For three years after his business failed, Carlton Young hid the fact that he and his young son were homeless and living out of their car. Once the retired decorated Marine from Ellenwood got back on his feet and started sharing his story, he discovered that he had a way of connecting with people. And he still does. Now a best-selling author and public speaker, Young will be heading to Vancouver, Canada, August 23-26, to compete in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking competition. He currently serves as president of Southern Toastmasters, and sergeant-at-arms of North Gwinnett Advanced Toastmasters. While winning trophies is nice, Young said, connecting with people is what it’s all about.
Q: Did you ever see yourself as a public speaker?
A: I don’t think it was ever anything I wanted to do or thought about. It just happened because something happened in my life.
Q: You served in Vietnam and the Gulf War. How did you wind up homeless?
A: After I retired from the military, I really wanted to be an entrepreneur and started a business that recycled asphalt and roofing shingles. That lasted a couple of years and then it went under and I had to declare bankruptcy. I did have an advantage in that I had a retirement check. That allowed my son and me to stay in a hotel some nights.
Q: How did you get from there to where you are today?
A: I started going door-to-door cleaning ovens and I also cleaned ovens for churches and businesses. I got the money to put my life back together. One day, somebody asked me to come to church and talk about my experiences. That is when I got the idea to write my first book, “From Home to Homeless to Success.” Someone else told me about Toastmasters where I learned to present myself and tell my story.
Q: Why are you so good at telling your story?
A: Speaking isn’t about talking. It is about delivering a message that can change a life. Everyone has a story and it’s about knowing your story. It’s about having a call to action. The speech that got me to Canada is called “Semper Fi,” Latin for “always faithful” and the Marine Corps motto. I have a good friend I fought with in Vietnam and, about a year ago, I found out that he is gay. In my speech, I talked about how this guy was my friend before and he is still my buddy. How I am not going to judge him because of his sexual orientation. As I was walking out to my truck, a gentleman thanked me. He said that because of my speech, he was going to talk to his son. That is all he said. He answered the call to action.
Q: Do you ever get nervous speaking?
A: I spent 22 years in the Marines. I’ve been shot, shot at, shot down, blown up. I’ve marched through the jungle and walked the sands of the desert and was awarded the “Soldiers Medal for Heroism” for actions and leadership in combat. At this point, I am not going to say I don’t get nervous, but I am able to control it.
Q: Do you ever make people cry with your talks?
A: If I can make a person cry, and I’m pretty successful at that, then I have done my part.
Q: What are your chances of winning the world championship?
A: I went to the semifinals before in 2015 and didn’t advance. I went to win and by doing so, I lost. But if you go and connect with your audience, you win, whether you get a trophy or not. When I was talking about my buddy who is gay, I connected with that man in the parking lot. Even though I won first place in that competition, I really won because I connected. But yes, I believe I will become the 2017 World Champion of Public Speaking.