I interviewed David Brooks on February 8, 2013 and asked him just one question: “What are your best pieces of advice on how to win the Toastmasters’ World Championship of Public Speaking?”
David is a sought-after keynote speaker and public speaking coach. You can find a wealth of free resources as well as information about his products and services on his website. Generously, he has provided open access to the transcript of his world championship speech.
Tip #1: Scale your presentation for the audience and the moment
“Here in Austin in 1986, I learned from a very talented speaker named David Abel. He visited our club and at that time I thought, “Wow, is he ever eloquent.” He’s stunning and I wanted to be that good. He planted the seed for my growth as a speaker.”
“Over the course of four or five years, David and I became friends. At one point he said to me, ‘I have written a speech that can win the International speech contest. Now, all I have to do is to find a speech that can get me out of my club.’”
“When you compete at successive levels, you have to grow into each one. In other words you can’t take a club speech to the world championship stage. Similarly, you can’t take an international final-round speech and win at your club.”
“Each level has its unique personality andits unique challenges. There aredifferences in audiences, differences in room setting, and differences in–and this is very important–the maturity and sophistication and experience of the judges. I don’t say this to be critical but it is a fact that there are many great speakers who don’t win their club contest simply because the judges weren’t experienced enough to fully appreciate what they just heard live. By way of example, Craig Valentine’s winning speech in 1999 was brilliant and unusually difficult. He spoke incredibly fast, but then he slowed down to repeat key messages. If he had done it at his club, I wonder if he would have won.”
“Here is another example. Years ago, I watched a very talented speaker named Michael Holman from another Austin club. I saw him compete because I went to different Area contests to scope out the competition before I went to the Division contest. His Area contest was held in a very small room. I mean, we’re talking about 50 feet square packed with 30 people. He gave an incredibly powerful speech. The problem was that he overpowered the room. His delivery was too big for that venue and for that audience. A couple years later, he brought that speech back to a larger room that accommodated 200 and he won. From that I learned the importance of matching your delivery to your venue.”
“Speakers must adapt and to adjust at each level factoring in: increased audience size, increased room size, increased quality of venue, and, hopefully, increased experience and knowledge of judges. More broadly, you have to scale your presentation for the audience and the moment whether it’s in a contest or not.
Tip #2: Great speech writing requires ruthless, if not artistic, editing
“Great writing is the combination of word selection and narrative construction. Rick Brunton, for example, delivered in 1998 an absolutely seamless panorama for seven minutes. Each scene evolves into the next and each has a reason to exist. There’s not a word or thought misplaced. His concept was strong. His message was strong. His editing was unusually strong.” The problem is, his speech did not win, place or show. Why? See the comment above: “the judges weren’t experienced enough to fully appreciate what they just heard live.” I contend this was a gem of a speech that was underappreciated by judges who didn’t understand just how good it was. Listen to it three or four times and you’ll recognize its artistry.
“One of my biggest regrets is that I was not there when Jock Elliott won [in 2011] because Jock and I have been friends since we competed against each other in 1990. He is a superb craftsman with ideas and an artist with words. The great thing about Jock is that he has a deep appreciation for the purity of the message. You don’t find any unnecessary movements or motions in his speeches. I was thrilled when he triumphed because it shows—sometimes—wordsmiths win”
Tip #3: Compete to gain the experience of perfecting a speech
“Another observation I should mention has to do with mindset. The absolute worst reason to get into the Toastmasters’ contest is to become the World Champion. If you are just trying to win something, then go buy a lottery ticket. Your odds are about the same and it takes a lot less effort.”
“Instead, your goal should be to use the competition to become a better speaker.
Contests are the quickest route to the greatest improvement because they force you to raise your standards. They force you to play a better game than you can play in your club.”
“Toastmasters International is smart in terms of having manuals that encourage you to develop specific speaking skills like vocal variety and hand gestures. But the big unmet opportunity in the Toastmasters program is that they should have a manual that requires you to go back and revise a previous speech. And then revise it again, and again, and again. After four or five revisions, you might be onto something. That’s THE benefit of the contests: to keep advancing, you have to take one speech, revise it, re-revise it, re-re-vise it until you have something.A good speech rarely happens the first time around.
Try It Out!
David’s particular preoccupation is with narrative construction and the use of language. This makes sense given that his background is in publishing. Many of his favorite speeches were delivered in the finals but did not win including: Jeremiah Bacon in 1997, Rick Brunton in 1998, and David Sanfacon in 2003. Recordings of these speeches can be purchased from Bill Stephens Productions. (Neither David Brooks nor I have any affiliation with this partner of Toastmasters International but David recommends Bill Stephens’ archive as the best resource you may ever find.)
Go craft a better speech starting with better parts as David outlines in this excellent article.