On my first visit to a Toastmaster session in my life, I had the privilege of listening to an awe-dropping speech from Ryan Avery. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. He currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon. I interviewed Ryan to share his journey and advice on how to become an effective communicator and public speaker.
First and foremost, check out his championship speech at the finals of the 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking.
What motivated you to become the world champion of toastmasters?
Ryan: I have received a text message from a good friend of mine who recently quit his job to pursue his passion for filmmaking. He was starting to create a film and he sent me a text message asking me, “What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?” I couldn’t give him an answer that I felt genuine enough that I felt I put every inch of my soul into, and after thinking about it for a while I was laying in bed watching a couple of YouTube videos, and I came across this person going for the world championship of public speaking. I remembered seeing that video thinking to myself, “Man, if they can do it, then I can do it too.” I remember making commitment thinking to myself saying, “Ryan if I don’t go for something big right now in my life, I never will.” I went outside to tell my wife that I am going to be the next world champion of public master. We then went to Home Depot and got a huge whiteboard and we put them on our living room wall, and then I wrote in the middle of it,”2012 World Champion of Public Speaking, Ryan Avery.”
How did you sustain that motivation, goal and energy?
Ryan: It’s really hard. There is no doubt about it that there are times when you are going to be faced with challenges that interrupt your dreams and interrupt the ability to pursue to create something that you’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. It’s important to create a team and structure around yourself that supports you. What are the quality people that you’re surround yourself with? You have to have people that are supporting your dream because they are plenty of times throughout my journey that I said, “Man, this is too tough, this is too hard, and there were people who helped me to continue keep moving. I remember one time that I wrote this hysterical speech, I thought, and I signed up for four speeches, gave it, and not one person laughed for the four times I gave it. I could not believe it. I was sitting in the car thinking to myself, “God, this sucks. I’m not funny.” And my wife told me, “Of course, you’re not funny. You’ve never been funny. You have to work for it. You have to keep practicing and four times is not enough. You have to do forty times if you want to be the world champion.”
Also, surround yourself with good quotes. I would write quotes on my bathroom and living room. Right when I woke up in the morning. I have a quote or just a statement that says, “What would Michael Phelps do?” and I wanted to be the best in a category like Michael Phelps was and when I read that in the morning and I felt tired in the morning thinking to myself “Michael Phelps would get up. If I want to be the next world champion, I have to get up.”
Public speaking is considered the number one fear in life before death! Why should people care to become a better public speaker?
Ryan: The better communicator you are the better lifestyle you’ll have. To be able to express yourself and the messages that you care about and that matter to you are important to be able to differentiate yourself by presenting yourself in a professional way. When you’re able to hold yourself in a confident manner and communicate in a concise way of what you’re passionate about, people will believe you. People see passion. They can see it. They can smell it. They can taste it. When someone’s talking to them about something they’re passionate and that speaker can connect to that audience your voice is the most powerful weapon on the planet. You can use your voice to move millions of people to do negative things or positive things.
Before I started Toastmasters I used to say “like” every five words. “Like that’s totally cool. Like that’s amazing. Like that’s awesome.” Once I got rid of those “likes” I have moved up tremendously in my professional career and my personal life, and now I’m the Director of Marketing and Communications because I am effectively able to communicate what I’m passionate about. Think about it this way. Bad communication, bad life style. Good communication, good life style. Great communication, great life style.
Is it really hard to become a great public speaker? If so, why is that?
Ryan: No, it’s not hard. I think what’s hard is finding the messages that you want speak about. Anyone can speak. We’re speaking every day. What’s difficult to find and discover is “What is it that I want to speak about and what is that I want my audience to take away?” That’s the one thing that’s very difficult. You can answer Randy Harvey’s three questions. Randy Harvey is my mentor and 2004 world champion. When I was going for the world championship, he made me answer three questions: Who am I? What am I about? Where did I learn it? And, if you answer these three questions, you’ll better be able to know what you want to speak about because you need to speak about something you’re passionate about and that comes from the heart. If money was no object, what would you talk about?
Can you recommend any tools to become a better public speaker?
Ryan: First and foremost, get a mentor. Les Brown said, “If you’re the smartest person in your group, you need to get a different group.” I have mentors who help me in all areas of my life from financial to marriage to personal to professional, and of course public speaking which is Randy. You can simply do this by sending them an email or calling or writing them handwritten letter and sharing with them what you’re interested in and specifically why you want that person to mentor you. It’s important as a mentee that you’re giving stuff back too. So I would save up money so I could take Randy out to lunch and he didn’t have to pay for it. Or, I would bring him a bottle of wine. Anything that I would give back to him I would make sure I would do as well. It’s got to be a give and take relationship.
Another resource is read. I wish I would have been a reader in high school and college. I never read. I maybe read two or three books in college and high school. Now I am trying to read a book every two weeks on the areas I’m passionate about. I try to read a book a week. Read read, and read!
What about some practical tips that you would suggest for anyone who aspires to be a great speaker?
Ryan: It can be nerve-racking to speak in front of a group. But it comes down to be confident. What I tell people is “think of the last time you felt incredibly confident, whether it was a great grade on a test, you asked out the person of your dreams and they said “Yes,” you got a raise at your work. Think of that in your head five minutes before you go up on that stage. And resonate in that confidence. When you go up on stage again people can see that confidence. They can smell it and taste it. When you’re confident, you’re better able to deliver and develop your speech.
Practice, practice, and practice. If you’re feeling nervous about a speech, practice in a spot that makes you uncomfortable. I would practice in gym saunas, under water, in the middle of downtown while people are walking all around. I did that because that I knew if I could deliver my speech at the time when I felt incredibly nervous I could give a speech to a crowd that I knew was there wanting to listen to what I wanted to say. Remember you are going to mess up. Right when I won the district championship. Every one came to listen to my speech, and I paused for 28 seconds in the middle of my speech. I freaked out. I was sweating. People called it an intermission on my evaluation. This was a great wake up call.
Are there any additional resources you would recommend to become a better speaker?
Ryan: The best blog out there is from Andrew Dugan called Six Minutes. A wonderful book that you want to read if you want to become a better communicator is Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln and Craig Valentine’s World Class Speaking. Check out my YouTube channel as well at www.youtube.com/Averytoday for free video tutorials on how to be a better speaker.
Ryan Avery is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. Ryan is an Emmy Award winning journalist and has worked with global clients. Ryan graduated from Colorado State University with degrees in journalism and anthropology. He currently lives in Portland, OR with his wife Chelsea and they have been together for almost six years. Ryan is devoted to helping people discover their true potential and is passionate about helping others communicate to make a difference. You can find him on www.AveryToday.com and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.