Toastmaster — November 2012
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Jennie Harris

Ryan Avery, ACB, CL, became the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in the history of the International Speech Contest on August 18, at the 2012 Toastmasters International Convention in Orlando, Florida. The 25-year-old defeated eight other Toastmasters from around the world in the final round of the competition.

A resident of Portland, Oregon, Avery is a self-described member of the “like generation,” referring to young Americans who intersperse the word like in their speech, sometimes as a filler word similar to ah. He joined Toastmasters in early 2011 largely to eliminate such verbal clutter, especially because he gives media interviews as part of his work for Special Olympics Oregon. By his own admission, he also wanted to improve his communication skills so he could win a promotion. It worked—he was promoted to director of communications and marketing three weeks before the International Speech Contest Semifinals.

The 2012 contest drew 30,000 participants from 116 countries. With so much competition, how did Avery become a World Champion after just a year and a half in Toastmasters? He followed the advice of his mentors and entered every speech contest he could, often earning second place at the area level. He visited most of the clubs in District 7 with his wife, Chelsea, to practice.

Avery likened his quest to become the 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking to that of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps striving for a gold medal,and referred to a “What Would Michael Phelps Do?” motivational sign he hung in his bedroom. “If [Phelps] could get up early and practice every day, so could I,” he said in an interview after the World Championship semifinals.

Avery won over judges in the finals with his speech “Trust Is a Must,” which reflected on the value of a promise. He described a moment at his wedding when his wife-to-be asked him if he promised to be a good husband, triggering memories of the lessons on trust he learned long ago from his mother.

Avery impersonated his mother reprimanding him for drinking at a party after he promised he would not. She caught him in the lie when she found him at the police station. “Trust is a must,” he said, imitating his mother’s Texas drawl and handon- hip stance. He said she reinforced her lesson when Avery complained he had been cheated out of pay after designing a website for a man he later learned had given him a fake name.

“I learned that a promise is only as good as the person who makes it,” he said.

During his acceptance speech, Avery dedicated the award to his wife for traveling with him to many clubs so he could practice his speech. “If you have a spouse who supports you like Chelsea,” he said while tearing up, “you’re blessed.”

Avery’s next goals involve earning his DTM award, and visiting districts around the world to give workshops and keynote speeches. Additionally, he wants more people from his generation to participate in Toastmasters. “I want to let all my friends and people my age know how important Toastmasters is for their personal and professional life,” he says.

The second-place winner in the 2012 contest was Palaniappa Subramaniam, ACS, CL, of Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia, with the speech “Finding the Right Shoes.” (See page 7 for an interview with Subramaniam.) The third-place winner was Stuart Pink of Attleboro, Massachusetts, with his speech “Brain Lifting: A Crash Course in Creativity.” In his speech, Pink encouraged audience members to exercise their minds by asking “What if?” more often.

Winners of the 2012 Taped Speech Contest (a category for members of undistricted clubs) were also announced at the convention. They are: first place, Peter Mutua of Nairobi, Kenya; second place, Joanna Makris of Attica, Greece; and third place, Maria Simiyu, of Nairobi, Kenya.