2012 Toastmasters World Championship Finalist Andrew Kneebone Shares His Insights

I interviewed Andrew Kneebone on January 27, 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?”

In his own words, here are the insights he captured along his journey.


Tip #1: Compete to make a friend of your public speaking fear

“I guess it all begins with the reasons why we all joined Toastmasters.  I joined Toastmasters because I realized that wherever I’m going in my career, I will need to speak in public.  Fear or no fear, I recognized that without training I most likely would do it badly.  During the biggest moments in my life, I am going to have people in front of me – my bosses or my peers.  Or, it could be my wedding.  Those are the times where you really don’t want to stuff it up.”

“After twelve months in Toastmasters, I wanted to take it to the next level.  I realized that the more that you confront the fears of public speaking in this nurturing environment, the more fear is no longer a stranger.  That feeling I get in my chest… he’s a friend now.  If you know how to harness that energy, then it’s going to do some pretty cool things to you.  That’s why I decided to complete.”

“I competed for a couple years and then work changed and I dropped Toastmasters.  I came back after a three year break to get my skills going again.  There’s nothing better than jumping into the deep end and just doing it.  I entered the club competition with my speech entitled “The Lights That Blink” and rode that all the way up to and including the win in the semi-finals.  On the surface, that speech is about setting the time on the VCR.  But, it is really about family and what happens when technology comes into a family unit.”


Tip #2: Develop your speech around a ‘seed idea’

‘I started developing the speech I gave in the Finals about three weeks before I left to come to Florida.  In speech writing, I use what’s called a ‘seed idea.’ It’s that little kernel of a speech, often one sentence that sort of embodies the whole damn thing.’  For that speech, it was ‘his blood is your blood.’  His blood is your blood.  If your father says words to you like that, you don’t really forget it. It’s pretty empowering.”

Before I developed “A Story of Two Kneebones”, I tried another speech out in my club and it just bombed.  It bombed, it bombed, it bombed.  I call it ‘airing.’  I was doing the speech for me and not ultimately for the audience.  If you want to do that, go stand in front of a mirror, because that’s who you’ll be pleasing.  .I then just scrapped it, and worked until I got the feeling that what I had was a heck of a lot better.  I practiced the new [Final round] speech twice – once at my club and once at another club.”

“When I arrived in Orlando, I came across one of my first troubles with the competition, because I don’t actually write my speeches down.  People were rifling through notes for their speeches and I just said ‘Wow!  You write them down?’  When they found out I didn’t write [my speeches] down they’d look at me and go, ‘Wow! You don’t write them down?’”  I go for walks.  I walk and I think.  I just mutter to myself.  I’m sure I’m known as the mad man of Melbourne.”


Tip #3:  Don’t practice the emotion out of your speech

“I hear of people giving speeches 20 and 30 and 40 times.  For me it’s kind of like the difference between listening to ‘Love Bites’ by Def Leppard versus ‘Hound Dog’ by Elvis Presley.  ‘Love Bites’ took six months to record.  But does it make it a better song?  No.”

“For me, a speech is going to be great or not.  I’ve always approached speaking akin to something similar to like a jazz performance where there’s a beat, but I get out there and throw a couple things in that I might not have rehearsed because I feel it at the time and go with it.”

“You’re pretty much going to know after the first couple times if a speech sucks, especially if people know that you are open to honest feedback.  At the other extreme, I find that if I’m delivering a speech 10 or 15 times then I’ll be bored with it.  It might be too polished and therefore sanitized and boring.  That’s just me.  Other people get better with practicing that way, but not me.”


Tip #4: Prepare for competitive speaking like a sporting event

“I treated the competition like any sporting event.  There was a lot of preparation that had very little to do with the speech itself.  For starters, I arrived a week early [from Australia] because I knew my body was going to get beaten around.  I’m went from 9 degrees [48 Fahrenheit] drizzling weather to 30 degrees [86 Fahrenheit] humidity.  I got sick the first two days.  When I recovered I then went down to the gym – just moving the body.”

“Your body’s got to work at all if it’s going to deliver this thing.  Don’t gorge on junk food, although I did try to taste the great American hamburger.  Good burger.  Once the physical was done, then I turned to the mental.  Don’t build yourself up to fail.  What I mean that is don’t go there with the expectation that you have to get a trophy in order to get a win.  I’m going to get some Florida sun.  That’s a win right there. I’m going to go to boot camp on how to actually prepare for a speech.  That is another win.”

“I also set myself a schedule.  Up until the Division contest, I practiced my speech three times per day.  That was it.  Stop.  Then, for the semi-final and the final, I rehearsed on my own seven times in the morning, seven times in the afternoon and then I’d rest.


Try it out!

The main thing that Andrew stressed during our discussion was the friendships that he developed throughout the competition.  He got support and constructive advice at every stage from other Toastmasters, former champions, and even from his fellow competitors.

He asked me to leave you with his one regret:

“They didn’t give me an opportunity to thank the other semi-finalists.  I really feel badly about that.  Every single one of the semi-finalists and finalists were amazing.  I really feel sorry for the judges.”