The Mark of a Champion

The past several weeks found me very busy preparing for the Toastmasters District 59 International Speech Contest. The final was held in Poznań, Poland and I was one of the eleven finalists.

It was a terrific event with great educational sessions, exciting contests and terrific people. It is wonderful to come together with 300+ individuals who share a passion for excellence in public speaking and presentation skills. And it was great to be back in Poznań, a wonderful city to visit if you get the chance.

Toastmasters Mark Hunter
Jorge, Me and Mel

I finished 2nd in the International Speech Contest. Congratulations to my good friends, Jorge Crespo (1st) and Mel Kelly (3rd) as well as the other competitors for their great speeches. Jorge will represent our District at the World Championships in Orlando, Florida. Jorge has a dynamite speech and will be polishing it with the help of a number of experienced speakers. And, all of Continental Europe is solidly behind him. Watch out, Orlando!

This is the third time I have competed in the District International Speech Contest and the second time I have finished second. Several people were upset for me but they needn’t have been. I was (and am) very happy. It was a fair result and that’s what you want. I saw Jorge’s and Mel’s speeches and think that if the three of us had been shuffled in any order it would have been fair. And, although I didn’t see most of the other speeches, from what heard, I suspect that if you had shuffled one or more of the other competitors onto the podium, it would also have been fair. That’s the nature of speech contests. Fortunately, I took my own advice and followed the “Number One Rule for Speech Contests”.

For me, however, the highlight of the week was Mark Hunter. The 2009 World Champion of Public Speaking has been in a wheel chair since an accident in his early 20’s. Yet his disability has not prevented him from living an amazingly rich and full life. His warmth, his sense of humour, his passion and his determination to squeeze every drop of juice out of life despite his disability made a deep impression on me.

I was privileged to have been able to share the stage with Mark and seven other terrific speakers at the Spectacular Speaking event the day before the Toastmasters Conference. I also shared several meals, some wonderful conversations and a few beers with him. Although I learned a lot about public speaking from Mark, I learned an awful lot more about what it means to live with integrity.

Mark Hunter
Mark Hunter and the “Spectacular Eight”


One of the addresses that Mark gave at the Toastmasters Conference was called The Mark of a Champion, which I have shamelessly stolen as the title for this post. In it, he shared a number of insights into what makes a winning speech. But there was one thing in particular that impressed me the most.

Mark’s 2009 Championship speech was entitled A Sink Full of Green Tomatoes. It was a masterful performance. I saw him give the speech a couple of times last week and then analyze it. The thing is, Mark has continued to work on the speech and perfect it even after winning the Championship. I asked him if he thought it was noticeably better than in 2009. “Oh, John,” he said in his distinctive Australian accent, “it’s much better, Mate. It’s like chalk and cheese.”

Here’s the thing: If a World Champion of Public Speaking feels that he can improve his own World Championship Speech, that should be a signal to all of us that the journey towards great public speaking never ends. We can all improve and we should endeavour to do so. Yes, it takes time and effort, but the results are tangible.

A relentless desire to improve and a commitment to take the necessary steps to do so. That’s the mark of a champion. From a Champion named Mark Hunter.

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25 Replies to “The Mark of a Champion”

  1. 🙂 A wonderful perspective, John. Thank you for sharing this. It was an honor to be a part of the organizing teams for both of the events and sharing these experiences with people like you.

    Justine H.

    1. Thank you very much for the comment, Justine. You and your colleagues who organized the Conference did a superb job. It is an incredible amount of work and you should all be proud of your efforts and the result.
      John

  2. Hi John, I was not able to make it to Poznan … but from what I have heard it was “amazing.” Yet this post of yours is the icing on the cake! Amazing article about an amazing man (named Mark Hunter) written by an equally amazing man (John Zimmer). It is my pleasure to count you among my group of “Toastmasters friends”.
    Cheers TM, Rui Henriques (from Portugal)

    1. Rui,
      Muito obrigado o meu amigo! I very much appreciate the comment. I know that the first of the two is amazing and I’ll have to take your word on the second. I am sorry that you were not able to make it. Perhaps we will see each other in Bonn. Hope all is well in beautiful Porto.
      John

    1. I have seen my blog translated into many different languages. The free translation software that exists these days is incredible.
      Hope you had a good trip back to Portugal.
      John

  3. John,
    I agree with Ibbe! You are a real winner. There are not many who gets to the finals more than once (getting into the final once itself is very hard) and you did it. In your article, you have mentioned that you have learnt a lot from Mark on what it means to live with integrity. Although I know little about you, I can say that from what I have gathered from the articles, your analysis and attitudes in your blog, you are a person of integrity. I have learnt a lot from your blog for sure.
    On a different note, Mark is truly an exceptional speaker. Your article raised my interest of him and I watched (and read) his speech – beautiful! I have always wanted to have a sentence like the opening one in his speech – a sentence with most of the words beginning with the same alphabet (consonant to be precise). I was unsuccessful when I did it some years ago and maybe I should persevere.
    To sum up, thanks for your wonderful inspiring article and thanks for introducing us to an amazing speaker like Mark Hunter.

  4. I truly enjoyed the ‘Masterpiece’ of yours, John! Such a simple and endearing message! Sorry we didn’t have a chance to talk in Poznan but I am looking forward to your next performances at the future conferences. 🙂

    1. Thank you very much, Yulichka. It was nice to see you again, even if we did not have the chance to speak very much. I am glad that you enjoyed the speech.
      John

  5. Thanks for putting out such great posts John. You’ve inspired me for years through your speeches (got to see one live in Geneva), your blog and that fantastic workshop you did for us in Milan. You have so much to share and do it so openly. I just want you to know that I, for one, really appreciate it and put forth a conscious effort to apply your tips to my speeches. I hope you can join us (your Italian TM friends) at our next convention in Rome in November. It would be great to see you again.

    1. Thanks very much for such a thoughtful comment, Andy. It means a lot. I feel mildly guilty when I get comments like yours because I have so much fun writing the blog and helping others. I am glad that you find the tips useful. And I would love to be able to make it back to Rome – Ah, Roma! La città eterna! – to see you and everyone else again. I’ll have to see how my schedule looks.
      All the best.
      John

  6. Thank you for sharing your special souvenir from Poznan, John. I found Mark Hunter’s speech superb in its simplicity and strength. The alliteration (that opening!) and metaphor throughout, lesson from personal life (you always score in this area) all capture an audience. Great language and unique thoughts – ‘I’m sure I heard her smile’, ‘take off the armour’ and ‘get off the horse’, water as ‘liquid love’.
    I was sorry all over again that I missed Poznan – even if you had no need for an extra pair of applauding hands – I know your ‘Masterpiece’. Also sorry that I don’t read your blog often enough – in many ways you provide the response to Hunter’s speech.

    1. Thanks very much for the comment, Ginny. Mark really is something. And the fact that he continues to work on his winning speech is extremely impressive. Thanks as always for all your support.
      John

  7. A very thoughtful and insightful article, one of my favorites from your blog John. I thoroughly enjoyed your speech (and everyone else’s) in Poznan and I’d definitely love to see your “Masterpiece” again if you upload it somewhere.
    Take care and Congratulations on getting 400+ Subscribers. Starting my own blog in August, I’ll keep you posted 😀
    Best,
    Alex de Jong

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