From longtime members to newer speakers, the finalists in this year’s World Championship of Public Speaking® had a wide range of experience, but none anticipated speaking to an audience of 23,000 from their homes. The 2020 virtual stage allowed competitors to get creative, take some risks, and share their messages with the largest audience the International Convention has ever seen.
Meet the 2020 winners and learn how they wowed their viewers.
Click play to hear an exclusive interview with Mike Carr and the hosts of The Toastmasters Podcast.
Even after virtually visiting Toastmasters clubs, responding to social media comments, and participating in media interviews for a few weeks, Mike Carr says it still feels surreal to have won the 2020 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. “I’m just a regular guy, who has failed for 25 years and kept learning,” he says from his home in Austin, Texas.
After joining Toastmasters almost 25 years ago, Carr began competing in speech contests and advanced to the International Speech Contest semifinals in 2015. But with eight children, a wife, and a financial business to run, he couldn’t always make speech contests his priority. It became difficult. The speech he gave in 2015 was one of his favorites, but he didn’t place.
“I walked away thinking, ‘Maybe what I think works really doesn’t work,’” says Carr, a member of Austin Toastmasters. “The reality was my ego couldn’t handle some of the feedback … I was too in love with results.” He stepped away from contests and allowed himself to wallow in the disappointment.
After some reflection, Carr realized the importance of learning from “failures.” For years he had been telling his children to not worry about tangible results and just try. He followed his own advice and began competing again.
His championship-winning speech highlights that theme. In “The Librarian & Mrs. Montgomery,” Carr shares how, in grade school, he tried but was unable to fix a broken video projector. Though a short-tempered librarian left him terrified of failing, his teacher, Mrs. Montgomery, taught him to learn from it. She told him it was more important to try something and learn from mistakes than to focus on the results.
Reflecting that principle, he experimented with the virtual stage. The speech begins by showing Carr in the corner of his computer screen. The audience can only see his head as he imitates how he would have appeared as a sixth-grade student. Carr uses the camera frame to show how the video projector began to malfunction, waving his hand in front of the camera to imitate the film flickering, and then covering the camera when the projector dies.
Asked how he came up with such a creative idea, Carr says, “Part of it was just beginning to experiment with that frame and looking at different perspectives. … I thought, why not play with it and do something interesting and maybe I could project a message I want to give to the world.”
By experimenting with the new medium, he captured the audience’s attention, and now he is thrilled to see members coming up with their own innovative ideas to incorporate into their virtual speeches. Additionally, mixing humor and drama in his speech, he was able to share and promote one of his personal mottos: “The victory is not in the result. The victory is in the try.” He explains, “I’m really glad that’s the speech that won, because it’s the culmination of a lesson of 25 years.”
So what comes next for the World Champion? He plans to connect with as many Toastmasters as possible and continue to share his message. Ultimately, Carr believes every person has something great inside them, and it is vital they try their hand at some kind of pursuit, without focusing on the results.
“So many people have magic in them that they’re not going to let out because they’re scared of not getting the result,” he explains. “If I can just convince them that they have more control over the victory—just in the effort of it—then the world gets to be the beneficiary of so much more creativity.”
This year’s second-place winner, Linda-Marie Miller, was a first-time competitor in the International Speech Contest. “I was shocked to be on the podium at all,” says the two-year Toastmaster. “I was thrilled that I made it to the finals because that meant that my speech might reach a larger number of people.”
“Pretending Not to Know” told the story of her experience discovering her own white privilege after the loss of a Black friend’s child. She explained how she had allowed an inherently racist system to benefit her, even though she had never been outwardly racist. As she spoke of her seemingly socially aware actions, Miller held up signs with steps she had not taken, which ultimately allowed the system to continue. These props highlighted how silence can perpetuate problems.
In conclusion, Miller shared how she now uses her voice as an ally of those wronged by racism and asked the audience to join her. She ends her speech silently, with a final card for the audience to read: “What are you pretending not
“Within minutes of giving my speech, I began receiving thousands of messages from people who were moved to action by it,” says Miller, a member of Fhigure of Speech and Duke Toastmasters clubs in Durham, North Carolina. “Every time I speak, it is my intention that people will be different in their lives as a result of hearing me. … I want people to get that they matter and that how they live their lives matters.”
As a professional speaker and experiential trainer, she encourages Toastmasters everywhere to continue to develop their speaking skills and use those to share their gifts and passions with the world—the same plan she has for herself.
“What started as a speech is on its way to becoming a nonprofit focused on dissolving our differences and elevating and celebrating our shared humanity,” Miller says, noting that she has formed a Facebook group called “One Shared Humanity.”
Lindy MacLaine, DTM
When Lindy MacLaine, DTM, first competed on the 2018 stage of the International Speech Contest semifinals, she had been suffering from insomnia for weeks. She was nervous and exhausted. A fellow competitor told her, “You need to come back a second time—so you can enjoy it!” And she did. This year, MacLaine was able to relax, share her story, and enjoy the competition, which ultimately led her to a third-place finish.
In “Your Buried Story,” the Washington state-based freelance writer described finding her long-lost Peruvian foreign exchange family as a direct result of her semifinals speech. “When I was reunited with them in December of 2019, I knew I wanted to share it with as many Toastmasters as possible,” she says. “For me, it was a miracle—brought about through Toastmasters, and telling my buried story.”
MacLaine, a member of SKWIM Toastmasters and Professionally Speaking Club, both in Sequim, Washington, delivered her speech with expert body language, vocal variety, and a knack for performance. She took the audience back in time to show how she lost touch with and then found her “second family” through Toastmasters.
By reuniting with her Peruvian family after 40 years, MacLaine changed the ending to her own story. In the final lines of her speech, she urged the audience to do the same: “What if, when you tell your buried story, a new ending awaits? Tell your buried story.”
MacLaine feels honored to have placed in the top three of the finals this year, but says her main goal was improving her speaking skills. Working on a contest speech over and over allows for more accelerated growth—one reason why she encourages all Toastmasters to try competing. “A side benefit is the way my Toastmasters community grows every time I compete,” MacLaine adds. “Having new friends and fellow Toastmasters around the world delights me.”
Laura Mishkind is assistant editor for the Toastmaster magazine.