Each of the participants was scored on their performance by three heavy hitters in the fundraising industry. Thanks again to Paul Nazareth, Andrea Orr, and Denny Young. These scores, along with the written feedback, can be used as a reference for their speaking abilities should they choose to submit to Congress.

The topics varied from their experience of a first capital campaign, to their first big "win," to the experience of returning to work as a first-time mom. You can check out the night’s amazing line up here.

With the personal nature of these stories, there were moments of uproarious laughter and moments where you could hear a pin drop. As fundraisers, we spend our days telling important stories, but the Speaker Discovery Series is a platform for us to share our own experiences. While we advocate for our charities and organizations, rarely do fundraisers get the opportunity to advocate for ourselves in the company of our peers.

By launching this night, we’ve created both a pathway for new speakers to become part of the AFP speaking community and a safe space for us to share our experiences.

It’s the committee’s hope that we will have many more of these nights and that we can begin to spread them across Canada to develop more speakers outside of the Greater Toronto area.

Our next event is January 18th (location TBD), and we will be recording it for a podcast—these stories are too important to only live for one night! I encourage all chapters who might like to start one of these nights to reach out so I can supply you with everything you’ll need for a successful launch. We’d love to use the audio from your local Speakers Discovery nights in the podcast so we can highlight the best new speakers across the country.

Interested in speaking? The Call for Proposals for the next event will be coming out in December. This time, the theme will be “WHOOPS!” Start thinking of your stories now and if you are nervous about submitting, please reach out. I’m always happy to have a chat.

Laura Champion works for Blakely Inc. After leaving her first career in Library Science she found her niche in the fundraising world. She has experience in annual, tribute giving, mid-level growth, and digital integration. Laura is a proud Humber College grad and has co-created a mentorship project for new grads of the Fundraising Program, transitioning into the workplace from academia. She is also actively involved with the Association of Fundraising Professionals as chair of AFP Toronto Congress 2017 Education Committee and as founder of the Speakers Discovery Series.

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