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3 Lessons Learned From the 2015 World Championships of Public Speaking

The organization Toastmasters International has been helping people improve their public speaking skills for years. With tried and true techniques (and through a lot of practice), Toastmasters turns nervous presenters into experienced and confident orators. The winner of this year's competition can teach us a thing or two about how to get our listeners' attention, whether it's in the weekly status report meeting or the annual company-wide conference.

The organization Toastmasters International has been helping people improve their public speaking skills for years. With tried and true techniques (and through a lot of practice), Toastmasters turns nervous presenters into experienced and confident orators. The winner of this year’s competition can teach us a thing or two about how to get our listeners’ attention, whether it’s in the weekly status report meeting or the annual company-wide conference.

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(Photo Credit: garryknight/Flickr)

Last month, Saudi Arabian security engineer Mohammed Qahtani won the title of 2015 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. After seven rounds of competition that lasted six months, he and nine other finalists beat out the 33,000 other competitors from around the world to advance to the finals held at the Toastmasters annual convention in Las Vegas. He won with his speech, “The Power of Words.” Let’s take a closer look at this speech, via his interview with Richard Feloni of Business Insider. There are some powerful takeaways here for anyone attempting to improve their own public speaking skills.

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1. He made them laugh.

Not only did Qahtani make his audience laugh, he did it right away – opening with a couple of jokes that hooked the audience’s attention. Getting that kind of response, right off the bat, likely made him feel more comfortable too, which propelled his success as the speech continued.

“When you get an audience laughing, you’ve got them on your side,” he said.

It is very important to engage your audience early on in a presentation. Humor worked for Qahtani, but there are many ways to grab a group’s attention. Just make sure that you get them on board, and do it early – right out of the gate if you can.

2. He plays to his strengths.

The techniques that make one public speaker great might not work as well for someone else. During his interview with Business Insider, Qahtani recalled the words a fellow Toastmasters member once shared with him:

“Some people are strong with their words. Some people are strong with their voice. Some people are strong with their stage presence. Your strength is humor. Use it.”

If you’re super warm and compassionate, use that in your speech. If you’ve got a big voice and awesome stage presence, play that up. For this year’s winner, his strength is his humor. He gets the audience laughing right away, and he keeps it up right through the end, even though the topic of the talk was fairly heavy. Use your strengths. There is no right or wrong way to deliver a great speech. You have to find the style that’s right for you.

3. Clarity is key.

Often, lists of tips about public speaking remind people to speak slowly. That’s true for obvious reasons. People get nervous, then they speed up, and before you know it – the audience can’t understand what the speaker is saying.

Above all else, your speech has to be clear. This means your literal speech (the words you say need to be audible) but also the main points of your talk, which should be really clear, as should your thesis. Your speech needs to have a point, and you need to make that point over and over again. Always remember that your audience is coming into this talk without a lot of background knowledge about the content of the speech itself. This is why good speeches are clear, logical, and easy to follow. Focus on clarity first or you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

Check out the video of Mohammed Qahtani’s winning speech to see this world champ in action.

Tell Us What You Think

What skills do you lean on to improve your talks? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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