What Makes a Winning Speech … or Speaker?

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion.”   ~Martha Graham

I just got back (my body was back two weeks ago – the brain just arrived on Sunday night) from the World Championships of Public Speaking at the Toastmasters International Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Once again, there was only one woman in the finals. She placed 3rd. Once again, I saw several of the key mistakes women make that prevent them from being great speakers … but today’s blog is not about mistakes.

Today’s blog is about the qualities of a winning speech … or a winning speaker.

This year I watched and listened for winners, rating speakers, not against each other, but against the qualities of what would win the World Championships. It was an enlightening experience.I wish I could have done this for all 9 Semi-Finals. With 3 happening at the same time I could only watch 3 in total.

  • The first Semi-Final I watched: I had no one with a 1st place speech, a few with 2nd or 2nd/3rd. The finalist who won that contest did not place in the finals.
  • The second Semi-Final I watched: I had a clear winner, though I would have loved to see one woman, Sylvia Balfour, win. She placed. She was really, really good but not great. I felt she had a 2nd place level speech that would have easily won the first contest I watched. Kwong Yue Yang, who truly had a 1st place level speech, won. He went on to place 2nd in the World Championship finals. Kwong has that winning quality.
  • Then, in the third semi-finalI watched a winner take the stage. From the moment Dananjaya Hettiarachchi opened his mouth, I knew he could win. About 2 minutes into his speech, even though there were 5 more speakers to come, I placed a #1 beside his name on the program. I didn’t like the subject of his speech. Two other speeches had more important messages. Three women were very, very good … but not great. One of these women took 3rd. Another will probably end up on TedX if she sends them a copy of her speech.

In the finals, while Kwong was truly great, there was no doubt. Dananjaya had saved his best speech for the finals. Add all his winning qualities to a well crafted, important message … dynamite! Here’s a clip from the speech that gave us this year’s World Champion of Public Speaking.

So what makes a winning speech … or a winning speaker?

  • Confidence tempered by true humility and grace.
  • Brilliant voice control in pace, tone, emphasis, and variety – a voice that adds clarity and understanding to the message, that says far more than the words themselves.
  • Presence that makes the audience comfortable that they are in capable hands. Every gesture is simply language, adding clarity, not distracting.
  • A memorable message you can apply to your life, no matter who you are and what you’ve experienced.
  • Skills of a competent speaker, from structure to choices in words; from movement to owning the stage; from the right choices of anecdotes and information to the ability to move an audience to think or act differently from this day forward.

Most of all, the quality of a winning speaker, beyond the message, beyond the voice, beyond the gracious confidence and presence … can you guess what it is? Can you see it in this clip? … This quality deserves a post all by itself, which is why (please don’t hate me) I’m going to put it in my post for NEXT week. arrow-156792_640This one is too long already.

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One Reply to “What Makes a Winning Speech … or Speaker?”

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