August 07, 2014 10:15AM
As a university professor in the Pittsburg State Technology and Workforce Learning Department, Mark Johnson teaches students how to develop and deliver professional presentations.
That’s not always an easy task, given that public speaking is often atop the students’ list of greatest fears.
“Speaking in front of a group of people isn’t hard to do,” Johnson said, “but it can feel like one of the hardest things to do if you’re not prepared.”
And if anyone can prepare students to speak in public, it’s Johnson, who has recently been recognized as one of the most prolific public speakers in the nation.
This summer, Johnson earned the rank of Distinguished Toastmaster by Toastmasters International, a global educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. The group has more than 310,000 members in 126 countries.
The title of Distinguished Toastmaster is the highest honor bestowed upon its members. Only 1 to 2 percent of Toastmasters members reach that level.
“It’s an incredible honor to receive the title of Distinguished Toastmaster,” Johnson said. “Very few of the members earn that title, and to be among that group is a great source of pride for me.”
Johnson joined Toastmasters in 2008 as a way of improving his own skills and, in turn, becoming a better professor.
“If I’m going to stand up in the classroom and teach university students how to give professional presentations,” he said, “I better be darn good at it myself. I don’t have a communication background, and being a part of Toastmasters has made me a better teacher.
“I’ve learned things as a member of the group that I have been able to pass on to my students, which helps makes them better communicators and better prepared for the workforce,” he said.
Johnson has also used his public speaking skills to represent and advocate for Pitt State at conferences across the country.
Earlier this year, Johnson was invited to speak at a conference for the International Foundation for Employee Benefit Plans. There, he spoke in front of more than 400 executives from around the world. This fall, he’ll again speak to the IFEBP at a conference in Boston.
“This conference will have more than 5,000 members in attendance,” he said.
He has also signed on to give presentations to members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States (IATSE), which is a 119,000-member union that represents a variety of trades in the entertainment business.
“IATSE is essentially everyone working behind the scenes on movies, plays, televisions shows and other forms of entertainment,” Johnson said. “They’ve asked me to attend meetings at several locations nationwide to present on how to train their trainers.
“And these are people who are working in the highest forms of entertainment,” he said. “I’ve worked with folks who work alongside Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and many of Hollywood’s biggest names.”
Of all of Johnson’s experiences as a top public speaker, his proudest moments come when he sees his students starting to “get it.”
“You can see when they make that switch and start to feel comfortable in front of the group,” he said. “That’s a wonderful feeling for me, especially since I can still remember what it felt like to be inexperienced and uncomfortable. I know what they’re going through, and I love being able to help them on that journey.”