2019 World Championship Speech Contest Critique | Darren LaCroix

2019 World Championship Speech Contest Critique

By Darren LaCroix | Master Public Speaking

Were you at the 2019 World Championship of Public Speaking? Whether you were there or not this article is written to help you understand what a coach sees that most do not. It’s designed to help you have a deeper understanding of what in a speech truly impacts the thought process in the listener’s mind. Anyone can stand in front of an audience and deliver a presentation. What matters is what the audience takes away. Period.

This year I sat in the front row and took notes while sitting next to fellow World Champions Mark Brown, Ed Tate and Lance Miller. I then wrote this article about what we can all learn from all competitors to become better audience-focused presenters. I also host a Stage Time University Member Summit www.stagetimeuniversity.com the day after the contest. We invite my fellow World Champions to do a “debrief” of the contest. It is fun and fascinating. They see things that I don’t and vice versa. We record it so all of my members can learn from it. (There are a few videos on YouTube if you want to check it out. Just put in the search box: “World Champions Critique 2019 World Championship of Public Speaking”).

This article is filled with coaching insights from me and some from the other World Champions. This is in-depth and detailed so it may be a longer article than I usually write, but I feel there is a plethora of learning contained in every contest if you know where to look. My intention is to make it well worth your time. 

First, the judges got it right. Boom! I look at the contest from a coaching perspective on delivering a message that matters, not a “points on the judge’s form” perspective. If people do amazingly well at this, they will do better and be more likely to take home a trophy. The trophy is a side-affect to serving the audience, not an end goal, if you do it right.

When you read this, keep a couple things in mind; I was not a judge. I’m a coach, and I surround myself with great coaches. My own World Championship speech was not perfect. There are a few things I’d change in it if I did it again. When you get to the World Stage and you are putting your message out there to the world, you’d better be able to handle feedback. Although there are over 1,000 people in the audience and this year’s winning speech already has over 190,000 views on YouTube, it is not like I’m giving away any secrets.

This is just my coach’s perspective from over two decades of study. Sometimes I disagree with other coaches, but usually there is a truth we always agree on. Some will have more comments than others. The number of comments does not mean good or bad, it only means there were teaching points. Keep in mind, 35,000 people competed this year and only six speakers made the finals. That is an amazing accomplishment that most competitors dream of, and thousands will never achieve. Congrats to each speaker! You did it!

Keep in mind, this feedback is one moment in time. Any other day the delivery may be different. It is the ability to deliver under the pressure of the contest. I fully admit it is easy for me, or anyone, to sit back and be a critic. I’m going to be honest and direct. My intention is to teach. Let me be super clear. I’m rooting for the audience to get the message they need delivered in a way they can absorb and apply it in their life. 

Please leave any comments on my blog after you read this AND read other people’s comments. Feel free to disagree with me.

PLEASE Forward this article to any of your speaker friends.

Let’s go, remember, no fluff, just educational stuff. (These first three are the finalists in the order they spoke. Then I’ll review the top three winners.):

Daniel Midson-Short: In This Together

  • This title is predictable. It is even kind of cliché. The purpose of a good title is to peak curiosity or at least get us to want to hear the story. Ask yourself if your title is intriguing. Ask your friends too. Most presenters do not take the time to sit back, from a listener’s perspective, and put the time in to make it compelling. Remember your title “sets up” your message. Framing your message is important for a contest or a professional keynote. Does your title make the listener sit up and want to hear it or think, “Oh, that’s nice.”? Creating a great title is more complicated than it seems, but pretty near impossible if dedicated effort is not a priority.
  • The other challenge with this title is that it telegraphs the message. It does not set up a great “aha” or twist. When the message is clearly in the title, it now seems like most of the speech is just trying to prove the value of the message. There may always be exceptions to an exception, but think this through when creating your speech title. If you plan on doing paid professional speaking, it becomes imperative. 
  • Daniel was giving this message for his mentor, Cindy. He honored her. Mission accomplished. It was good and powerful. It was good, but it felt as though the true message for the audience was lacking. As presenters, the purpose of telling our story is to help the audience through our own experience. Sometimes, presenters may clearly understand their purpose for the audience, yet fail to bridge the gap with the message from their life to ours.
  • At one point Daniel got very emotional. He got lost for a moment. He got caught up in the emotion of his story, which is understandable when losing a mentor. I knew his mentor, Cindy but was not nearly as close to her as he was. To some it may have seemed like he was using the stage for therapy. 
  • Mark Brown said of the speech that if the audience identifies with Daniel’s character, but they do not have a Cindy in their life, what message  would be taken from the speech to move forward? Perfectly said, Mark. Mark always brilliantly says, “It’s about you, but it’s for them.”
  • The speech was chronological and had a good structure to it. That was solid.
  • Daniel is a consistently, strong speaker and very talented.
  • Mike Davis, Stage Time Coach, said wisely that Daniel successfully tapped into his own pain, but lacked tapping into the audience’s pain. That was the missing link in this speech.
  • There is a deeper message in this speech, and I hope Daniel takes the time to go deeper and find it. It is the beginning of a life-changing speech for his audiences.

Watch our critique of Daniel: https://youtu.be/a4Df6UO9t60

Beverly P. Adams: Mommy Told Me

  • Beverly had good stories about her mom. Most of them were told in narration rather than dialogue.
  • When giving a speech with the focus of having a deep impact, we must convey the emotion. This is extremely challenging through narration. For example, instead of telling us about the diagnosis, it would have created a deeper emotional connection if we heard the conversation, experienced the doctor giving the diagnosis and, most importantly, seen her reaction to it. That is where connection lives. Watch our video critique, and you’ll hear us talk about this in more detail. (Link at the end of this section.)
  • Another example of this principle from Beverly’s speech is the fact that she told us that her family and friends said she was not smart. It would have been much more powerfully delivered if we actually heard their words and the emotion of their delivery behind them. Meaning, what did they actually say, and how did they say it?
  • Although she had some good stories, the speech itself lacked a good, clear, easy-to-follow structure. For a speech to have a deep-lasting impact, it must be clear. If you’ve heard me or the other Champs coach, we often say that the most common problem is clarity, clarity, clarity. Not clear enough for you to understand it, clear enough for your listener. This takes more effort and time than we think. This is also a key reason that a qualified coach is required when attempting to create a world-class speech.
  • Another challenge with this speech is what we call an “open loop.” This is where a question is brought up in the mind of the listener. When done effectively, the loop is closed before the end of the speech. If the loop is not closed, the speech confuses the audience even if only a little. She mentioned surgery, but never tells us what kind. If the audience is left wondering, it’s not good. When you use specific details, it also helps the audience have a clearer and more memorable image in their minds.
  • We also did not know what the work-related injury was. She brought it up; but we, as the audience members, were left wondering. This is an unnecessary tangent. If it sets up a later point, perfect, but it was not done that way in this speech.
  • She brings up that she becomes a chiropractor. What? How does this relate to this speech and this message? We don’t know why or how – again, clarity. Relevance?
  • I loved her metaphor of the rock in the purse. Seriously, loved it. The challenge was it was not developed or used in a memorable way. This could easily become the message of the speech. A qualified coach would have been able to help bring this out, develop it, and make it powerful for us the listeners.
  • Mark Brown mentioned that she could have connected her metaphor with the David and Goliath reference she used. It would have tied in nicely the rock that David slew Goliath with and the rock in her handbag. 
  • I absolutely loved her line; it may have been one of my favorite in the whole contest, “What people over here say to you and what people over there say to you is not as important as what you say to yourself.” Brilliant. Important.

Watch our critique of Beverly: https://youtu.be/N3LNuz9X2Ms

Bharat Sangekar: Our Conscious Choice

  • First, I must say he has the most amazing smile. It just lit up the room. It was cool to see someone so clearly in the moment and just loving every minute of it.
  • Lance Miller wisely pointed out that Bharat used a camping metaphor that he never developed. There were multiple ways he could have done that, but it was not done at all. That was a missed opportunity.
  • He has a funny misdirection of the sound of an animal while camping in the woods with his family. Turned out it was something very different. Well executed.
  • Bharat also has a great voice. This can be an important asset especially in a speech contest. 
  • We also did not feel Bharat’s pain.
  • It was a powerful connection between three organs and three people who could benefit from them. That was very good writing.
  • The biggest challenge I saw with this speech was the message. When the father-in-law dies, it seemed clear that his heart and his intention was to put his family above self. What was not understood was why his family chose not to donate his organs which would have been the obvious intention of the father-in-law. We don’t understand the family’s choice or why. This goes back again to clarity, clarity, clarity.

Watch our critique of Bharat: https://youtu.be/64V0Mj0AUAY

(FYI, Toastmasters International has posted videos of the top three winners’ speeches on YouTube, so I included the links if you wish to watch them, and I reference the time codes from these videos so you can see exactly what I’m referring to.)

WCPS 3rd Place • Kwong Yue Yang: Less and More


  • Loved the title, it makes you go “hmmmmm.” It makes me curious.
  • 0:48 Kwong seemed a little rushed at the opening. He told us about what he saw, but I think the emotional connection was missing. He describes a horrible scene, but describes it without emotional connection rather than letting us feel his emotions when seeing the horrible sights. He has a funny line about it, but even that is slightly disconnected. 
  • 1:13 He tells us about the conversation he had with his parents, but we only hear one line; and he does not actually take on the character. 
  • 1:20 He uses the stage well, by walking to the audience left as he took us back to the beginning of his journey. His pace seems slightly rushed. (Kwong told us in the critique after that he was concerned about going over his time.)
  • 2:54 The line he gives, “Because of people like her that make people like me look bad,”you may not have recognized the brilliance of this writing. In just a few words, he shows us subtly he is being judgmental. This transparency is powerful. It also perfectly sets up his own epiphany later. Brilliant!
  • 3:57 This is great relatable and situational humor and it’s well delivered. This speech had the most laughs of all of them.
  • 4:19 Notice again, his use of stage that properly communicates the advancement of the story. Well done. 
  • 4:28 I loved his description of the awkward smile. He delivered it perfectly. It was very authentic to the moment, while not being overdone.
  • 5:13 This was an impactful opportunity missed. He told us about his realization, rather than letting us hear his internal dialogue. It would have hit us more deeply if we heard his revelation inside his head. 
  • 6:00 This line was incredibly well delivered. Perfect. A powerful example of great writing and delivery.
  • 6:05 Movement to final scene on stage. Well done.
  • 6:38 Funny! This is what we call in comedy the Rule of 3 combined with a call back. We teach this, and it was perfectly executed. Kwong shows us an advanced example of combining two techniques at once. Nice!
  • 6:49 Ed Tate picked up on this incredible line, “Every day in every country people are begging for a new life.” Wow. That is powerful. 
  • 7:33 This was my favorite line in the speech! If you are judging me right now for only using that core phrase once, remember, judge less and help more. I loved it because he brought his message right to the individual listener. Bam! Now, some may have been confused what a “core phrase” was, but I’m OK with it because most got it; and it was perfectly placed.
  • I would have liked to see less narration and more dialogue. Tee hee.
  • I also think some moments of connection were glossed over by not taking the time for us to see and feel some reactions.
  • Kwong has an amazing natural delivery style. It is incredibly conversational. What is missing is some variety. Lance Miller also said that this speech delivery could have used more vocal variety. Mark Brown noted it could have been more powerful utilizing more emotional range. Mark Brown also said, “The range of motion can magnify the impact. Don’t just give a speech, give an experience.
  • This speech had the most laughs, I believe, in the contest. Important note to future contestants. Humor is great, but it alone does not win a speech contest. Many times I hear people tell me, “I’m almost done, I just need to add humor.” No! First, you are never done tweaking and preparing until two days before delivering it; and, also, what most speeches need is clarity and connection.

Watch our critique of Kwong: https://youtu.be/3_hBVKqsM6U

WCPS 2nd • Luisa Montalvo: Speech: First Impressions


Luisa is amazing on stage. Wow! What an amazing presence. You have to see it to believe it. What a spitfire! The audience simply adored her. In fact, more than one World Champion who watched her semifinal speech, remarked, if that had been the finals, she would have won.

Her authenticity was inspiring. Period.

  • Her title is OK. To me it telegraphs a cliché message.
  • 0:25 Her opening statement with a tip of her hat, “Howdy Y’all!” She just owned that and was completely present. She is in character as a stereotypical Texan and delivered her first few lines with a thick accent.
  • 0:59 Here she brings it down and becomes incredibly authentic.
  • 1:12 Wow, she has an amazing ability to take on characters in an instant. Her mock apology was funny.
  • 1:36 She delivers a line, “It’s easy to have misconceptions of different people. See, we are influenced by social media, movies and television.” Lance Miller had pointed out that this is a statement that she does not back up with supporting evidence.  
  • 1:48 I love the depth of this line. “I want what everyone else wants, a level playing field.”
  • 2:02 She said, “I moved to Texas and was about to have a life learning experience. “I’m not a fan of telegraphing that a life lesson is coming. I’d prefer you just jump into the story and reveal the lesson when it comes. It’s kind of like telling us you are going to tell us a joke. Just tell the joke.
  • 2:21 Notice her delivery. She is so conversational, it is impressive. Most speakers do not have the ability to be this conversational in front of 1,000 people. It’s beautiful and can be transformational for the audience.
  • 2:50 She gives us a great visual of the character who has a flat tire. We see him. Well done.
  • 3:00 She takes on this character like a seasoned pro. Love it.
  • 4:00 At this point, when she admits she is afraid and goes on the offensive and takes on her own character in the story, we just fall in love with her. This is a rare talent. Wow.
  • 4:13 Then she takes out the “Mexican International symbol of peace…” I won’t mention what it is in case you have not watched yet. But just before she shows us, we are leaning in and can’t wait to see what she reveals. That is great delivery. I’m a fan for sure at this point.
  • 4:21 When she takes on her character of the man and shows his reaction, it was perfect. Well written and well delivered.
  • 4:38 Mexican Judo? The response to this line was hysterical. It’s seriously funny. My challenge with it, coming from the comedy world, it was not original. It is a classic line used in many ways, but not original. Don’t get me wrong, she owned it and executed its delivery impeccably well. If you do not acknowledge a ‘stock line’ even in a subtle way, you run a risk of people knowing it’s not yours. At this level, that is a big risk. The audience loved it.
  • 5:38 Now, this is another joke that is out there. She again delivered it well, and the audience loved it. In this one she is quoting the character, so she could get away with it, but it is still a risk even if it happened exactly that way. When we are creating a seven-minute speech for a contest on the world stage or a 45-minute speech for a professional keynote, we need to be completely original. Luisa pulled it off. The audience loved her. That is a special gift. Be careful. When using a joke you’ve “heard,” do a quick search on Google to make sure it is original to that person. The reason great jokes are great is because someone spent hours and hours writing and rewriting. Plagiarism is plagiarism. If we question one line, we will subconsciously start questioning the originality of the rest of your material.
  • 6:24 Her self-revelation was powerful and well delivered. This, too, is done with such transparency and in such a conversational tone that you can’t help but connect to her. It is also great writing because it is set up so well by her line at 1:48,“I want what everyone else wants, a level playing field.”I just wish it was not telegraphed in her title especially because it was said in her own voice in her own way. That part was wonderful; it would have been even more powerful if it was not stated in the title.

Watch our critique of Luisa: https://youtu.be/3_hBVKqsM6U

World Championship Winning Speech: Aaron Beverly: An Unbelievable Story


Ed Tate said it best, “This speech is like a spy movie. It had a mission, danger, deceptions and villains.” 

I like this title because it makes you curious why the story was unbelievable.

  • 0:24 The most critical feedback I have for Aaron, and I told him, was about his opening. His very first words were, “The contest chair was relieved my title was only three words long.” He was referring to his 2017 speech title, which was incredibly long. My huge challenge with this is many people watching did not know this. That just made many confused and wondering what he was referring to. Some may have felt like outsiders since they did not know. That is not a good feeling to give a large part of your audience. It got a chuckle; but, to me, it confuses so many right off the bat and wastes time.
  • 0:48 He mentions that he is the only black man at an Indian wedding. He says, “I can’t help but feel different.” This is a universal feeling, and we can relate right up front. We relate to emotions, and he set it up without wasting any time after the opening I just mentioned.
  • 0:53 He explains his attire right up front as well with very few words. Nice.
  • 1:03 He now sets up his mission. It is clear what his objective is. He then goes on to explain the wedding ritual that is a game. 
  • 1:37 He seriously, yet playfully, describes the conflict. All good stories and spy movies need a great conflict. We are even told how sincere Aaron is about his role in this mission.
  • 1:54 Note Aaron’s intensity and how he says and expresses this. We see his resolve which increases the conflict. Perfect.
  • 2:20 I love this line, but suggest you watch his delivery, “Ever seen a girlfriend smile, but you just felt scared?” I loved it and so did the audience.
  • 2:25 We are quickly introduced to the villain which he gives a great character name, The Ominous Smiler. I cannot only picture her, she makes me root more for Aaron, which any well-defined villain will do.
  • 2:52 Another brilliant line, “When I hear that, the global ambassador within me gets nervous.” You can feel yet more conflict, but this time it is internal. Wow, he’s got me. I want to know what will happen. I’m hooked, and so is the audience. This is great storytelling.
  • 3:43 Aaron bends over at the waist towards the audience to deliver part of his speech in character. This was good. It is like my lying on the stage, Jim Key’s standing on the chair, and Sherrie Su’s opening with her back to the audience. It was different while being organic to the story or message. Excellent.
  • 4:51 Aaron says, “They pull, I pull, I hold firm.” This was well delivered and would set up a later point.
  • 4:59 The phrase is repeated again, “They pull, I pull, I hold firm.”
  • 5:12 Again, “They pull, I pull, I hold firm because when I have a mission, I take it very seriously.”
  • 6:00 Then the line is delivered, but there is a twist. The twist becomes funny to us because he has successfully created an expectation. It was funny while making a point.
  • 6:12 Then Aaron directly says, “What makes this story unbelievable was not the shoes nor the events.” I don’t want to give away what he says in case you have not watched it yet. But aren’t you curious? Exactly. That’s the point. That is what Aaron does so well; he keeps us engaged and his twist, no one saw coming. It was not predictable, but it was poignant. 
  • 6:36 “Which means that among white and Indian families, a different lonely black man was accepted like family too.”
  • 6:47 My favorite, brilliantly written line in his speech, “Acceptance despite difference seems unbelievable.” It makes you reflect and think deeply about his message.
  • 7:13 Aaron gives us a short, powerful mission. Well done!
  • Getting and keeping a savvy audience engaged is not easy. Lance Miller said, “The message needs to be a surprise in order to disrupt people’s thinking.”Aaron did that with precision.
  • Lance Miller also pointed out that the hero of the story is the game. 

Aaron’s confidence and presence were omnipotent. His story was a journey and kept us completely engaged, and we wanted to go along with him. His writing was magnificent, and his message needed to be heard. To have the ability to say much in few words is a challenge, and he was a champion doing just that. He got to the heart of an issue and used an unbelievable story to deliver it. We did not see the message coming, and his twist was brilliant.

With so much turmoil in the current climate, his message reached deep to the heart of the matter. As an international organization, we are all from different cultures, and we face this every day. The universal message is needed in the current world view. Aaron does not take sides, yet brilliantly faces the issue head on with a personal story.

Watch our critique of Aaron: https://youtu.be/SwCvT9lZ1JM

I sincerely hope this detailed article has given you some major aha moments. My mentor Dave Fitzgerald told me, “Stop trying to find the story that will launch your career, but instead take the stories you already have and make them so good someone will pay to hear them.” 

That was the reason why I entered the speech contest. I was stuck. My two coaches changed the way I prepared and delivered my speeches forever. More importantly, every audience I step in front of for the rest of my career will benefit because of the help I got that I did not know I needed. Are you coachable? Who do you go to for coaching? Are you serious about having a deep impact and leaving a memorable message? Please find someone who is qualified and you trust to help guide you. Your audience depends on it. Your story depends on it. Your legacy does too. If you want to be a professional and get high fees, its essential.

If you watch any of our critiques, you’ll see the power of a team of coaches. They agree on much, but also each sees things that some of the others do not. I had two coaches when I prepared my speech. They each added their own insights to my story and message. This is why when I created Stage Time University, the best thing I did was assemble a team of coaches highlighting their unique strengths.

Source: Rudy Quote: https://www.azquotes.com/author/23222-Rudy_Ruettiger

Please add your comments/read other comments, on this blog post.

(2) comments

Add Your Reply

What are the secrets, stories and strategies behind Unforgettable Presentations? Find out. Listen to Darren’s Brand New Podcast.