When the annual Toastmasters International Speech Contest was whittled from more than 30,000 entrants to a semifinal group of 89, one of those was Tacoma attorney Hari Alipuria.
A former Army Ranger and the son of an Indian father and American mother, Alipuria (pronounced ah-lee-pure-e-ah) will fly to Cincinnati next month for the organization’s annual convention.
If he survives the semifinal round, he’ll land in a group of nine who’ll address the convention a few days later for the championship.
Heady stuff? For the 48-year-old Alipuria, it would have been almost unimaginable a few years ago.
“When I joined Toastmasters three years ago, I was frightened speaking in public,” he said. “I was impressed by others I heard speak, and I wondered ‘Could I ever do that?’”
That’s not false modesty; Alipuria’s fear of speaking was ruining his legal career.
“Early on, I’d shake when I had to stand up in court and speak,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable talking to people, and I wasn’t connecting with my clients.”
In 2002, the Washington Bar Association reprimanded Alipuria for his handling of a case and client, and two years later his license was briefly suspended for another case.
A lawyer since 1998, Alipuria’s career had reached a dramatic crossroads.
“I realized if nothing changed, I wouldn’t get better. I wouldn’t be a lawyer much longer,” Alipuria said.
He began what amounted to re-education, attending bar association conferences, a Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers convention and other seminars. They reminded him why he’d gone to the University of Michigan Law School in the first place.
And still, public speaking was an issue.
In 2011, he joined Toastmasters – the Tacoma Bureaucrats Club, which was close to his downtown office.
Club president Mary Morrison has seen Alipuria change.
“I’ve seen him grow in the last few years, and I encouraged him to go beyond what our club could offer, into an advanced club,” Morrison said. “I’ve heard him speak many times now. He’s a gifted speaker, a very personal storyteller.”
Getting to that point was like reaching the semifinals of the national contest – a long road.
“The great speakers make it look easy. For some of them, a lot of work goes into that,” Alipuria said. “I watch tapes of great speakers, read books on speaking. I’ve even taken improv classes in Seattle.
“The goal of speaking is to have the same level of comfort as telling a story to someone in the family. In five to seven minutes, you have to put an audience on an emotional roller coaster.
“You want laughter, pathos, wisdom and all of that in five to seven minutes. To do that, I have to look at myself and when I felt those things,” Alipuria said.
The speech that’s gotten him to the semifinals is on taking responsibility for your actions. It centers on his third year in law school when, out of money, he asked his father for help.
“My father had always said if I needed something to ask. When I asked for money, he said no. I was stuck, and I had to take personal responsibility,” Alipuria said. “I said ‘I’m going to handle this, do what I need to do to finish.’ I worked a deal out with the school.”
If Alipuria gets to the finals, he’ll need a second speech. His law career since that suspension could be a topic.
“There is something positive in showing people can change,” he said. “If someone is perfect, I don’t relate to that person. People who slip and keep coming back, who work with what they’ve got and improve? We can all identify.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/larue