Dressed in a suit and tie, and wearing a pair of high-heeled ladies shoes, comedian and former Toastmaster David ‘Hurdle’ Tawil began teaching public speaking to 25 rabbis, all students of the Shehebar Sephardic Center (SSC) in Jerusalem. Ten minutes pass before the students have the temerity to ask why he’s wearing ladies shoes. The answer: “until you put yourself in other people’s shoes, you will not be successful in any one-on-one endeavor, including public speaking.”

With 15 years of experience as a teacher, and 50 years of experience as a community leader and public speaker, he’s the perfect person to teach rabbinical students the keys to engage audiences. “Think outside the box and use in-your-face techniques to grab your audience’s attention,” he said. Good public speaking is about engaging one’s audience and keeping their attention. While teaching the rabbis, Tawil demonstrated the magnetism and charismatic style needed to be an effective public speaker.

“If they are going to be rabbis, and give speeches in front of congregations, they will attract more people if they know how to deliver a speech,” said Rabbi Shlomo ‘Sam’ Kassin, Dean of the SSC. “Even if they have a meaningful message, they won’t be effective if they can’t deliver it with the right emphasis and clarity. Hurdle teaches them effective techniques adapted from Toastmaster’s.

This wasn’t a one hour or one day course; Tawil spent two weeks at the SSC’s new yeshivah in Israel, during which time he shared tips with the students and taught them the fundamentals of speech organization and the importance of effective public speaking. He also provided them with essential techniques to overcome their nervousness and anxiety, showing them that being prepared is the key to turning the energy generated by nervousness into an effective tool.

“Organizing a speech is a skill. You need a beginning, middle and an end. When you open, make sure you have a hook, something to grab the audience’s attention. Once you have them, tell them what you are going to say, then say it, and conclude by telling them what you said.

He taught the rabbis how to develop a speech and narrow their message. “Develop a central idea and gather supporting material, then organize your speech and rehearse it. As you rehearse, you”ll be able to tell what you need to improve in the delivery,” he continued.

The student’s learned and practiced vocal variety, when to pause for effect, when to lower their voices and when to raise them, and about using tone and melody in speaking. They learned how and when to use hand gestures, then almost all the students gave a sermon at the end of the course, while the rest of the class critiqued them.

“The students now have a solid foundation. They learned the basics of effective public speaking,” said David.“They gained a level of confidence that would have taken them years to achieve on the job. My style of teaching combines an in your face approach with over the top demonstrations.”

“My students are rabbis in congregations and schools all over the world. They must teach and inspire congregations on six continents,” said Rabbi Kassin. “Public speaking is an essential part of their training and makes them more effective at spreading kiruv.”

Community member Sarina Roffé, President of Sarina Roffé Consulting Group, Inc. and Sarina’s Sephardic Cuisine, is a frequent Image contributor.

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