When I walked into my first National Speakers Association meeting of the North Texas chapter exactly five years ago, I was nervous, self-conscious and out of my element.

Or at least I thought so.

Five years later, my life has changed for the better in so many ways. The reason? My new speaker friends have taught me life lessons that I somehow missed in my first 30 years as a newspaperman.

What did they teach me?

Tim Durkin (www.timdurkin.com) taught me you go farther in life bragging on others than you do boasting about yourself.

Eloise Owens (www.momentumcompany.com) showed me how the greatest strength and love can emerge out of the darkest moments of illness.

Jana Stanfield (www.janastanfield.com) showed how when you combine song with speech you “eat, pray, love” your way into every audience's heart.

Gary Rifkin (www.encoreencore.biz) showed that even the most mundane act — like carrying a stool and a glass of water on to the main stage at NSA's national convention for the next speaker — can be an act of grace and dignity.

Michael Hoffman (www.ignitingperformance.com), my first chapter president, showed that bear hugs and spontaneous quips make you feel better than you felt before. Every time.

Ty Walls (theillustratedidea.com) showed that witty caricatures push good will all around.

Christine Cashen (www.christinecashen.com) taught me how the nastiest incidents of life can be turned into positives when you put a humorous story and spin to them.

Sally Baskey (www.sallybaskey.com), my second chapter president, showed how sometimes you can laugh so hard for so long that your body begins to ache.

Stu Schlackman (www.competitive-excellence.com) demonstrated over and over that his steady reliability is an all-too-rare quality that should never be taken for granted.

Lorri Allen (www.lorri.com), my first Charbonneau Speakers Academy dean, showed how endless positive reinforcement gives rookie pro speakers more strength and power than even those first paychecks.

Ed Peters (www.edpeters4profit.com), my second academy dean, taught me that marketing is about you, not me — an important lesson for any newspaper columnist (like me, writing for you). Oh, and postcards, postcards, postcards.

Mark LeBlanc (www.smallbusinesssuccess.com), my second national president, showed me how if he hears you give a good talk with original material, he'll recommend you to his speaker friends in another country. Hello, Canada. Hello, “International Speaker”  in your profile.

Carlos Sanchez (www.leaderswithoutborders.com), my third chapter president, showed me how to stake out one area of expertise and absolutely own it.

Al Lucia (www.adlassociates.com) taught me that the smallest nearly-forgettable incidents of your childhood can transfer decades later into highly memorable stories that reinforce smart business practices.

Kent Billingsley (www.revenuegrowthcompany.com) showed me how a calm, easy-going manner goes a long way towards alleviating any kind of stress in a hectic, insecure business environment.

Robert Menard (www.robertmenard.com) showed me how to tear down your old brand and build a completely new business model during a business slowdown.

Alex Ramsey (www.lodestaruniversal.com), my fourth chapter president, showed me there is a whole new way to see myself and my place as a contributor to the world that I never imagined before.

Deanna Frazier (www.deannafrazier.com) showed me how upbeat, happy, optimistic and hopeful can take you to the other end of the rainbow.

Ann Ranson (www.annranson.com) showed me how running into a speaker buddy at the airport is like winning the lottery. Good time. Good conversation. Good basis for a new friendship.

Susan Gatton (www.scgatton.com), my fifth chapter president, showed how there really is a second act in American life when her second term as chapter president was so outstanding.

Phillip Van Hooser (www.vanhooser.com), my fifth national president, showed me how a small speech before a small audience in a small town can still be a life-changing experience for one audience member — and for the speaker, too.

Linda Swindling (www.lindaswindling.com), my next chapter president, taught me how the right words, tone and energy can get you on an airplane even when there are supposedly no seats left. Negotiating skills indeed!

Doug Stevenson (www.dougstevenson.com) showed me how eight hours of workshop coaching is worth a million times that in more business.

LaDonna Gatlin (www.ladonnagatlin.com) showed me that even a Hall of Fame speaker is never too good to constantly keep working – always – to get better.

Oh, and I still have plenty to learn, too. Like Linda Thomas (www.powerfulappearance.com) who promises to show me how to properly tie a tie.

Looking forward to the next five years and more speaker friends and more life lessons.

Dave Lieber is The Watchdog investigative columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a comedy speaker who makes audiences laugh. But more important, he has a slew of great friends! What else matters?