It is hardly surprising that an American won this year’s Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking—Americans make up nearly three-quarters of the roughly 280,000 Toastmaster members worldwide.
The winner this year, however, was the youngest person to win the championship in the contest’s history. Twenty-five-year-old Ryan Avery from Portland, Ore., took away top honors in a grueling six-month contest.
Avery out spoke 30,000 participants from 116 countries, including eight other finalists at the championship event in Florida on Aug. 15–18.
A member of Gen Y, the generation born after the ’70s who grew up communicating electronically, text messaging, emailing, twittering, and uploading to Facebook to make a point, Avery believes the win is significant for his age group.
“I am part of the ‘like’ generation where I used to say ‘like’ every other word,” he told The Epoch Times by phone.
He says it was not nerves that drove him to take up Toastmasters.
It was not until he saw a video of himself, recorded as part of his job, that he realized he had the Gen Y affliction of communicating badly and using fillers every couple of words, which he now describes as “extremely distracting.”
“I showed it to my Dad and he said, ‘Man you need to join Toastmasters,’” Avery explained, a move for which his Dad stumped up the first six months and now reckons it was the best $50 he has ever spent.
There are fears that Gen Y is losing the ability to communicate face to face, Avery said, describing the sorts of comments that are made about his generation: “Hey, pull out a handwritten letter and write a thank you note, or communicate without saying ‘you know’ every five words!”
As director of Marketing for the Special Olympics in Oregon, Avery took up the challenge to win the international competition, not only to upgrade communication skills for his job but also to make a point about his peers.
“I am part of the ‘like’ generation where I used to say ‘like’ every other word.”
-Ryan Avery, 2012 Toastmasters world champion public speaker
“I wanted to make sure that I was representing Special Olympics in an eloquent and professional way, and I also wanted to position myself as a younger professional employee, to show people that my generation is looking to improve,” he said.
“We are going to be the next political leaders, lawyers, and doctors and teachers, so I wanted to be a type of representative or ambassador for that.”
Trust Is Important
Gen Y, as much as they are disparaged for being overconfident and opportunistic, are a values-based, well connected, and loyal generation, says Australian social commentator Hugh Mackay who has conducted extensive research on the age group.
In keeping with that assessment, Avery won the event with a seven-minute speech, titled “Trust is a Must,” about the importance of keeping one’s promises.
“A promise is only as good as the person who gives it,” he asserts in his winning speech, which took the audience through a series of humorous but heartfelt life lessons.
According Dr. Michael Telch, an anxiety specialist at the University of Texas, fear of public speaking is the most common phobia in the United States.
Toastmasters, a world leader in communication and leadership development, began in California in 1924 and now has 13,500 clubs around the world. Asia constitutes 16.6 percent of the membership, Australia and Oceania 6.4 percent, and Europe 4.9 percent.
Avery’s win marks a generational shift for the nonprofit educational and mentoring institution whose average age, according to its website, is 45.8 years.
His win also marks an awakening for the verbally challenged Gen Y, said Avery, who expects to see an explosion in numbers of Gen Y joining Toastmasters in the coming years.
He speaks highly of his experience at Toastmasters, its wealth of training materials, the many years’ experience in leadership and communication among members, and its tried and true method of appointing a mentor for each new member, providing an accessible and much needed service.
“The reason why I was the world champion this year is because I found myself with the best communicators who were phenomenal,” he said, noting that his mentor was a past world champion public speaker.
Along with the expertise and wisdom inherent within the institution, Avery believes being part of a larger, supportive network like Toastmasters, albeit different to the Internet, will resonate with his peers.
“Our mission is to be supportive of each other,” he said, “That is one of our key words, ‘support,’ and when you walk into any Toastmaster club around the world, and I have walked into many, you get that same feeling of you are welcome,” he said.
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