How to Tell a Great Story: Tips From the World Championship of Public Speaking

Last week I attended the Toastmasters International Convention in Cincinnatti, Ohio.

Toastmasters International Convention

What, you ask, is Toastmasters?  Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development.  Some 292,000 members, 14,350 clubs in 122 countries.

I was there to represent Georgia Toastmasters in the World Championship of Public Speaking.  The contest began in January with 30,000 contestants and by last week was down to 89.

Toastmasters International Speech Contest 2013

Placing 2nd in my semifinal, I was privileged to share the platform with gifted speakers from all walks of life and many different countries!  Pictured with me are some great, supportive Georgia Toastmasters.  I’m indebted to the many clubs across the state who allowed me the opportunity to practice and gain valuable feedback in preparation for the contest.

Georgia Toastmasters

It was amazing to hear so many wonderful, thought provoking, hilarious, inspiring speeches.

My speech, “A Teacher Affects Eternity”, paid tribute to my high school piano teacher, Nancy Claxton, the far-reaching impact she had on me, and consequently, the piano students I taught for the next 20 years.  Truly, God showed his goodness to me through her!

So what does a World Championship winning speech look like?  According to those who have won, here are a few tips, not only for this contest, but for all memorable speeches and presentations:

  • A clear, concise, convincing message with a strong “take-away”.  What do you want the audience to think or do?
  • The point of your message should fit on the back of a business card.  3 days later, people should be able to recall it.  A repetitive refrain can help.
  • An “I” centered story with a “you” centered message. It’s your story, but make someone else the hero, not you.
  • Use dialog rather than narrative.  (Instead of “My mother told me I should get busy”, “My mother shook her finger and said, ‘Honey, you’d better get a move on!”‘) According to my friend Mark Brown, World Champion 1995, “Don’t just tell them…take them.” Dialog helps you do just that.
  • Your story should appeal both to the head…and the heart.
  • The presentation should give your audience an idea of who you are.  They want to know you.  With discretion, be willing to be vulnerable.
  • Your story should have conflict and should build to a climax.
  • Your story should be based in truth.  You can “embellish” it a bit.  But don’t steal others’ material.  Not cool.
  • Use a metaphor that reinforces your message.

Speaking of metaphor, the first place winner, Presiyan Vasilev, from Bulgaria, gave a brilliant speech titled, “Changed By a Tire”.  He spoke of trying to fix a flat tire.  After an hour of unsuccessful attempts, he finally asked for help from a mechanic across the street who changed it in mere minutes.  In that, he was changed…realizing that we need to ask for help from others who are strong where we are weak. Together, we are stronger. A great message!

I see it all the time…people who are shy, unable to speak or communicate their ideas effectively, but who desire to grow in their ability.  They join a local club, stick a toe in the water, and over time, with a low stakes environment and lots of encouragement, begin to express themselves more confidently, in a more organized fashion, with a sharper point to their message.  It’s exciting to watch!

Learning more about my organization, hearing incredible speakers and seeing Toastmasters’ global impact was rewarding.

Toastmasters International Convention 2013

But the best part of the week?

Getting to see my man in a tux!

IMG_2121For more info on Toastmasters or to find a club near you, visit

12 thoughts on “How to Tell a Great Story: Tips From the World Championship of Public Speaking

  1. I sure would have loved to hear your speech! I am so proud of you! You looked beautiful in your evening gown, and hubby looked pretty sharp too! I bet he’s a hoot!


  2. Pingback: Congratulations! — Next Step Speaker Services

  3. Congratulations Connie. A truly great achievement to get to the semi final of the WCPS! It is great to see experienced speakers like yourself promoting the useof stories in the speeches or presentations. It’s something I promote in my public speaking workshops at Using stories makes such an impact on an audience – they are SO powerful, yet underused. 😦

    Congratulations again on your success. Well done!


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