2000 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking Ed Tate Shares His Insights

I interviewed Ed Tate on December 18, 2012 and asked him just one question: “What are your best pieces of advice on how to win the Toastmasters’ World Championship of Public Speaking?”

Ed is a sought-after keynote speaker who uses storytelling to guide his audiences through the full range and intensity of human emotions .  Click here to learn more about Ed.


Tip #1: Take a risk

“I’m very thankful to have won the World Championship; but when I joined Toastmasters 14 years ago, it was never my intention to win.  I only joined Toastmasters to get better at my job as a sales executive for a computer company.  The founder of our club was a gentleman by the name of Randall Shelton. Very early on Randall said, ‘There’s this thing that’s called the World Championship of Public Speaking, and you need to consider it.’”

“He harassed me for the next 18 months and it got to the point where I was rather annoyed. I held Randall at bay since my work travel schedule did not permit me to enter the contest.  Then I became the training director of the Denver Rocky Mountain News.  When I told Randall that my new job involved almost no travel, he said, ‘Great, now you can enter the International speech contest.’ My reaction was, ‘Great, now I can enter this freaking contest.’ (Ed laughs) Same words, different reactions.”

“I had several purposes for competing.  Number one, I wanted to get Randall off my back. Number two, Cherry Creek Toastmasters in Denver, Colorado has a core group of people who are into giving back to other speakers and I thought it would be cool if I could be looked upon in that same light.”

“The year I won, my club contest started out as a tie. We had to have a runoff. As opposed to six rounds of the World Championship I actually had seven.  I did something very risky.  The speech I tied with was about bullying. For the runoff, I decided I would test out a different speech that my club members said was really good. That was a speech about telling the truth.  Taking the risk of changing my speech gave me the element of surprise.  The judges were not expecting it and the fresh humor worked better.”


Tip #2: Don’t Talk Down To Your Audience, Talk To Your Audience

“Though I purposefully do not watch other contestants deliver their speeches, I’d heard about a gentleman from India who gave this amazing Horatio Alger story. He literally slept on dirt floors and now his daughter goes to Harvard.  I’m thinking to myself, ‘Okay, this guy won.’”

“While we were sitting at the table at the start of the awards ceremony, my 10-year-old son turned to me and said, ‘Dad, I think you won the competition.’ I said to him, ‘Son, well you don’t know how these things work. You don’t know how they’ll think and you especially don’t know how Toastmasters think. Let’s just wait and see.’”

“They announce the third runner-up.  Then, they announce second runner-up who turns out to be the guy from India. At that point my son turns to me again and whispers, ‘Dad, you’re going to win this!’”

“The moment they announced the winner someone coughed at my table and I did not hear the name. My son said something to me which sounded like, ‘You lost,’ and I was trying to explain to him, ‘Maybe next year.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘No, Dad, you won.’”

“When we were on the plane back from Galveston, I looked my son and I asked him, ‘Why were you so certain that I had won?’ He replied, ‘Well, dad, it was easy.  All the other speakers sounded like parents. They were speaking like that guy Tony Robbins.’ He added, ‘They were trying to tell you how to live your life, how to do better.  You were the only person who just came out and told a story, and it was up to us to decide what we wanted to do with it.’”

“At that moment, I knew I had found my voice. That is my strength – telling stories. If you watch all three of the speeches I delivered on my World Championship journey, each is one story from start to finish and each has a lesson. That’s my style. I do not preach.  I share life-lessons, but I leave the choice of taking those lessons up to each listener.”


Tip #3: Compete in order to develop your professional speaking skills

“The odds are so tremendous against winning the World Championship- something like one in 35,000. However, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t compete.  Competition makes you a better speaker.”

“In Toastmasters, speakers deliver one speech and then move on to the next assignment with very little feedback. In competition it’s more like professional speaking.  You take a story with a lesson, you hone it and you craft it, over and over to make it better. You get a chance to experience what the art and the creativity of [the professional speaking] business is all about.”

“Even if you choose not to be a professional speaker, I encourage people to compete so they get a feel what it’s like to hone a story. I literally edited the draft of my winning speech hundreds of times.  Testing and re-writing is the only way to craft something that is truly excellent.”

“I am still an active Toastmaster.  I still compete.  I always test out new material, new stories, and new techniques in front of my Toastmasters club.  I never test out new material in front of a paying audience.”


Tip #4: Record Every Speech You Deliver

“Now the other thing that our club does is that we record every speech.  Video is the best way for you to improve. You can see what works, you can see what doesn’t work, and you can see some of your idiosyncrasies.  Before the World Championship, I went to 22 different clubs and recorded every single one of my speeches so that I could improve by studying the iterations.”

“Joel Osteen, who is a television minister, does the same thing. I just saw an interview with him and he said that he has done over 500 sermons in the past 13 years.  He said he sits down with his editor and they go through every single sermon and they talk about what went well and what they can improve for next time. You should apply that same process of watching your videos and asking yourself what you did well, what you would change if you could.  That process makes you better.”


Tip #5: Be Unique

“Before I went to the World Championship, I actually watched nine years previous contests back to back to back to back. The one thing I discovered about the winners is they had something unique that separated them from the pack.  It wasn’t more the same.”

“I can’t even tell you the number of contests I’ve attended and the number of speeches I have watched. I’ve just stopped counting. The vast majority of speeches I see are more of the same. They’re just like what my son observed.  Too many sound like parents trying to tell you how to live your life.”

“The winning speeches have something that stands out. Lance Miller had ‘Cha-Ching’ and David Brooks had ‘The Silver Bullet.’ My speech required audience participation where I say ‘It was just…’ and the audience finishes with ‘… one of those days.’  At least 98 percent of well meaning, well intentioned Toastmasters were against it.  They were saying that the judges weren’t going to like it and that I would probably run out of time.”

“The last part turned out to be true.  The speech was originally six minutes and ten seconds.  In front of 2,000 people it turned into 7 minutes and 29 seconds because of the laughter and the audience participation.  It was a calculated risk that paid off.”


Tip #6: Don’t speak to be liked, speak to change the world

“For my next piece of advice, I give full credit to Mark Sanborn, who is in the Speaking Hall of Fame and author of the best-selling book ‘The Fred Factor: How to Turn The Ordinary Into The Extraordinary.’   He says that our job as speakers is not to be liked.  Our job is to make an impact – to try to change the world.”

“I have a book that someone gave to me several years ago called ‘The Greatest American Speeches.’ In there, you have former President Reagan’s, ‘Mr. Gorbachev tear down that wall’ and you’ve got Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ and you have John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech and you’ve got Eleanor Roosevelt… all the speeches that shaped our country.”

“The book is several hundred pages long and there is not one line of humor.  Not one sentence of humor. There’s a belief that if you want to make impact have humor in your speech. There’s some truth to that, there’s a lot of truth to that, but in many of the greatest speeches of all time, that’s not the case.”

“On the flip side, I saw a President Obama’s 18 minute speech yesterday at the site of the recent massacre in Connecticut.  He was able to make it light at one moment by referencing one of the kids who said to a rescuer, ‘Hey, it’s okay. I know karate.’ In that very, very serious moment he was able to provide some relief. “

“I was four years old when Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I have a dream speech.’  The only thing I remember about that speech was that the cartoons didn’t come on the following Saturday. There were only three channels and they kept showing this black man who giving his speech over and over again.”

“Now, think about the times. Segregation was the law of the land in the South. He declared a new future.  It didn’t even exist then. It was an idea. He was describing this new future where people were judged on the content of their character rather than on the color of their skin. I submit to you that that Barack Obama became President because of that speech.  But [Martin Luther King] paid for it with his life.”

“If you really want to be a great speaker, if you really want to make impact, take a stand.  Yes, at times, you are going to be criticized.  But, you are going to be criticized no matter what you do. In the words of Seth Godin, you are either remarkable or invisible.”


Tip #7: Make a deep connection with your audience starting before you speak

“I attended a workshop years ago run by Lee Glickstein that exposed me to the idea of transformational speaking.  He pointed out that speakers are the most nervous and the audience is the most skeptical at the beginning of a speech.  That is a bad combination.  Lee said that before you even speak, you’ve got to make a spiritual connection.”

“There’s a lot of debate about when my championship speech actually started. There were around 2,000 people there.  Obviously I couldn’t see them, but I tried to connect with each person.  I acknowledged them with eye contact during a long silence before I spoke.”

“The vast majority of speakers start talking a nanosecond after they are introduced. Not me, I want to connect, I want to have that spiritual, emotional connection with the audience first. I know it sounds like woo-woo, but it’s psychologically important to me.”


Try it out!

When you watch any of Ed’s speeches, you will immediately appreciate his masterful use of the pause.  The most noticeable is the opening silence he uses to establish emotional connection that he referred to in this interview.  The next time you speak, take center stage.  Look left for two to three seconds.  Look right for two to three seconds.  Finally, look center for two to three seconds and then start speaking.