Written by Kerrie Alexander
Mathew Eyles has lived with profound dyslexia since birth, and as a child struggled with literacy and short-term memory loss.
So how did the Hervey Bay father-of-three deliver a seven-minute speech in front of a crowd of thousands at the prestigious semi-finals for the World Speaking Championships in Nashville Tennessee last month?
Nine years ago, he found Fraser Coast Toastmasters.
The not-for-profit club is part of international organisation that takes shy, nervous, and introverted people like Mathew and empowers them to be leaders with greater self-confidence, personal growth, and great listening skills.
Mathew is one of the true success stories of the simple program used by the club to start with baby steps, walk in your own time and run when you’re ready.
He has sprinted across the finish line to become President of the club and won each of his speaking competitions at central, district, divisional and area in the last 12 months to qualify for the international semi-final. He was in the top 28 of 30,000 competitors.
Plus, the adventure saw Mathew take an extra three weeks to see New York, Yellow Stone Park, San Francisco, and more.
He is a highly sort after Master of Ceremonies with his crowning achievement being chosen to open the World Masters Games in Tasmania in front of a 20,000-strong crowd.
He now also works in building resilient communities with disadvantaged people and business.
The passionate speaker has enjoyed a morning walk for many years on Hervey Bay’s foreshore but for the last 12 months, it has been his classroom.
The inspirational speech based on the impacts of COVID-19 and isolation, was learnt by listening to a recording rather than reading.
“Instead of watching beautiful sunrises and dolphins I started using that hour of a morning to solely practice my speech,” Mathew said.
“Plenty of people stopped and ask me what I’m doing because I’m walking backwards and forwards practicing my speech on the beach, staring out to the ocean. I get a few funny looks,” he said with a laugh.
“If I do get some really weird looks, I’ll tell them what I’m doing.”
While he didn’t make it to the finals, Mathew said he took away some hints and tips to put into training for next year’s semi-finals in Barbados.
“I was nervous, but I used to be terrified,” he said about performing and being live streamed to the world during the speech.
“You don’t just stand at a lectern; you use the stage.
“Toastmasters has given me the confidence to say I can do it but also the humility to know there was a lot of work involved.
“I felt really good. You are amongst friends and everyone there is supporting you so in a way it wouldn’t matter if you got up there and forget every line, they would have clapped you and supported you and probably given you a hug and say better luck next year.
“I got to hear the people speak that made it to the finals and you always learn better when you watch people deliver their speeches live.
“Learning to be more relaxed, calmer and to speak more personally to the audience is what I took away from that.”
Mathew’s toastmasters journey started when he gave up competitive paddling to spend more time with his children.
He also wanted to be a better father, a better speaker, a better leader, and open pathways to a better career.
“I used to be an ocean canoeist and represented Australia, and I didn’t want to keep paddling because it took hours and hours to stay fit enough to do that, and I was 40!
“I’m a very private person and enjoy portrait painting and gardening. I’m not an expressive out there person and needed the skills to better myself in my workplace and be a better communicator with my family.
“Being a new dad, I wanted to communicate better with my children.
“There’s nothing worse than having a dad that locks himself in a room and paints portraits.”
As well as constant love and support from his wife Meagan, Mathew said toastmasters changed the course of his life and helped overcome some barriers of living with dyslexia.
“Personally, what toastmasters has done for me is huge!
“It’s made a massive difference in my career and how I get information across. It has a much better impact.
“It has massively changed my life and given me so many more opportunities that I would have said no to before. I have come miles when it comes to confidence.
“I can read a room quickly and understand what I need to tweak, to get that message across.
“I can’t see printed words on paper; it’s like a white river to me and I’m even worse on a computer screen, so I had to find ways to be able to function in life.
“I always wanted to be successful, to have a house and a family and I didn’t want to sit around and say, ‘oh me the victim’. Now I apply that to everything. See a problem. Fix the problem.”
Toastmasters is open to anyone of any age or background. All you need is an open mind.
Mathew said all five clubs in Hervey Bay and Maryborough are warm and welcoming and open the doors to everyone without any expectations.
There’s a mix of word lovers, small business owners, retirees, professionals, and people who just have a special speech they want to deliver perfectly.
“It’s a friendly and encouraging environment and you’re not forced to participate. If you’re nervous already the last thing you want is to be forced to do something.
“You just do everything in your own time.
“Once you realise everyone are friends it’s really easy to get up there and talk because of the safety net of friendship.
“There is no pressure whatsoever. Just come and enjoy it!”
Fraser Coast Toastmasters meets every Monday from 6.30pm at 17 Cypress St, Torquay.
You can find out more by finding them or one of the other clubs in the Fraser Coast on Facebook.