They’re Still Champions Today
Past winners of International Speech Contest use victory as springboard
By Paul Sterman
The scene was the 2009 World Championship of Public Speaking, in Mashantucket, Connecticut. Mark Hunter stood behind the stage awaiting his turn, as his fellow finalists delivered their speeches. Like an athlete pumping himself up before a big game, Hunter fueled his inner fire by listening to music. His choice? The soaring strains of “The Impossible Dream,” the famous theme song from Man of La Mancha.
He may have felt like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but Hunter’s dream wasn’t impossible after all. With his eloquent and insightful presentation, he topped all others to win the World Champion of Public Speaking title. Asked recently how he felt when his name was announced, Hunter says it was, well, like music to his ears.
“How does anyone feel when they hear they are a World Champion? Awesome!” says the school principal from Queensland, Australia.
Hunter says his triumph at the International Convention last August dramatically impacted his life. It’s given him opportunities to speak around the world, brought more publicity and positive attention to the Toastmasters program in Australia, and enabled him to help other Toastmasters competing in speech contests.
It has also added more cachet to his nine-year-old business, which is to teach communication and speaking skills, and train leaders in coaching skills. “The win has enhanced the opportunities around these aspects of my business,” says Hunter, a member of two Toastmasters clubs in Albany Creek, Queensland, Australia.
His experience mirrors those of other winners of the International Speech Contest. To emerge as the top speaker in the months-long competition is an incredible feat, and champions typically parlay their victories into a host of new opportunities. It would be impossible to relate the successes of the contest’s long list of winners in this space. But just a quick look at the past three title winners shows how meaningful this milestone victory is.
“Winning the World Championship of Public Speaking is the single biggest factor that distinguishes me from other technically competent people,” says Vikas Jhingran, an engineer for Shell Oil who won the 2007 contest in Phoenix, Arizona.
LaShunda Rundles captured the speaking crown in 2008. At the International Convention in Calgary, Canada, she mixed humor, poignant observations – even snippets of gospel singing – into a captivating presentation. However, because of dire medical problems, she wasn’t able to capitalize on her victory the following year. Rundles, who has battled systemic lupus since her teens and endured numerous surgeries and lengthy hospital stays, is only now starting to regain her footing. In recent months, she was a keynote speaker at a Toastmasters district conference and delivered several speeches at churches near Dallas, Texas, where she lives.
Rundles says she gives inspirational speeches about hope and perseverance, drawing on her own life experiences. She made a dramatic medical recovery last year, defying the doubts of many doctors. “I get goose bumps thinking about being able to reach people through public speaking,” she says. “I love to share my story.”
Jhingran says winning the 2007 World Championship of Public Speaking provided a huge professional boost. Earlier in his career, he felt he had been passed up for promotions because of a lack of public-speaking skills. He says the confidence and ability he gained from joining Toastmasters and from thriving in his championship run helped him land his current job as an engineer for Shell, in Houston, Texas. Communication skills are critical to his work, adds Jhingran, a member of the Speaking of Shell Toastmasters club.
“I just returned from Shanghai, China and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after making several technical presentations,” he notes.
This year’s International Speech Contest will be different from any before. For the first time in the event’s 72-year history, semifinals will be held at the International Convention. A total of 81 presenters will compete at the Convention in Palm Desert, California. The nine semifinal rounds will be held August 12; the finals, August 14.
Among the speakers presenting education sessions this year are two past winners of the World Championship of Public Speaking: Lance Miller and Jim Key. Both of them have used their contest victory as a springboard to greater opportunities. Miller and Key give keynote presentations around the world and also work as coaches and trainers.
Since capturing the Championship title last year, Hunter has enjoyed speaking to Toastmasters around the world. He’s given presentations to Toastmasters in Dubai, Qatar, Canada, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia, among other places.
“This has made me realize the extent to which Toastmasters has created a professional and social global community,” he says.
Watch highlights of the winning speeches from 2007 to 2009.
Paul Sterman is an associate editor of the Toastmaster magazine.