A speech about a toothpick, chicken parmigiana and a mother’s unconditional love has propelled a Pitt Meadows man into the regional quarterfinals of the Toastmasters International contest.
On Apr. 14, Stefano Cossalter outshone more than 100 local contestants to win the district title in Langley.
The winning speech was called A Simple Toothpick and touched on the themes of courage and choices and took him two and a half years to master.
“We were at dinner and I had a piece of chicken parmigiana stuck in my teeth,” Cossalter said about the event that served as the catalyst for the speech.
He then informed his mother that he wasn’t going to stand up and do a toast on her 65th birthday because of the offending piece of food.
His mother then said if he did his speech, she’d give him a toothpick.
“It wasn’t the fact that I really needed the toothpick. It was the look that she gave me and it was the look of unconditional love and the belief in me that I didn’t have in myself,” said Cossalter.
He also realized the event was an opportunity to embrace fear to get what one wants in life.
So in 2011, as he was starting a new online marketing business, he joined Toastmasters.
Cossalter had lost his life savings in 2008 when a friend’s uninsured business that he was involved with burnt to the ground.
“I couldn’t get a job because I couldn’t do well in the interviews. And when I started my new business, I couldn’t get customers because I couldn’t get out and talk to people,” he said.
But Toastmasters changed that.
“I am not the same man I am today,” he said.
Cossalter still remembers the first speech he had to give in front of the group.
Participants were given a question and they had to talk off the top of their head for two minutes.
Cossalter was given a softball question. He had an answer for it right away. But when he stepped forward and opened his mouth, no words came out.
“I was just completely humiliated and I sat down and the voice in the back of my head that always told me I could never be a public speaker was telling me, ‘You idiot, how the heck could you even think that you would be able to do this.’”
Now, thanks to the Toastmasters mentorship program, he can stand up in front of hundreds of people and command an audience.
Cossalter has won two other district championships, but this win is the most prestigious.
A video of Cossalter’s winning speech will be sent to the head office in Denver, Col., where he will be vying for one of 14 spots in the semifinals, to be held at the Toastmasters International Convention on Aug. 22 also in Denver.
From there, six contestants will advance to the World Championship of Public Speaking, which take place at the convention on Aug. 24.
If he makes it that far, he will have to give a new speech, one he has never done before.
Cossalter is no longer scared of standing up in front of crowds. His fear has become excitement.
“I guess it’s like the old saying, ‘You get your butterflies to fly in formation.’ Once you manage to do that, doing anything in regards to public speaking is easy.”