In his new book, Rob Peck shares some of his favourite speeches.

By Julie Kish

The debilitating fear of speaking in front of people is more prevalent than the fear of heights, snakes, spiders and even death, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

But long-time Centennial resident Rob Peck has made public speaking his hobby for most of his adult life. He initially joined Toastmasters International in the 1970s to keep his brain active. He was hooked when he realized he had become significantly more confident speaking in leadership situations.

Rob started with the Scarborough chapter of Toastmasters and, after taking a few years off when he had four small children at home, he joined the Bay Street Breakfast Club, which was close to his work. Since the 1980s, they have met for one hour every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.

Even after he retired from his job over 10 years ago, Rob continued to rise at the crack of dawn to take the GO train downtown for his weekly meeting. The group has continued to meet virtually since the beginning of the pandemic.

In his newly published book, Reflections – Speeches from the Heart, Rob courageously shares some of the most personal speeches he has written over the past 25 years. Writing for Toastmasters became a way of reflecting on his thoughts and evaluating his life. “If I have a problem, I write a speech about it,” he said. “Many times, I find that by the time I have finished the speech, I have developed an approach to the problem.” 

Rob and his wife Julia, married for 49 years, have lived in their current Centennial home for over 40 years. Some of the problems he worked out through his speeches are light and humorous, such as raising teenagers, home renovations and driving cross-country with four children in a camper. More thought-provoking topics include faith, death and finding goodness in humanity.

Toastmasters International, formed in 1924, is a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. There are currently more than 15,000 clubs in 149 countries with over 300,000 members. Some people join for a few months to learn skills that will advance their careers, and some are passionate life-long members like Rob.

Each meeting runs with a strict agenda. There is a chairman, known as the Toastmaster, a timekeeper, a grammarian, several speakers and several evaluators. The speeches are five to seven minutes long, and the time-limited feedback is always constructive and respectful. Each meeting also has a Table Topic session where members volunteer to speak for precisely one minute about a topic that is not given to them until the timer begins.

As one of the senior members of his Toastmasters club, Rob mentors other members to help them gain proficiency in speech writing and public speaking. He believes his book can be a guide for other speechwriters. “I am wrapping up my life in speeches and giving it away to whoever can use it,” he said.

Another reason for publishing his speeches is to record his life for his children and grandchildren. He wants to give his children an opportunity to know him better than they already do. When asked what his adult children think about the book, he answered, “They haven’t read it yet. They’re busy with their lives.”

Rob believes Toastmasters International has played an essential role in his life and the lives of others around the globe. “By helping us communicate better, it makes the world a better place.”

Book Report – Reflections – Speeches from the Heart

Reflections – Speeches from the Heart by Rob Peck is a collection of skillfully crafted speeches written and presented by the author over the past 25 years.

The 41 speeches are divided into chapters that can be read quickly, but I recommend devouring the more thought-provoking ones slowly. Savour the morsels of insight and the emotions attached to Rob’s perception of the world.

As a member of Toastmasters International for over 40 years, he has been creating and presenting speeches for most of his adult life, and his experience is evident in this selection of engaging and emotionally moving speeches. This collection includes talks to his Toastmasters club, spiritual reflections presented at church and profoundly personal eulogies.

Through his speeches, we learn that the author is a very intelligent, introspective and deeply spiritual man. He tackles issues such as “What is God? What are we here for? Who cares? Is this all there is?” The reader joins Rob on his journey of self-discovery as he learns the importance of self-respect, trying to speak the truth, forgiveness and gratitude.

He includes two talks about speechwriting, but this book doesn’t focus on teaching readers how to write an engaging speech. Instead, it gives 41 examples of expertly written addresses.

Rob has great admiration for American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. His favourite quote from her is: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I will not soon forget how this book made me feel. Rob Peck’s ideas about the human condition left me feeling warm, hopeful and grateful. The book is a representation of a life well lived.