Lessons from a Public Speaking Champion

Last weekend, I was in Lisbon, Portugal attending the Toastmasters District 59 Spring Conference. There were many things that I enjoyed about the conference and I will be talking about it in future posts.

One of the guests of honour at the conference was Darren LaCroix. Darren was the 2001 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking. It was great to have someone of his profile at the conference and he was always available to speak with the participants.

Darren’s keynote address was entitled “From Chump to Champ”. In it, he chronicled his journey from a salesman of stereo speakers to a (very bad) stand-up comedian – he showed a tape of one of his early routines that was painful to watch at times – to the 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking and now a highly paid, successful speaker.

The thing that impressed me the most about Darren’s presentation was his incredible work ethic. The photos of a closet full of video tapes and CD recordings of his speeches that he painstakingly studied and analyzed are a testament to his dedication to honing his skills as a public speaker.

In his presentation, Darren offered a number of tips for those people wanting to improve their abilities as public speakers, whether they want to become World Champion or just be able to present with greater confidence and impact. I am pleased to share some of them with you.

  • Never turn down stage time.
  • Record yourself every time you speak. Study and learn from the recordings.
  • Be confident enough to be humble.
  • Crave feedback.
  • Get a mentor or coach.
  • Nobody is perfect. If you are willing to learn, don’t be afraid of failure.
  • Remember to pause. Presenting is a dialogue, not a monologue.
  • The biggest mistake most presenters make is that they prepare for the speech, but not for the moment they take the stage.
  • Ask yourself what you want the audience to think about or do differently after you have finished speaking.
  • The audience wants you to be present, not perfect.
  • “A skills set without the mindset will get your audience upset.”
  • “Nobody ever went to Toastmasters to be a better speaker at Toastmasters.”

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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13 Responses to Lessons from a Public Speaking Champion

  1. Jay Kuten says:

    What’s this to do with Eastwood’s 2 minute ad. It’s scripted.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jay, although I’m not sure that I understand it. Clearly, the Eastwood commercial (which I don’t recall linking to this post) was scripted, but most of the great speeches in history were scripted too.

      Happy to continue the conversation.


  2. Klaus Krebs says:

    Hey, that was a good start. I am looking forward to reading the “champion techniques”. Maybe some experienced people will read your blog. Hm, think about it.

  3. Pam Gerber says:

    John, it was a pleasure meeting you at the youth group a month ago. (Energizing means of getting the message across.) Look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks again for agreeimg to our filming! Pam

    PS – The visual ripple effect has stayed with me and I’m passing on the message.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Pam,

      Thanks very much for the message. It was a pleasure meeting you as well. Glad that image of the “ripple effect” has stayed with you. It means that I did my job! Hope our paths cross again soon.


  4. cynthia says:

    Darren just left Singapore after presenting here following Portugal & Malaysia. He was great.

  5. Another great post, John, with some ideas I can start using now!


  6. Harley King says:

    I was teaching people this week about the importance of the pause. I love the phrase: “Presenting is a dialogue, not a monologue.”

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Harley. Pausing is key for public speakers. It’s been said that music happens between the notes; I say that a great speech happens between the words. It is during the pauses that our audiences can absorb what we are saying and internalize it.


  7. Awais says:

    Hi John,

    I am learning and practicing public speaking for about 3 years now and I am convinced that these are really valuable instructions/suggestions for MAKING a speech. Thanks a lot for sharing.


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