Toastmasters World Champion – 2009

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about the Toastmasters District 59 International Speech Contest in Düsseldorf, Germany.  My run in the contest ended with a silver medal in the fourth round of six.  But last week, a world champion emerged from the ten contestants who made it to the final round.

The winner is Mark Hunter, a 58-year old primary school principle in Brisbane, Australia.  In front of 1,500 people in Mashantucket, Connecticut, he won first prize in a contest which 30,000 people from around the world had entered at the beginning of the year.

Mark’s speech, entitled “A Sink Full of Green Tomatoes”, recounts an important lesson that he learned in his grandmother’s kitchen, and how it helped him approach life following a water-skiing accident that left him confined to a wheel chair at the age of 22.

Winning the contest took commitment and tenacity, and not only because of the physical challenges that Mark Hunter faces.  Prior to this year, he had been a finalist twice in the World Championship, taking third place in 2007.  It takes special character to make it that far, come so close, and then commit to the arduous process of doing it all again. Well done, Mark!

We’ll let Mark Hunter have the last word in today’s post.  You can read the text of his winning speech below.


A sink full of green tomatoes

by Mark Hunter

Literature is literally littered with lively legends. Amongst them rides Don Quixote the Man of La Mancha. An idealistic knight who fought for the rights of others and dared to dream the impossible dream.

Mr Contest chairman, ladies and gentlemen, while I dare not sing that song for fear it could be your nightmare, I like many of us here have dreamed impossible dreams. But to make one of my dreams even remotely attainable, I had to learn a lesson, perhaps a lesson for us all.
When I was 22 an accident changed my view of the world completely. Before the accident, I saw the world from an invincible 6 feet high, now I see it from the height of the consummate navel gazer.

In my new position, short and seated and recycled, I soon faced discrimination, so I became a modern day Don Quixote fighting for the rights of those with a disability. Many, many times, I would don the armor of righteousness; mount my trusty grey horse; Yeeeha! (Work with me here), raise my lance, and charge into hell for my heavenly cause, dreaming of a world where discrimination no longer existed.
But at other times, I would retreat, exhausted and just want to be invisible.

For many years as I championed this cause, I faced this problem: Do I want to fit in, or do I want to stand up, stand out and stand fast for who and what I am; do I want to be same or different?

I became consumed by this dilemma and desperate for an answer. I turned to books, coaches, meditation, you name it I did it, I even searched in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey – I eventually found my answer where many of our life’s most important questions are answered.

My Grandmothers kitchen was filled with the aroma of freshly cooked bread, and the quiet rhythmic chopping of vegetables was the only sound to be heard. On the bench, gleaming upturned jars were begging to be filled with her world famous tomato relish. Well, I thought it was world famous; my grandfather, Poppy, always said it could be used as paint stripper. I too would laugh at his mischief.

A splash was followed by her silent invitation to look in the water filled sink. A wildly bright red apple had accidentally tumbled in, and was bobbing amongst a dozen green tomatoes. Nana said, Mark, look in the sink. What do you want to be? I looked at my choice to be the one apple or one of many tomatoes- and I remembered thinking:

Who looks at fruit and veggies and becomes philosophical?

So how did I answer grandmother?

As I watched her, I finally understood her wisdom. Nana, I said. She stopped, turned, and waited. Nana, I want to be the water.

She turned back to her work, and I am sure I heard her smile.

She knew I had found my answer. That you can’t change the world by charging around like an idealistic knight. You change it from here, by being the water. You see water embraces everything completely. It does not differentiate young from old, black from white, tall from navel gazer. It simply encompasses all.

And what is this water if is not a unique definition of love. A definition reflected in Deepak Chopra’s work, where he writes for love to be real it has to flow out and around what is loved. This water is liquid love. When I am the water, when we are the water, the need to fight the good fight no longer exists. The need to work out whether we are the same or different no longer exists. When we love with the intimacy of water, difference doesn’t exist.

It’s what this liquid love does. What happened in the kitchen allowed me to replace the passion of youth with the wisdom of my grandmother (maybe cut) and so with my new understanding I began to change my world from in here.

Ladies and Gentlemen: In an ordinary kitchen, I learnt an extra-ordinary lesson. One which enabled me to take off my armor and get off this horse, not literally. I learnt from my grandmother that it doesn’t matter how we are different. It’s how we love that matters. So this morning, I offer you her wisdom. In a sink full of green tomatoes and one wildly red apple, there is so much, so very much to be gained from being the water.

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Julie. The only way to see the video of Mark’s speech, as far as I know, is to order it through Bill Stevens Productions. That company has an exclusive deal with Toastmasters for videoing the World Championships. You might also try Toastmasters directly.

  1. Hello John:
    Greetings from Taiwan. Thanks for posting the winning speech, I think it’s great for us to learn. By the way, since you are the Humorous Speech winner, do you have any previous winning speech you can share with our members here? Since we start have in club Humorous Humors contest, I would like to encourage our members to attend this contest, although sometimes humor might be different in terms of culture and background. But I think it can let us learn what is humorous speech.

    1. Dear Debbie,
      Thank you for the thoughtful comments. You are absolutely correct that humour is very much influenced by culture and background. My winning speech is on YouTube. You can see it here:
      Another thing that your members can do is go to YouTube and type “Toastmasters Humorous” and they will find many other examples, including some from Toastmasters clubs in the Far East. You can then compare styles. Ultimately, it is whatever works best for the speaker.
      Thanks again and my best regards to you and your members.

  2. I really enjoy your blog. I think public speaking is such an important skill to have. Thanks for the posts.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International