By: Michael Aun
When I first joined Toastmasters in 1976, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a World Championship of Speaking. To be fair, my knowledge of Toastmasters was rather foolish. I thought it was a group of old guys sitting around offering one another a Toast. Was I ever wrong?
Several months into my membership, my club 7 AM Toastmasters in Cayce, SC announced there would be a speech contest that month and everyone had to participate. I thought… “No problem, we all have to do it.”
I later found out I should not have been allowed to participate in the contest because I had not delivered enough “manual speeches.” I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I won the contest and now had to represent the club at the next level of competition.
Long story short… I won the Area contest, the District contest, the Southeastern Regional Contest and advance to the International Finals in Toronto in 1977.
I really wish there was a resource I could have turned to so that I might learn more about the entire process. Forty-two years later, there is such a knowledge bank.
The 2005 World Champion Lance Miller took it upon himself to build a digital platform that includes in-depth interviews with some 30+ past International Winners. The interviews include 90 minutes of behind the scenes information and (where available) a video of the actual winning speech.
I have been privileged to compete against some great speakers in my Toastmasters career. One was Jeff Young, the 1980 Toastmasters International Winner.
Jeff was also a finalist in 1978, the year I won. The World Champion Speakers Online Summit has a video of almost all past speakers who are still alive. In his interview, Jeff made the observation: “I was amazed when I sat through the evaluations. I did not know people could talk to each other that way and still be friends. They were tough, but they were fair. They mixed the hard with the soft.”
If you have thin skin, Toastmasters might not be for you. As I searched for tips from past winners, the 1986 winner Arabella Bengson remarked “You have to touch the heart, change the mind and tickle the funny bone!” Good advice.
One might think only extroverted people can stay the distance and make the finals. The 1987 winner Harold Patterson was the exception. “I was an introvert living in an extrovert’s world. It was important to me to find some abilities to be able to communicate, to be able to relate, and to be just a better salesperson.”
Another reticent kind of a profession is engineering. Don Johnson the 1989 was an engineer. “I gave a presentation about once a year. My boss called me in for a yearly review and said that my presentations had a lot to be desired. It was either sink or swim. It was a matter of survival. So I joined Toastmasters.”
Each winner fashioned their own path. The 1991 winner David Ross said, “In Toastmasters I learned the value of subtle things, like touching the emotions, about smoothness of speech. These people had such a fluid way of speaking, almost conversational, but in a very structured speech. And I wanted to learn that!”
A remarkable story was about 1992 winner Dana LaMon, who was blind. “People put me on a pedestal because of the things I had accomplished. Despite the fact that what I heard a lot was, ‘He’s blind, he can’t.’ So, I was all about proving that they were wrong.”
The 1993 winner Otis Williams Jr. chuckled, “I loved running off at the mouth. I loved talking, those types of things, and Toastmasters was open to any and everybody! I found my home there, it was just a match for me”
The 1994 Morgan McArthur was motivated differently to pursue Toastmasters. “I felt a need to do something… and when the student is ready the teacher appears. My first experience with a coach… he could see in me what I could not see in myself.”
The 1995 winner Mark Brown said it a bit differently: “I believe now, with all my heart, that I have had an untapped gift. I didn’t know what I could do. I didn’t know that there was a raw talent there.”
Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® is currently a member of one of the leading clubs in Florida, the Osceola Toastmasters Club 1841 in Kissimmee, FL. They meet every Friday morning at 7:30 a.m.