With a speech titled “Pull Less, Bend More,” Manoj Vasudevan won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking® on Friday, August 25, during the International Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was his third time reaching the speech contest finals; he placed third with a similar speech in 2015.
“This feels surreal; a dream come true,” said Vasudevan, a leadership coach and management consultant from Kerala, India, who now lives in Singapore.
He claimed his World Champion of Public Speaking title with a humorous tale about the value of flexibility in relationships, illustrated with a story of his own marriage. He cited his mother’s sage advice: “You fall in love because of Cupid’s arrow. But what keeps you in love is Cupid’s bow. You see, the bow and its string have a great partnership; the more the string pulls back, the more the bow bends. ... When she pulls, you bend. When you pull, she bends. If you pull too hard, your relationship will break.”
Balancing humor and sincerity in his speech, Vasudevan said unity in relationships comes from compromise. “No matter what our differences are, when choosing to pull less and bend more, we can stay together.”
This year’s contest was held at night for the first time, and in a subsequent interview Vasudevan said he had to be flexible in his anticipation of how the audience would react. While giving his speech, he adjusted his delivery to what he felt was a lower energy level in the audience than when the contest was held in the morning. He told Business Insider that he toned down his delivery to “avoid coming across as abrasive” and lowered his expectation that the audience would laugh at his jokes.
As a consultant and CEO of his company, Thought Expressions, Vasudevan has more than two decades experience working with multinational companies and coaching executives, diplomats and entrepreneurs in Asia, North America and Europe. The author of a book called Leadership Lessons from the Mousetrap, Vasudevan was among the top 25 stand-up comedians at the 2012 International Comedy Festival in Hong Kong.
Like most Toastmasters, he wasn’t always a polished speaker. He started his professional life as an electrical engineer and eventually hit a ceiling in his career where he was told by a superior that he “had reached his potential” and “didn’t have what it takes to get to the next level.” He has since invested years in training to build five core skills, public speaking being one of them. He joined Toastmasters in 2008 but says he was so “petrified” of public speaking that it took him nine months to give his first speech. Now an Advanced Communicator Silver and Competent Leader, he is a member of Toastmasters Club of Singapore and has been honing his skills in speech contests for many years.
As a professional speaker, he admits to still getting nervous on occasion, but the key to overcoming it is to think about the audience’s needs and not be focused on himself. “Public speaking is not about impressing the audience,” he says, “it’s about sharing knowledge.”
Second- and third-place winners were Simon Bucknall, an entrepreneur from London, England, with his speech “What James Bullock Taught Me,” and Kevin Stamper, a pastor from Palm Harbor, Florida, with his speech “Speak Up.”