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.

Jorge John Mel
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.

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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  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.

  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.

    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.

  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.

  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.

  6. As Darren LaCroix says: Great speeches aren’t written, they are re-written! Thanks for the insights John.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 😀
    Alex de Jong

    1. Thanks, Alex. Much appreciated. It was good to see you in Poznan and I am sure our paths will cross again. I look forward to your blog when it comes out.

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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