Update: A Winner in Many Ways

Update: A Winner in Many Ways

TI’s 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking
overcame big obstacles on her way to victory. 

By Paul Sterman and Beth Black

As a girl growing up in a small Texas town, LaShunda Rundles regularly gave speeches and presentations – at events such as church programs, high school banquets and conventions. Not that she chose to do so ­– she was terrified at the prospect of facing audiences. It was Rundles’ mother – a local educator ­­– who steered her into such appearances, determined to provide her daughter with the poise, presence and communication skills she knew would benefit LaShunda in the long run.

Clearly, mother knew best. Rundles’ early training paid off in a big way recently when she captured the 2008 World Championship of Public Speaking. Her triumph at the finals held during the Toastmasters International Convention – in Calgary, Canada – capped off the year-long competition where she advanced to increasingly higher levels. In front of nearly 2,000 fellow Toastmasters, Rundles defeated nine other finalists from different parts of the world.

“I didn’t feel like I’d aced [my speech], because you never know what the judges are looking for,” says Rundles, a motivational speaker and writer who lives in Dallas, Texas. “I did feel like I did the best…for me. I gave my all on the stage and left the stage feeling confident that I’d done my part.”

Second- and third-place winners were Loghandran Krishnasamy of Puchong, Malaysia, with his speech “Finding the Rhythm,” and Katherine Morrison of West Roxbury, Massachusetts, with her speech “Baby, Don’t Believe Them.”

In the 70-year history of the contest, Rundles is the first African-American woman – and only the fourth woman ever – to win the prestigious event. 

Hitting All the Right Notes

The 38-year-old displayed a wide array of talents in her championship- winning speech, titled “Speak!” She showed off a glorious singing voice, employed a sharp and lively sense of humor (at one point describing her intimidating mother as “Shaq in a wig”), and seamlessly wove several dramatic threads through her presentation, touching on the powerful influence of her mother; her own journey as a survivor of lupus; the importance of using one’s voice to effect positive change in the world; and a theme familiar to most Toastmasters: how she overcame her fear of public speaking.

For Rundles, that epiphany occurred at age 8. Scheduled to talk at a high school sports banquet, she told her mother she didn’t want to give the speech. This, apparently, was not an option. Mom pushed her daughter to go forward.

“I learned to speak through the fear that day,” Rundles said in her speech.

A member of Town North Trendsetters Toastmasters in Dallas, Rundles was diagnosed with systemic lupus as a teenager. The disease affects the joints and other tissues. She has had six surgeries and her struggles have been so severe that she once weighed a mere 90 pounds and was unable to eat or care for herself.

Besides enduring a couple of long hospital stays, she also had eight toes amputated just before the year-long speech contest season began. Rundles was so fatigued at times that she was barely able to hold up at the contests, including the final. But she overcame all – and emerged victorious.

Rundles wants to parlay her speaking success into an opportunity to help others. She hopes to become the national spokesperson for the Lupus Foundation of America; as a lupus survivor, she says she feels particularly qualified to speak on behalf of other patients.

“People tell me how their lives are better after hearing my speeches,” says Rundles appreciatively. “There’s nothing more rewarding than that. Most people go after money, but an investment in somebody’s soul is priceless.”

Paul Sterman and Beth Black are associate editors at the Toastmaster magazine.