- Toastmasters International
- Manoj Vasudevan is the 2017 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. He broke down for Business Insider why his speech won, from how he immediately disarmed the audience to why he decided against being too high-energy. Watch the full winning speech below, and use his insight for your own presentations and interviews.
On August 26, Manoj Vasudevan became the 2017 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking.
Vasudevan, an Indian entrepreneur and management consultant living in Singapore, survived a six-month-long competition with more than 30,000 competitors. He and nine other finalists competed for the championship title in Toastmasters’ annual convention, which hosts the world’s largest competition of its kind. This year’s event was held in Vancouver.
Vasudevan’s winning speech is titled “Pull Less, Bend More,” and you can watch it in its entirety below.
Vasudevan told Business Insider how he crafted and delivered his speech.
He immediately disarms his audience.
Vasudevan balanced humor and sincerity in his speech, but said that he wanted the first couple minutes of his speech to be mainly lighthearted. He said that even smiling before he began speaking was deliberate.
He told us that humor isn’t necessary to win over an audience, but that it was just the hook he decided to go for, “because when you laugh together you feel a sense of connection.”
He delivers his message clearly and concisely.
Vasudevan’s speech told the story of learning a lesson in his marriage and realizing that it was a universal truth. He explained how shortly after they were married, his and his wife’s romance cooled off, and they disagreed so frequently that often they went without speaking to each other.
He had a conversation with his mother, and his mother assured him that theirs was a common problem, and that they both needed to stop behaving as if they were perfect – they needed to be flexible. As Vasudevan put it, thinking about the potential for a lost relationship made him think of Cupid, which in turn got him thinking about Cupid’s bow. He used the image of shooting an arrow to express what his mom taught him: bend more; pull less.
Through a series of anecdotes, Vasudevan explained how people are inclined to either find a quick fix to or run from their problems, and that conflicts of all sorts could be avoided if people are self-aware enough to set aside their egos and be more flexible.
When developing a presentation, he told us, you should have every line you say pass the test, “Does this further my message?”
He speaks as if he’s having a conversation.
Vasudevan said that for nearly the entirety of his speech, “I’m looking at someone and talking to them. It’s a huge audience, but I keep picking some random person who’s interested in listening to me and I look at the person.”
He said that a speech resonates when you tell it the same way you would to an individual.
He lets his body language flow naturally.
- Toastmasters International
Vasudevan said that the only instances of rehearsed body language in this speech occurred when he made a gesture of pulling a bow’s string – so that it looked accurate – and when he opened his body wide, to project himself more to the audience of nearly 2,500. Besides that, he thinks that being too conscious of your body can make you look awkward.
“Your body language automatically follows your voice,” he told us. “If you try to make it a theatrical show, it can backfire sometimes.”
The key, he said, is letting your body follow your emotions, and for that to work, you have to be emotionally connected to the message you’re sharing with your audience.
He adjusts his speech according to its reception.
Interestingly, Vasudevan gave a version of this speech in the 2015 Toastmasters International world championship, and it brought him third place. This year’s performance, however, is tighter and stronger for it. Vasudevan pulled it off this year by cleverly reading the audience.
The Toastmasters competition is usually held during the morning, but this year’s was held at night, and Vasudevan said he could immediately see that the long day had worn down his audience. Most looked to him like they were ready to leave as soon as possible.
Reading the low energy level, Vasudevan decided to avoid coming across as abrasive by being too energetic. He also figured they would be less receptive to jokes – even ones that normally drew big laughs. “I said, ‘You know what, they may not laugh. It’s not important to the message. I’m going to let that go.’ So I had to make a judgment call as I spoke.”
He also added some words or phrases for emphasis, he said, depending on how the audience was responding. Whatever it took to keep them engaged and focused on his message.
His guiding principle, which allowed him to improvise: “They remember the message. They may forget everything I said, but they remember the message.”