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 Lacroix 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.”

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

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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