The Pope and a Peasant

by David Brooks

1990 World Champion of Public Speaking
Austin, Texas

Since winning the World Championship of Public Speaking in 1990, I have spoken to an average of 5,000 Toastmasters a year. I’ve done this for 17 years, so I’ve spoken to approximately 85,000 Toastmasters. Therefore, though this number is not precisely verifiable, I believe it to be as accurate as an estimate can be. I’ve learned many lessons along the way, and not the least of which is this Italian proverb: “The Pope and a peasant know more than the Pope alone.” I interpret this to mean that no matter how good I am, or how experienced I am, or how well-traveled I am…I can always learn from someone else.

So after 21 years of continuous membership in the same club, what can I learn from my weekly club meeting? New perspectives, new ideas, new techniques...even if the “teacher” is a rank beginner. True, the beginning speaker is not as experienced as me, may not be as well-read, and may not have the same credentials. Yet, I can still learn.

In fact, the single best line in my World Championship speech came from a beginning Toastmaster. There I was, one of the top nine speakers in all of Toastmasters in 1990, preparing for the World Championship. As I practiced my speech in front of speakers who had not attained such lofty credentials, one beginning Toastmaster wrote a comment in a post-speech evaluation. She simply wrote “I really liked when you said ‘You’re not supposed to know the Lone Ranger’s name.’” When I read that note I instantly reacted defensively: “That’s not what I said.” But in a flash it hit me… “It’s not what I said, but it’s better!” I am grateful that I was smart enough to acknowledge a better idea, without regard to the inexperience of the source. From that I learned “Keep your eyes and your ears and your mind open; you never know when a teacher will appear.”

That’s why I continue to attend my Toastmasters club meetings as often as I can and encourage you to do the same. It’s because we can all still learn.

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Author’s credit:
David Brooks, DTM, won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking in 1990. Since that time he has coached and/or mentored six subsequent World Champions and dozens of finalists. You may contact him at

Author’s note:
If you want to learn more about becoming a better speaker, visit David’s website. Under the Resources tab you will find many free resources for writers and speakers. And, when you are there, sign up for David’s free blog-azine so that you can receive nuggets of knowledge from him on a regular basis.