Stage Time: 2011 World Championship Insights

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

Everything happens for a reason. It may just take time before we realize what the reason is.

I wish you could have been there — maybe you were — two weeks ago when the anticipation was mounting for the 2011 World Championship of Public Speaking. Almost 1,900 Toastmasters descended from around the world on Las Vegas. There were ten thousand stories of excitement and disappointment. Friends, family and fellow Toastmasters all had a hand in helping and sharing the frustration of 82 semi-finalists. So many people contributed to each of the speakers and their individual journey.

Competition changes everything. Whether you think it’s for the better or worse, it’s definitely different. They say that when the World Championship is about to begin and there’s all that tension in the room, only seven people are smiling… the past World Champions who never have to compete again! (That’s our favorite Toastmasters rule, by the way.)

Many insights come from beyond the actual competition. Here are a few that I took away from the Toastmasters International Convention:

#1) Congratulations to Jock Elliott, the 2011 World Champion of Public Speaking! If you don’t know, Jock had made six appearances in the World Championship finals. Not only that, but they spanned over twenty years. That’s amazing! Now, there’s another incredible persistence story from the contest that rivals Jim Key’s victory after two consecutive second places.

Jock updated a speech he used in the 1990’s. It was well-done and his performance was hysterical and very conversational. The “take away” for me was what Jock said in his acceptance speech. It’s a powerful lesson for every competitor in any sport. Jock said that if he had won this award five or 20 years ago, “I might have been a richer speaker, but not a better speaker.” I may not have the exact words right, but he also said, “Had I won sooner, I would not be the speaker or the man I am today.”

Wow. Great wisdom! There’s a reason for everything. If you have ever “not” won a speech contest, maybe there’s something you have yet to learn. I know I needed to grow up a bit after my loss in 1998. How about you?

I get many emails and calls from people saying, “Everyone in the room said I should have won…” I encourage people to wait two weeks, go back and watch their speech video and see if they can then see what was clear to the judges, but not clear to them while they were caught up in the emotion. Funny, I’ve never had someone email me two weeks later and say, “I still don’t know why I didn’t win.” Not once.

#2) Olivia caused conversation and that’s a huge victory! This is one of the principles I teach. Our goal is not to be considered “great” in the moment — it’s to have people acting on and talking about our message. Olivia went over time and was disqualified, but lots of people were talking about her speech and her message after the contest. Though I was not a qualified timer or a judge, I believe she would have been in the running if she stayed on time.

I met Olivia while speaking in Portugal, and I watched her win the District contest. With a performance background, she had all the stage presence in the world. What she needed was a stronger take-home message. It was clear that she had been working hard on that since her District victory.

What impressed me most about Olivia was how she acted after the contest. Often, the person you are off stage, says more about you as a person. Though disappointed with her time, we really wouldn’t have known it by talking to her. She was so appreciative of being there and having so many people talk to her about her speech and her message. What a champion! She was in it for the audience, and the side effect was they loved her for it.

I’ll always remember the story of young Olivia poking holes in the cellophane to make sure the Teddy Bears did not suffocate. She also magnificently turned that into a “you focused” question for the audience at the end.

#3) The first ever, Kwong Yue Yang, was the first contestant from China to ever go to the World stage. He raised the bar high for the contest and he was hysterical. I slapped my knee laughing at least twice during his speech. I was also impressed with how conversational he was. His great connection with his audience, combined with a well-crafted speech earned him second place out of 25,000 competitors.

Kwong was “in-the-moment” during the contest. This may be one of the toughest challenges when competing at that level. He made some direct “tie-ins” to references that happened in the opening of the contest, only moments prior.

Do you internalize your speech so well that you, too, can be “in-the-moment” and customize to anything that happens just moments before?

#4) I felt it. This one may sound self-serving, but I hope it makes you think about you. Scott Pritchard — who came in third in the world — made my chin drop and filled my heart during his contestant interview. He thanked me for the coaching help I gave him, and then he said, “Darren is not just a World Champion coach, he’s also a World Champion person.” Wow! I felt that. I try to always have the right intention and often forget that people are observing “everything” we do and how we act. There could have been no greater compliment.

What do people observe when they see your actions?

Scott started coming to our boot camps a year and a half ago. He’s worked hard on and off stage. In fact, he took the teachings from my Humor Boot Camp and applied them constantly. He worked clean and persistently, and was asked to emcee at a local comedy club. It paid off and he got a regular job there, and was able to open for some big-name comedians such as Louie Anderson.

I was impressed at how Scott nailed his speech under the pressure of the contest. Though, like me he faltered at times, he took to heart having the intention to get the message through to the audience. That’s what he did on stage.

He put it in action. He didn’t try to be perfect. He found “stage time” whenever and wherever he could. I’m sure his comedy performances helped his speaking and vice-versa.

#5) The saddest speech. You may have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. My pet peeve is when contestants say, “Well, maybe I’ll try again next contest season.” WHAT?! Do you understand what Scott did in just a year and a half? Did you hear Jock’s wisdom? You should always be working on your craft — especially if you have aspirations of being a professional speaker.

The saddest thing I’ve seen is people working their tails off to perfect a speech… and then they only give it in a contest! Ouch! No one comes to Toastmasters to be a better speaker at Toastmasters. Why would you work on a speech and never give it anywhere else? My three contest speeches are pieces of my various keynote speeches. The contest is a place to work on your craft so you can help other people — so you can hone your message to inspire audiences! The saddest speech is the one that you worked on, that sits “unheard” in your computer. Give it weekly, daily, at work, at a local woman’s club, at your school, at your local rotary club, anywhere people will listen!

#6) I didn’t see it coming. Chey, my office manager, commented on how many past customers were coming up to me thanking me for a learning program that had helped them grow. That was cool to hear! Another chin-dropping moment for me came in the hallway near my product table. It was a comment from a fellow professional speaker from Canada — someone whose talents and professionalism I’ve long admired.

He said, “Toastmasters is a better organization because of you.” I was speechless. Wow. What an amazing compliment!

Do you ever step back and take a look at what you do and how you do it? Do you see the lasting impact (good or bad) that you have on the organizations to which you belong? How are you impacting others daily?

#7) Teach a man to fish. They say if you can teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime. It’s one thing to be a good speaker. It’s another to be a good teacher of speaking techniques, and yet another to coach a speaker. Yet another to coach someone on speaker coaching. Bob Mohl, a Champions’ EDGE member from France, did an amazing job coaching Olivia in this year’s contest. Bob has been following our coaching for years and has also taken Craig Valentine’s World Class Coaching Certification.

Though he did all the work and has learned from many sources, I couldn’t help but feel like a “Proud Papa” when I saw Bob working and successfully coaching Olivia. It blew me away to see how much he gave of himself and what he had learned.

What are your proudest moments?

#8) Pass it on. I didn’t see this one coming either. Although many people appreciate the effort I put into creating products to help them, there are some who look down upon it. I get comments and looks from people who think “product income” and selling is evil. I focus on helping people get the results they want. I dig my heels in deeper when I hear stories like Rozy’s.

Rozy Rana from Nairobi, Kenya, won the Toastmasters International video speech contest. Toastmasters from around the world who belong to clubs in countries not yet districted can enter the international video speech contest.

Rozy credited much of her victory to the techniques she learned from her monthly Champions’ EDGE CDs — lessons from Ed Tate, Mark Brown, Patricia Fripp, Craig Valentine, Lance Miller and me. It’s amazing how someone who has never seen us speak in person can internalize and put into action the wisdom we pass on from our experience and our mentors. Without product, our message would never have reached her. What’s also worth noting, is that she put it into action. Many people have heard the same lessons, but not applied the techniques.

In my opinion… instead of putting energy into your dislike of me or what I do, why not take what you’ve learned and pass it on?

If you were at the World Championship this year, you have your own perspective and stories. I believe everything does happen for a reason. Do you?

What did you think of the 2011 World Championship of Public Speaking? Give your perspective or see what others thought here on my blog… just scroll down!

Stage Time,


Darren LaCroix
2001 World Champion of Public Speaking

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P.S. Congrats to all of the people who competed this year in the Toastmasters Speech Contest. Congrats to Jock, Kwong, Scott, and those who competed, didn’t win, yet grew because of the process. I hope you see the “win” in your own growth to serve the future audiences you will have the privilege of.

Here’s an email I received recently…

Dear Darren:

You are very good about the follow up. This I will learn from you.

I purchased your CD, DVD Own the Stage (at the Toastmasters Convention). I finished the 2nd CD.  I am very thankful that you shared this set CD and DVD for me.  It does contain all detailed information for me to grow for 2012 Toastmaster World Speech Champion.

In Las Vegas, I was sick all 4 days. Therefore, I finally got the opportunity to talk to you for two minutes and bought your set How to Own the Stage. Well, we will meet again.

I believe that you are a great asset for us as speakers and for all Toastmasters.

Thank you.
Jung Jing

Another email…

Darren… already listened to both CDs multiple times. I implemented a few tricks into my speech on Wednesday. And they worked like a charm!!! It was good to see you at the TM Convention! (The CDs she mentioned are from my Fast Start Pack.)

~ Liza

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