Ever wonder what a World-Class coach sees that you do not? You are about to find out. I got together with World Champion’s Mark Brown and Ed Tate, had a mini-watch party, and then did a speech contest debrief with our Stage Time Members. Sometimes even coaches disagree on some points, but often our perspectives are directly in line. Please keep in mind our view is not about good or bad; it’s about making it better. We focus on audience impact and “how we can connect the message more deeply.” These are only our suggestions. Each speaker is the CEO of their speech.
Did you watch the first-ever “virtual” 2020 World Championship of Public Speaking? This was new ground for everyone involved, especially for the contestants. Whether you watched or not, this article is written to help you understand what a speech coach looks for. 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!
Please forward this article to friends AND comment on the blog. Feel free to agree or disagree with our comments. Share your perspective.
WARNING: This is an unusually long, detailed article. If this is your first article of mine, know that most of my articles are much shorter! It may take you a while to read, but consider it took me a day and a half to write it! No exaggeration.
If you did not see the contest yet, you can watch it now or reference my time codes here:
I will reference the time codes from this video when appropriate. Keep in mind the contest is judged based on the judge’s form. If you have not seen this, you can “google it” and find a version. Our focus is on audience takeaways and planting unforgettable seeds that germinate in the mind of the viewer.
Aaron Samson – The Role You’re Meant to Play
- 1:39 Loved the line, “Find a new teacher.” It was funny, poignant, and I did not see it coming. Great! You have our attention.
- 5:39 I felt the gestures around this time code were a bit too deliberate and rehearsed. They felt like “gestures” and not expressive body language.
- 6:03 Aaron breaks from the dialogue and looks at the camera in shock. I’d prefer that he takes a moment and shows his mom’s emotional reaction, then speaks to the camera. That would be a powerful moment and opportunity to connect deeply with any parent.
- 6:30 He makes excellent eye contact with the camera. Love that! He looks deep into the camera lens often.
- 7:02 “How do you find the role you are meant to play?” Great, relatable question and good pause when delivered. This also insights curiosity as to what solution Aaron has for us.
- 7:10 He jumps right to him being an artist. What? Thought the question was, how? This is slightly jarring.
- 9:31 Personally, I’m not a fan of referencing Toastmasters in a Toastmaster speech contest. Yes, it is relatable, but this should be your message to the world. It will be seen by thousands of people who are not Toastmasters. Think beyond the contest.
- 9:40 I love how he moves in close to the camera and sincerely says, “In fact, I’m not a lot of things.”
- 9:48 Love this line, “Instead of feeling good about what I am, I feel bad about what I’m not.” Well-said!
- 11:40 I think he missed an opportunity to clearly tie to his message by saying something like, “It’s not the roles you have, but how you play them. All of them.”
I like Aaron’s transparency about his mental issue and being weird. That is good. Many presenters try too hard to look good.
Aaron used dialogue but would have been stronger if we saw the other character reacting to that dialogue. This is a common challenge in several speeches.
Ed Tate said that Aaron’s semi-final speech was stronger. That is one of the biggest challenges as a contestant. Which speech to do at the highest two levels. Mark Brown loved his phrase, “Show care.” It may have been a stronger, more memorable condensing of his message if he said just those two words and repeated them alone a couple of times.
Saying, “It’s how you play roles” and “How you show care for others,” I feel needs some clarity. One must be dominant. Just pick one and say it a few times, so we have clarity. I don’t know if this is a message that resonates with Aaron’s heart. I wonder if there is a more profound message. It is a good message; don’t get me wrong. Just think the call to action could have been stronger.
It was a good speech. I, personally, was not emotionally moved. Keep in mind judging is subjective.
Lindy MacLaine – Your Buried Story (*3rd Place)
- 14:25 When she first mentions, “My buried story,” I was confused and found myself trying to figure out what she meant by that. If we send the audience thinking off on an unintentional tangent, we miss the words you say that follow. Our brain struggles first to understand, and this dilutes our message. She also mentions that “The consequences are coming at me like a freight train.” This statement here now adds to the confusion because I’m still trying to figure out what she means by the term buried story.
- 14:36 “It’s my fault?” What is your fault? What incubator?
- 14:46 I love how Lindy steps forward and sincerely speaks to us, her audience. With such a small virtual stage, a small step forward, back, or to the side can help add impact when directly in line with the emotions of what is said. (It could be distracting if this is not harmonious with the feeling of what is said.)
- 14:57 Now, she explains what she means by that. If she had said, “What is a buried story?” right after she mentioned it the first time, I would have been drawn in even more. Now that she explains what she means by it, I love it! I agree. I love her definition and believe it is powerful and universal. This goes way beyond just Toastmasters. As Mark Brown says, “You have a story, and someone needs to hear it.”
- 15:02 Lindy moves to the back left. Perfectly done! The mood, subject, and emotion have changed, so it is a perfect time to move. She also goes back in time so moving to our right is right on. The audience views the screen as a timeline without even knowing it.
- 15:24 This is what I meant from the first speech. Dialogue and reaction tell the story. Take your time with reaction and show it before saying a word. Well done. I will point out other great examples of this in other contest speeches.
- 16:21 Again, great use of coming close to the camera and using sincere, honest language.
- 16:40 It is subtle, but notice the excellent writing. She planted a seed that grew into a vicious weed. The alliteration of the word seed and weed are well done and yet not overdone. We will see more of this in a bit.
- 17:12 I personally loved the shock and “wow” in silence. That says it all.
- 17:20 I love the powerful message here to Toastmasters. I believe many Toastmasters need to hear this, but I’m just not a fan of referencing Toastmasters in a speech for the world.
- 17:37 I loved the alliteration of treasure beyond measure. I also loved that Lindy said she surrendered to the process. More people would help more people if they sincerely opened up and told that deep story and telling it again and again, incorporating feedback along the way.
- 18:19 Here is where I would have conserved time and not mention every family member. For your speeches think of what point you are trying to make and who the essential characters are to make that single point.
- 18:40 Loved the transparency.
- 20: 01 This is such a powerful scene. It would be more powerful if Lindy let us hear her internal dialogue instead of her narrating it. She tells us that her Peruvian mother pulls up to the curb. It would add to the emotion if we heard her thoughts, “Here she is, she is pulling up. It’s my Peruvian momma.” While she says this, we see Lindy’s eyes follow the car and wiping tears, not telling us about the tears.
- 20:57 Personally, I love this call to action, “Will you head the call?”
- 21:20 And again, I love moving to the camera, “Tell your story.” This is very clear. I wish she did not say, “Mr. Contest chair” at the end. I’m not clear on the rules on how to declare the end of your speech. Contestants were told they had to make it clear.
The title is interesting. I never like giving away the message in the title. In this situation, I like that the word “Your” is in the title. It does give a sense of curiosity to wonder what that is; at the same time, it does give away the message.
Lindsay is very expressive, but not over the top. Excellent! Lindsay did have some brief moments where it felt like she was acting a bit. Some moments were authentic. Mark Brown noticed she had a few moments where her expressions did not match the emotions of what she was saying. An example is smiling at a serious point.
She also used a circular story structure, which means she ended where she began. Well done.
I am an emotional guy. When presenters are fully connected to themselves, their content, and have a great story, I “feel” it. If you have ever viewed a speech contest, live or online, you can feel some of the strong ones. I felt Lindsay’s speech.
Linda-Marie Miller – Pretending Not to Know (*2nd Place)
- 22:52 Stating that she has the key to change the world is a bold statement that seems over the top. Then she says that it is a question, the most powerful question in the world. What are you pretending not to know? Though I love where she goes with this, and it is powerful, I think she could have set it up better without claiming it was THE most powerful one. Even if she said “a powerful question” or “a life-changing question,” even an “eye-opening question” would have been more on point.
- 23:13 Saying that it is a question that changed her life. Saying something like this, if you have seen many contests, can become cliché. I’m just suggesting to find a different way to say the same thing that is not overused. Then she goes into a personal story. This is good. Well done.
- 24:05 When she says, “A brilliant mind, a beautiful heart and, a dutiful son,” her gestures feel too deliberate when she points to her head, heart, and stomach. To me, it felt choreographed.
- 24:14 After the line, “Michael is dead,” there is no moment of reaction.
- 25:21 Her question, “What do you think is going on?” Is well delivered as she takes a step towards the camera. Well done.
- 25:29 Love that she just showed the picture of her friend Tony. This is subtle and powerful.
- 25:40 I love the bold transparency of her statement, “I’ve been pretending not to know that I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned beneficiary of a system controlled by people who look like me.” Wow. Truth.
- 26:01 “I live a life of white privilege.” Talk about a powerful and bold statement. I was also impressed by the adamancy of her delivery, “…Profiled even after his death!” You can tell this message matters to her and is timely.
- 26:14 Great writing with the seed perfectly planted earlier about the kind of heart he had to help the white homeless boy. Linda-Marie ties that example back in perfectly here to prove her point without using extra words.
- 27:02 This is where Linda-Marie’s speech has a powerful twist. She uses a powerful technique. She says one thing and holds a card up with her actual truth. Though she did not originate the idea, I have never seen this used before in the contest at the highest levels. It was incredibly powerful because it also tied directly into her message.
- 27:16 Her pauses are powerful, and she gives us enough time to read the boards.
- 27:24 “I’ve never invited them into my home.” Her truth continues, and you can’t help but admire her transparency. She continues with even more.
- 27:46 Great reveal about how being silent makes us equally guilty. Wow! She gets us to think deeply about our own lives, actions, and thoughts. That is what true speaking is meant to do.
- 28:07 I admire how she reveals that the messed-up system actually works. She reveals deep insight that people are rewarded for their silence. Wisdom!
- 28:27 Linda-Marie explains that she does not have to worry about the same things others do. Well said.
- 28:32 “My silence has benefitted me at the expense of others.” Powerful line. To me, this was the most powerful line in the entire contest.
- 29:05 I’m surprised that she would say that the world needs a little change. It seems like that dilutes her powerful message. I, personally, I would have suggested she at least drop the word little. Keep in mind; I’m very picky because it is a great speech with a powerful message.
- 29:36 Linda-Marie makes great use of the circular technique. She comes back to her powerful question and holds up the card that asks it in silence.
Please note that this speech had no humor. It didn’t need it. It would have been out of place. Please do not put too much importance on having humor in your speech.
This message matters. It is refreshing that Linda-Marie goes so deep. Coach Kevin Burke said in our debrief, “Finally, some said the heck with the contest I have something to say!” Linda-Marie took a huge risk with this speech. That alone is impressive. Ed Tate brought up an important point in our debrief. He quotes Mark Sanborn, “Our job as a speaker is not to be liked. If you want to be liked, get a dog.” Consider this when you create your speeches. Are you concerned about being liked?
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR FUTURE CONTESTANTS: Don’t use this card technique. People will immediately connect it to Linda-Marie. It’s hers now. In the contest, she owns it. It has now been done perfectly in the contest. Don’t be a copycat. After I did my fall, others used it in the following years. After World Champion Darren Tay wore his underwear over his pants, we saw others do their version. Please strive for being original.
Benjamin Wayo – Poster Perfect
- 31:26 Benjamin set up a great visual scene and excellent writing when he said, “I held her hand; she held my heart.” Nice!
- 31:42 He used curiosity well by saying, “I could not see her face.” What?
- 31:50 He has great energy, enthusiasm, and you just want him to be your friend. He’s incredibly likable. That is hard to coach.
- 34:07 I really like the term Poster Perfect. This is a great twist on Picture Perfect. Original. I admire originality.
- 35:12 I liked his line, “You may fall for beauty, but you’re going to live with a person.”
- 35:11 This is also good, “You may wake one day and hurt the very person you proclaimed your dying love for.”
I did not take many notes during his speech, and this is neither good nor bad. It just is. Different speakers resonate with different audience members. It left me thinking, “So what?” Mark Brown always says, “It’s your story, but it is for us.” Benjamin did attempt to bridge this gap, but it did not inspire me to do anything differently.
This speech was good, and he was very conversational. Ed, Mark, and I did not connect with this speech. Ed Tate has a great list of what he looks for Wisdom, aha’s, and insights.
When you compete in the World Championship, there is a great expectation. It was cute. The message was good but not powerful. I think it just needed to go deeper. On a side note, Benjamin had to follow a compelling speech. Whether we compete in a competition or keynote a large convention, there will always be great speeches, and at times we will need to follow them. Don’t let this fact intimidate you, instead let it inspire you to work harder and go deeper, so you become the one that is tough to follow. I say this not for selfishness but for your audience’s benefit.
Sherwood Jones – Things Have Changed
- 39:15 Sherwood starts off in character. This character is very engaging, as well.
- 40:31 Laughed at the line, “We would do crazy things like…shake hands.” As a humor guy, I notice the word crazy sets up the punchline. Well done, especially in that character.
- 40:58 Great line hidden well and relatable, “Suzie, you’re muted, you have to hit that button…”
- 41:17 Love his transition out of character by taking off his glasses and changing his voice. This was very well executed. The character change was clear to us. What was a risk, and a differentiator, was staying in character so long? In a seven-minute speech, that is a long time in character. I like that he had the courage to do that. I’m not sure if this helped or hurt him.
- 41:28 I’m glad he didn’t say the word “Covid,” but using the phrase “the C-word” is dangerous. In talking to many women after the fact, it bothered many of them. Using the phrase, “The C-word” is a landmine. I’d be willing to bet that Sherwood did not consider that, but I don’t know for sure. This is one of the places that lots of feedback before showtime is helpful. If I heard even one woman bring up that fact, I would have realized this is not a phrase I’d want to ever gamble with.
- 41:57 Using the phrase, “Things Have Changed,” is called a repetitive refrain. You may know that I used “Ouch” in my own speech. It is as good as a theme and glue for a speech. I also like how the meaning of the same word can change along the way. When listening, my thoughts are, “Yes, we know that, and I agree, so?”
- 42:13 Not sure what he exactly means by, “Our lives have been abbreviated.” I’m not clear what he means by that. Whenever we coach people, we teach clarity, clarity, clarity. Every line should be clear and not cause views and thoughts to go on a tangent.
- 42:32 I like his sincerity and authority of delivery. Just not sure what he’s suggesting. What’s your message? Idea? Insight?
- 43:20 “The one good thing that I have found.” OK, now I’m listening.
- 43:31 Our connection. OK. Got it.
- 44:31 “We are united by that same problem.” OK, l like the snow analogy and it is connected to the fact that we are now joined globally due to the pandemic.
- 45:13 I like the message and delivery of the people joining your meeting from the Middle East. Very good example. Ed Tate brought up that there were moments that he rocked back and forth. Mark Brown pointed out that he first said that we have no enemies; then later said, we have one enemy. This can be confusing.
This was a good speech. It was well-delivered. I think that it may have helped to come back to his character in the end.
This speech did not emotionally move me. It was a good reminder but didn’t seem to have a clear call to action. I encourage you to watch the video at the bottom of this article of us doing the debrief.
Maureen Zappala – It’s So Good to See You!
FULL DISCLOSURE: Myself and Stage Time University Coaches coached Maureen on this speech and her semi-final one. I will say that her speech and delivery transformed dramatically a week prior to the contest.
- 48:00 Loved her delivery of the character voice in her head. It had attitude and conviction. It is a very relatable “inner” critic voice.
- 48:25 She has excellent eye contact with the camera lens here, and she had sincere, conversational delivery.
- 49:02 Notice that Maureen skillfully used the direction of the character. Her initial critic character was on the far left. When she talks about that critic, she points in that direction.
- 49:04 Great statement, “There must be a way to silence that voice. There is.” This is a challenge that most of us can relate to. It’s universal. I also loved the follow-up question, “But you must be willing to do something.” Great! There is a solution, but action must be taken. Great use of drawing us in! She didn’t just give us the answer, but now we know there is one, and we want to know what we need to do.
- 49:25 Solid rule of three used here, “I hadn’t changed or showered or shaved.” Whenever you list things, always use three. If there is literally more, condense it as she did to three. It will be punchier.
- 49:32 Love the use of “moldy bread” as a feeling. It is a great unique phrase with a gross feeling attached, which is Maureen’s point.
- 50:05 Notice the time Maureen takes and the emotion she shows of embarrassment. It only takes a few seconds but is critical to connection.
- 51:10 Notice her use of character. In an instant, we know she is becoming the “in the X-Ray tube” Maureen. When you create your characters and scenes, your transitions into characters should be subtle while being very clear.
- 51:30 Hope you felt Maureen’s move towards the camera as she tells you how Dan took her hand and looked in her eyes. This slight movement is very important to the telling of her story and you to feel connected to her.
- 51:40 Great delivery with much charm, joy, and enthusiasm when Dan says, “It’s so good to see you!”
- 51:43 Notice how long she takes in silence to show you her character’s emotional shift. She does it really well.
- 52:11 Love the phrase Shattered the Shame. It gives us a distinct visualization of the power of looking past someone’s flaws and into their being. Great writing.
- 52:33 “It didn’t relieve the pain, but it restored my dignity.” Well said.
- 53:16 “I didn’t just hear his words, I felt them.” This is also great writing; it’s clear, concise, and meaningful.
- 53:31 “It’s not to find Dan; it’s to be Dan.” Bam! Love this too.
- 53:54 This is really good. She covers her face like a mask but doesn’t say “mask”. She doesn’t have to! We get it.
- 54:04 Personally, I don’t love the line, “Speak life to their worth.” Here is the thing though, the wording mattered to Maureen. As the deliverer of the speech, you have to go with what you feel. It is part of the belief in your own speech. World Champion Jock Elliott brilliantly says about coaching, “My words won’t fit in your mouth.”
- 54:46 Charming delivery with her big smile on the last line after she moves in close to the camera.
Kevin Burke, a former Vegas headliner, worked with Maureen on her delivery. It was amazing how her delivery evolved in a week. A week prior, when working with Maureen on an earlier version of this speech, I liked it, but it did not emotionally connect. After working with Kevin, I did feel it. Many people on our Stage Time Live Coaching Call witnessed the before and after. The change was dramatic. Well done.
Ed Tate also loved her line, “Find their eyes.” Great call to action as well.
Mike Carr – The Librarian & Mrs. Montgomery (*1st Place)
DISCLAIMER: Mark Brown had coached him on the semi-final speech that got him to the finals.
- 56:20 OK! Mike got my attention right up front. He started in the lower-left corner with his hand clutching his face. What can you do with your speeches to draw us in right from the start?
- 56:26 I really like how he used the edge of the screen as the door his character was opening.
- 56:34 Mike did a great job getting right up in the camera with the classic line many of us in the U.S. can relate to from school, “I before E except after C.” Not sure how some international people felt, but I was smiling and chuckling.
- 57:05 His “Slow down” and “Speed up” was dead on. Extremely well delivered.
- 57:09 OK, I was hooked when he created the old-fashioned projector fluttering. Again, not sure about other viewers, but I thought that was a genius, relatable impression.
- 57:23 I even loved the covering up the lens to show the projector dying. Great use of the environment.
- 57:30 I loved the face that he made when he smelled something burning. I connect with expressiveness because it is part of my own personal style. Others may not have.
- 59:01 I liked the lines, “And there in all its glory was…nothing!” and from Mrs. Montgomery, “The victory is in the try.”
- 59:44 “How do I get to Norway?” It made me laugh! That’s how a kid would think.
- 1:00:45 Mike told us that she looked up, and her lips were curling. I’d rather see Mike not describe her lips curling and instead just become the character and do it. Don’t tell us, show us.
- 1:01:01 Mike is super-expressive as the young Mike. It may seem too much, but in this case, it is not too much because the reaction is appropriate for the situation and the character.
- 1:02:31 “Yes, there have been glitches, but that’s what innovation is like. Glitches happen.” Great reminder, it’s an expected part of any change process. Normally, as you may know, I’m not a fan of Toastmasters references in a contest speech. In this case, I accept it, though I don’t love it.
- 1:03:04 You can feel that Mike is very adamant to get his message and encouragement heard. He is speaking right to us with conviction.
- 1:03:12 Great use of pauses to let his message land just before, and as he delivers his key message, “The victory is in the try.” Notice it’s just six words. He also repeats this a few sentences later. As in the earlier speech, the two words “Show care” said it all. In your speeches, can your message be distilled down to ten words or fewer?
Mike stated that his teacher’s word still applies to you. I love your focused questions, but do they not apply to you, Mike. In this case, I’d consider using the word “us.” One thing I thought was missing is how he applied this advice in his adult life or the difference it has made in his family. This could be as simple as a line or two.
Notice his sincere rapport with the camera, which makes us, as the viewer, feel like he’s speaking directly to us. Mike had a powerful presence. Congratulations on becoming the 2020 World Championship of Public Speaking. History is made.
Kwong Yue Yang – Knock!
DISCLAIMER: I am a big fan of Kwong over the years of competition.
- 1:05:02 His parents told him there are only three things he could be: a doctor, lawyer, or failure. Note a powerful rule of three, and it sets up great conflict immediately. Talk about pressure on a young man. And many people can relate to this as well. Ouch.
- 1:05:28 I liked that he sincerely leaned into the camera, as if to tell us a secret, “What most kids want is to be liked.” Great emotion and sincerity.
- 1:06:05 I really loved the depth of the idea that all kids want to be cool, and Kwong did not consider himself cool at all. I think many people can relate to that from their youth.
- 1:06:16 Having that hero that looks like you, and is thought of as cool, is huge for a young child.
- 1:06:59 Love this technique of moving close and whispering to the camera his game plan as a youngster.
- 1:07:26 Notice the emotion and energy of young Kwong’s attempt at knocking. He shows us this internal struggle in silence.
- 1:07:42 See how Kwong delivers his line, “Accidentally,” with child-like energy, and with one small step and a change of demeanor, we see Kwong clearly transform back into the narrator in a conversational tone.
- 1:08:25 Notice his face and change of pace in Kwong’s speech pattern. He changes both to match the mood of the moment.
- 1:09:11 Another rule of three with humor emended in the third phrase. “You’re wearing Nike’s, just do it!” Funny.
- 1:10:34 I laughed when he said, “They’re not doing anything awesome because they are my parents.”
- 1:11:51 Here, he says that “We may notice someone struggling to open their door.” What? I thought the struggle was to knock? This may seem minor, but at this level, consistency and clarity are crucial. We need to be hyper clear. Though it is subtle, he changed metaphors from struggling to knock to struggling to open. I wished he stayed with knocking. To me, it is even better. It is the ability to act and face rejection.
- 1:12:17 He says, “What the world needs now, more than ever, is hope.” So, is the message about hope? Kindness? Helping people open the door? These are all closely related. They are intertwined here as he tells this story, but I’d love it to be clearer. One can set up another, but make sure it is clear what your overriding message is. After a speech, if you asked viewers, I’m not sure there would be a unanimous answer. Yours?
- 1:12:21 OK, I have to say, I don’t love this last line here. As Patricia Fripp says, “Your last words linger.” He left us on a powerful thought, then diluted the effect with this cute laugh line. I think it could have been tied in well just before the last line.
I really liked this speech, but it still needed some tweaks. On a side note, though I’m not an official time, I think Kwong was disqualified for time. It kills me even more that the last line may have also put him over. I’m surprised that with his experience, he would even risk going that close with time.
His speech did grab me emotionally. I got choked up. I was pulling for the young Kwong to knock. When the audience is rooting for a character, you have them. The message is also universal.
Reminder: These critiques are on the delivery of one speech on one day. These comments should by no means be meant to define a person or a speaker, just a single delivery. Such critiques can be used to take offense or to inspire you to tap into the power of a good coach to truly impact lives. The intention is to inspire while educating. My coach’s eye has been developed over the years by surrounding myself with World-Class coaches and continuing to learn.
Once you achieve the privilege of the world stage, you also are opening yourself to feedback. I am not a judge; I’m a coach. Please keep in mind that it is easy to sit back and be a critic. Anyone can do that. The contestants put an enormous amount of time into their speeches.
If you are a competitor or have a message you truly want to share with the world, the time to start working on it is now, not in January. Not a month before the contest. There is someone out there with half the skills you have, working twice as hard. Their message and skills will grow, the harder they work.
Please also think beyond the contest. Maureen’s stories are a part of her keynote or other future speeches. That is why I joined the contest myself. If you have a message you care about, why limit it to a single stage? Especially if you did not win, you’re not done! Take it to TEDx? Companies? Associations?
If you’d like to hear and watch our critiques from our Stage Time University Summit, Click on video
What did you think? Agree? Disagree? See something we missed?
Please add your comments/read other comments on this blog post.