World Championship of Public Speaking, 2011

The 2011 World Championship of Public Speaking, hosted by Toastmasters International in Las Vegas, Nevada, is now history. Congratulations to all contestants, especially Jock Elliott (1st Place), Kwong Yue Yang (2nd Place) and Scott Pritchard (3rd Place).

Jock Elliott - Toastmasters
Left to right: Kwong Yue Yang, Jock Elliott and Scott Pritchard

I must, however, say a special word about my friend, Olivia Schofield, who also participated in finals. She represented District 59, which comprises 18 countries in Continental Europe.

Olivia gave a terrific speech about her efforts to overcome a speech impediment when she was younger. It was poignant, funny, moving and inspirational. Her message? Don’t let your limitations make you believe that you are a failure. The speech left people in tears and cheering. In fact, the only thing wrong with Olivia’s speech … was that it ran 15 seconds overtime and she was disqualified!

That’s a tough pill to swallow. I know that I am biased, but I am certain that had she not gone overtime, Olivia would have been on the podium and may well have won the contest. I hasten to add that nothing is to be taken away from Jock, Kwong and Scott. They each gave a fantastic speech. And they stayed within time, which is critical. They won fair and square and are to be warmly congratulated.

Indeed, Jock deserves special recognition. He has competed in Toastmasters speech competitions for over 20 years, made it to the Finals five times before this year, and finished third in 1994. In fact, in 1993, Jock (like Olivia this year) was disqualified for going over time. Talk about passion and persistence! Jock is an example for us all when it comes to both public speaking and not giving up on your dreams.

Returning to Olivia, what has impressed me (and many others) the most about her has been the classiness with which she has handled this experience. She has taken her disqualification in stride and good humour. One of her first statements on Facebook after being disqualified: “Oh well, just have to make a keynote speech out of it!”

I had a long chat with Olivia last night on Skype. The main thing we talked about was the terrific response she got from people who came up to tell her how much her speech meant to them. We also talked about what she learned from this experience, what the future might hold for her and how she could continue to share her message with others. There was little time for regret. And therein lies another lesson for public speakers.

If you are going to speak in public, you are going to have setbacks. Whether it’s going overtime in a speech competition, forgetting a key point, having your equipment fail without a back-up plan, losing your audience’s interest, or any one of a thousand other things, you are going to have your share of bad days. That’s part of the deal. The key is how you handle the experience, what you learn from it and what you do going forward.

Again, congratulations to all contestants in the 2011 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

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  1. Ouch, I thought you were allowed to go 30 seconds overtime…
    Nevertheless it’s an experience she will never forget, and as Jock proves this is not the end!

    1. Hi Willem, thanks for the message. The official time for the speech is 5 to 7 minutes. The red light goes on at 7 minutes and that means you have an extra 30 seconds to conclude. Olivia went 15 seconds beyond the 30-second buffer. But you are right – this is definitely not the end for her.

  2. Thanks for sharing the text. Regret I haven’t seen Olivia in Lisbon, but there will be other opportunities.
    It’s really disappointing to be out by time limits, because you get the feeeling that you never know the real result if you’re in time, but rules are rules. I remember watching an educational speech by Lance Miller in Lisbon (2009), before the Dusseldorf convention, and he mentioned to have lost a contest by 1 second at his Toastmasters club!!!
    The message I’ll never forget is that “if you don’t control the time, you don’t control the speech”. Easy to say, not so easy to implement. Glad Olivia reacted positively.

    1. Muito obrigado, Nuno. I like the saying by Lance Miller about controlling time; thanks for sharing it! Olivia is very positive about the competition and I am sure that you will have other opportunities to see her in District 59.

  3. Hi John…
    I appreciate your thoughtful, insightful comments about Olivia’s speech and her participation… as you may have read in my comment on the TM page… the rewards for her and her example of gracious acceptance of the outcome say for me more than the fact of ‘winning’…
    It’s a shame that in this far too competitive world of ours – pressured I believe by an ingrained drive for ‘winning’ that many (especially Americans) have championed – we often lose sight of the reward that pitting oneself against one’s own limitations and fears offers us. I suspect that the gain in hard-won experience and lesson in grace that Olivia has/will experience due to those ’15 seconds’, will, in many ways, outlive the disappointment of not ‘winning’…whatever happens she won the greatest reward of all…personal growth.
    Hope you are well…all the best
    Michael :-))

    1. Thanks again, Michael. I really appreciate the comments. “Informative and quirky” – I love it. I just might have to work it into a new tag line!

  4. Hi John,
    Thanks again for such an interesting post. By the way, the link to Jock has http twice and doesn’t open because of that.
    – C

    1. Rich, thanks for the comment. You won’t be disappointed. Concerning Jock, I took the stats from his website (the link on his name in the middle of my post). It says that he competed four times, so I went with that. But I hesitate to call you on TM trivia … I’ll dig a bit more and see what I find.

  5. John, I know you to be a fair and unbiased man, so I’m gonna have to take your word for it. You’ve advised me well in the past, in fact if you hadn’t given me the advice you did before the District in Lisbon, I might very well have been disqualified way before the final straight. So thank you. Regarding being a good sport as everyone said to me “I gave the speech I came to give, it just so happened to be a bit longer than the others!”

    1. Thanks, Tom. Olivia’s a fighter; she’ll be back. It was tough, but, as you know from your own experience, it’s all part of the deal – you go over and you’re out:

  6. Hello John, I had a quick try but could not find the speeches of the championship on the web, youtube. Do you have an idea?
    Best regards,

  7. John,
    I agree with your analysis of Olivia’s speech. While all finalist speeches were stellar, Olivia’s was the most moving and inspirational. In fact, her speech made me get my first ever teddy bear & I have named it Wowick. This was my first international conference and it was an amazing experience. I could not believe there are so many people who have been attending for 12, 20 even 28 years!

    1. Thank you for the comment, Bina. I am glad that you had a great time. I have yet to attend an International Conference and look forward to doing so. I will be sure to pass on your message to Olivia.

  8. Olivia’s story got a whole new meaning to me yesterday, as I watched my younger sister perform on stage in Humorous Speeches contest in German. She was an absolute super star, the competitors would just have to bite the dust if her amazing speech hadn’t been 3 seconds too long. I am going to send her the link to this article right away so she can be inspired by Olivia’s example in handling the disappointment. Thanks for posting it, John! I couldn’t have said it better to her.
    This is what our area governor wrote about her performance: “Veronika Kultanova was competing in German. She delivered a perfect speech and I never saw in my live such an incredible performance difference between speakers in a contest. Veronika by her performance would have devastated the competitors, if there was no time limit for a speech (7:30). Unfortunately she overdrew some seconds and was disqualified. What a pity. But I am sure we will see her back on stage in spring contests. We had a great day although ecstatic euphony and bitter disappointment came hand in hand.”

    1. Thanks for sharing, Katarina. It’s a shame that Veronika went overtime by a few seconds, but it happens. If she is as good and determined as you, I have no doubt that she will be back, stronger than ever, next year. There is always another contest season just around the corner. Tell you sister that the disappointment that she feels now will soon start to fade. Before she knows it, it won’t bother her at all and that is when she will be able to take a hard, “clinical” look at her performance and figure out what she needs to do so as not to make the same error again. Tell her that I have no doubt that, in the long run, this will turn out to be a positive learning experience for her.

  9. Hi, John,
    Thank you for your post and for taking the time to interview Olivia.
    I was a semi-finalist last year and had the great honor to see Olivia’s speech live. I thought she nailed it. My friend and I were heartbroken when we realized she went over time. We still talk about her to this day. I recently went a few seconds over time in a humorous speech contest, and it made me think about her again. After practicing, practicing, practicing – it’s just amazing the things that can change in front of different audiences. I hope she doesn’t give up – I won’t! One of us has to win another Championship for the girls.

    1. At the Convention this year in Orlando, many people recognised me and came to share words such as yours Melanie, thank you. At the bus stop. one lady asked “Are you the girl from the finals last year? Can you tell me how someone can get that far and then let themselves be disqualified on a technicality?”
      Melanie, you’re right, no one knows what it’s like to be up there till you are up there on that stage in front of that audience. I am now giving keynotes and workshops at districts all over America sharing my story. I am living my dream. Keep competing, keep growing and remember the Award is not the Reward.

    2. Thanks for the message, Mélanie and congratulations on your performances. Yes, it was tough to watch Olivia go over by 15 seconds, but that’s life. And she handled it like a champ. I am in regular touch with Olivia by email and Skype and have recently caught up with her in Poznan, Poland and Berlin, Germany. Same old Olivia! She and I will be speaking together at an event in Bonn, Germany this November.
      All the best with your speeches. I hope that our paths cross one day at a TM event.

  10. Hi John
    I didn’t attend in 2011 but had a fellow member purchase the video DVD and I watch it regularly. During speech marathon season, I watch the entire video of 10 contestants and always observe something new from their presentation. Despite who takes 1st, 2nd & 3rd, I find I have my own favorites. During our Division competition, I always time the contestants and make notes on how their speech develops compared to the time. If a contestant hits 7:15, I myself panic for them.
    Enjoyed your article !

    1. Thanks for the comment, Terry. If you watched the 2011 finals, you would have seen my dear friend, Olivia Schofield perform. I watched the competition live on the Internet and was also timing. I know exactly what you mean about panicking at 7:15. Unfortunately, she went way over time and was disqualified. But it’s all part of deal, isn’t it?

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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