A Simple Lesson From the World Championship of Public Speaking
It was the night before the World Championship of Public Speaking. If you’re not familiar with this competition, think American Idol for speakers. It’s an annual contest hosted by Toastmasters International. Over 30,000 people compete every year.
By the final weekend of competition, 106 speakers remain. They each present a 5-to-7 minute talk in a semi-final round. The winners of those ten contests then compete two days later in the Finals with a new speech. The winner is crowned World Champion of Public Speaking.
The day before the final event, I was part of a coaching team working with one of the speakers, Sherrie Su. It was my first time meeting her face-to-face. I was immediately struck by her personality. She is sweet, charming and tells a compelling story. It is funny, poignant and inspiring.
During her final practice, we noticed that speech needed a few tweaks. We made six suggestions. This is always risky at the last-minute. Many speakers struggle with changes to a speech late in the process.
Sherrie incorporated five of the suggestions into her talk. In the next practice, she used all five without a flaw. We said, “Sherrie, that’s incredible. You made those changes sound like they’ve been part of the speech all along!”
A Reminder About the Magic Number
I asked her, “How many times have you practiced this speech?”
Her answer was the secret — the magic number — to speaking success.
She thought for a while and said, “Over two hundred.”
The coaches each looked at one another and smiled. Sherrie had given us THE answer to speaking mastery.
“Really? Two hundred times?” we asked her.
“Yes. And I practiced my semi-final speech even more than that,” she added.
That number captures the essence of mastering the skill of speaking. Five years ago, I was listening to a story told by Hall of Fame speaker Steve Seibold. Steve was mentored by the man considered by many to be the greatest public speaking teacher, Bill Gove. Bill taught Steve that he should give his speech many times to audiences before getting paid to speak.
“How many times,” Steve asked.
“200” was Bill’s reply.
“Give a speech 200 times – for free – before I ever get paid?” Steve asked.
“Yes. That’s how many times it takes for the speech to become part of you,” was Bill’s response.
THE Key to Being a Meaningful and Memorable Speaker
Repetition and rehearsal.
When you present or practice a talk two hundred times, one thing is certain. You’ll get better. You will internalize your message. You’ll know it so well that when you present it, your personality will shine through. You won’t give a ‘speech.’ You’ll present a message that communicates with the heart of the audience.
Because that’s what happened with Sherrie. She was the first speaker in the Finals. Within the first minute, she had connected with the audience and they hung on her every word. They roared with laughter at the humor in her talk. And the room was quiet and still at her most poignant moments.
The last-minute changes she had the courage to make added to the experience. And she was able to make them because she was ready. Because she put in the work and practiced 200 times.
Why Other Skills Are Useless Without Practice
There are many elements to developing and delivering meaningful speeches. I’ve learned these from some of the best speakers and storytellers in the country.
They’ve also taught me this:
Those tools are useless if you’re not willing to take the most essential steps —
Practice. Get feedback. Make changes. Repeat the process.
Eight years ago, Sherrie Su couldn’t speak a word of English. Every day, she watched American TV and practiced her English over and over and over. She kept at it until she became proficient. Enough to compete in an English-speaking speech contest. And finished second in the World Championship of Public Speaking.
Do you want to leave a lasting impression on audiences?
The solution is simple. Not easy, but simple. Follow Sherrie’s lead. Practice until your presentation becomes part of you.
You’ll leave an impact long after you speak. I know Sherrie did.
To see clips from her Championship talk, click here.
‘Speakers Power Pack: Improve Your Speeches with Secrets from World Class Speakers’
Have you ever sat in awe of a speaker who held an audience in rapt attention, keeping them on the edge of their seats?
Have you ever wished you could do that?
You can! Contrary to popular belief, great speakers are not born, they are made.
Since 2001, Michael has studied and worked with World Champion and Hall of Fame speakers, individuals who now serve as his mentors. They have taught him how to create and deliver world-class caliber speeches.
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To immediately begin diving into these world-class tools and processes, click here.