2005 Toastmasters World Champion Lance Miller Shares His Insights

I interviewed Lance Miller on November 19, 2012 and asked him just one question: “What are your three best pieces of advice on how to win the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking?”

Lance speaks and delivers seminars on leadership and communications.  He is also sought-after as a speaking coach.  You can reach him at http://www.lancemillerspeaks.com.

As you will discover in his words below, Lance’s core principle is sincerity in your message and in your delivery.


Tip #1: It is not in the winning, it is in the learning

“I competed and lost for 13 years before winning the World Championship.   One of the big lessons that changed my life came in 2002 when I realized that it would be hard for me to learn from my mistakes if I was unwilling to admit that I was making any.  The audience was telling me that I was not speaking at the level of a World Champion.  Early on, I wanted the audience to say, ‘Oh, you are so brilliant (laughs).’  That type of thinking was proof that I did not yet have the right mindset. “

“I learned more from the speech contests that I lost than I ever learned from speech contests that I won. I would never go back and win a contest and lose the lesson. The audience would not allow me to go forward until I corrected specific aspects of my attitude and my speaking.”


Tip #2: It is not about you, it is about the audience

“I have already had three people in the last month contact me and tell me that they are the 2013 World Champion of Public Speaking.  From my experience, if you go into the contest with that attitude, then you are missing the biggest component of the contest. You are missing the fact that the contest is about the audience, not about you.  How does your speech improve the way your audience thinks and lives three hours, three days, three weeks, three months, or even three years after your speech?“

“Humility and sincerity are what make great speakers and great speeches.  Your speeches should not be sensational.  Humility means you are talking eye to eye with your audience. I see people go into this authoritative posture, talking down to their audience.  It comes from watching too many stereotypes of preachers and football coaches. Their style becomes: ‘I command you to think this way (laughs).’  It is better to appreciate that your audience is made up of brilliant people – probably smarter than you are.”

“I see people time and time again focus on traumatic events.  Never mention the word ‘cancer’ in a speech. Playing the ‘death card’ is many times an attempt to try to use sensationalism to make up for other deficiencies in the speaker’s skill set.  Instead, turn your attention to the audience with a message that you sincerely believe will make a difference.  Even if you do not win the contest, you still win because you are actually making a difference in people’s lives.  The speech that most deeply touches the hearts and changes the mind of the audience is the one that wins.”


Tip #3: Be yourself

“Just being you is the hardest thing in public speaking.  When we stand in front of a group of people, the strangest things start happening to us.  You lose your thoughts, your body starts doing stuff all by itself.  I want to meet the exact same person on stage that I met offstage albeit with more energy.”

“For me, the contest was a journey of self-discovery and self-worth.  You need to look at your life and define who you are. We go through life and get defined by our family and friends. We end up trying to be who they want us to be instead of who we want to be.  When you can figure out who you are, then you have something of value to give the world through your words.“

“At one point when I was trying to find messages (to use as speech topics), I was so frustrated because nothing really bad had ever happened to me.  Have you ever felt that way?  I started looking at my life. I came from a good family; I had a good education; I had good jobs.  Oh, man, where is the inspiration in that? This is horrible (laughs).  But, I went back and instead asked ‘What have I learned? What has made a difference in my life that I would want to share with the audience?’”

Part of being yourself is talking to the audience instead of acting on stage.  Great oratory is not having conversations with characters that are not there, screaming and yelling, or getting overly emotional. It is not about ladders or chairs or orange cones.  Just talk to your audience.  You should be able to make your point with your speech even if your audience cannot see you.  Paint images in people’s minds with your words.  Share your story with your audience instead of telling them what they should think.

“When I bring characters to life in my speeches, I do not dramatize them.  I tell the audience what they said and what they did in my own voice.”


Try it out!

Lance’s winning speech, entitled “The Ultimate Question”, focused on the importance taking the time to validating yourself and others.  I leave you with his words on how he found that message:

“Early on in my Toastmasters experience, I asked what the International contest was.  Somebody told me that it is your five to seven minutes to say something important to the world. So, I asked myself, ‘If I could make one change in the world, what would it be?’  It struck me that if we just validated each other, by looking for what is right rather than for what is wrong, then the world would be a much better place.”