Meeting Ryan Avery

Ryan Avery and David Keener in Washington DC

I recently had a chance to meet Ryan Avery, the Toastmasters 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking on Monday, September 30th, at the AARP building in downtown Washington DC. Toastmasters District 27 and 36 teamed up to host his two-hour workshop, “How to Make It a Great Speech.” The event drew such a big crowd during the online event registration period that they had to add a second edition of the workshop to handle the overflow.

Ryan Avery and his wife Chelsea were both friendly and gracious. Moreover, the workshop itself was also excellent. The worksop was part of Ryan’s whirlwind public speaking tour to promote his new company, How To Be A Speaker. Since his championship win, he’s specialized in keynotes, inspirational training sessions, and workshops on speaking-related topics.

Ryan’s workshop, “How to Make It a Great Speech,” was introduced by the leadership from Districts 27 and 36. When Ryan subsequently came on stage, he started out by introducing himself, outlining what he was going to cover in the workshop, and generally engaging with the audience. Then he showed us two videos of 5 – 7 minute talks that he had done. One was, of course, his championship-winning talk for Toastmasters, entitled “Trust Is a Must,” which everyone was extremely interested in seeing. The other was an inspirational speech for a college.

Here are some public speaking tips that he gave that directly related to the videos we’d just watched:

  • Title: He emphasized that he believes titles are vital to the success of a speech. They help set the expectation of what a speech is going to be about. A memorable title may also linger in the minds of audience members, helping the audience to retain key points that were made in the speech. He used his title, “Trust Is a Must,” as an example of a memorable title.

  • A Strong Structure: Ryan pointed out afterwards that both speeches had the same structure, which he proceeded to describe to the audience. His basic outline was a brief introduction that established the theme of the talk, three short stories that matched the theme, and a conclusion that tied the stories together and echoed the message from the introduction. He added that it was essential for the conclusion to end in the same place as the introduction, which he summed up succinctly as: “Where you pick ’em up, you need to drop ’em off.”

    Bear in mind that this outline is perfect for a short, impactful speech, such as those required for speech contests. It may not be appropriate for all types of speeches, or may need to be adapted for other types of public speaking engagements.

  • Constant Object: Whenever possible. Ryan liked to have a “constant object” to help link the stories together. For his speech, “Trust Is a Must,” it was his mother’s slippers that featured in some way in each story.

  • Heroes: According to Ryan, “you can’t be the hero of your own story.” If you’re the hero, then it sounds like you’re bragging, which diminishes the experience for the audience. You can be in the story; you just shouldn’t be the hero.

  • The Five Senses: For more impact, try to engage the audience by appealing to the five senses. Highlight colors, emphasize a smell, or describe sounds. Paint a picture for the audience.

  • Drop the Prop: Ryan was not a fan of props. His view was that props interrupt your speech and, more importantly, disengage the audience’s imagination. He stated that in many cases, he considers PowerPoint slides to be an unnecessary prop, although he conceded that they can be appropriate for informational talks (his own workshop included a sparse set of slides, as an example).

  • Active Voice: Be active. Be assertive. Don’t let passive voice creep into your speech. When you say “was,” you’ve entered the Passive Voice Zone. Get away from there.

I thought those speaking tips were excellent. There was quite a bit more to the workshop, so it’s hard to sum it all up. There were some excellent messages sprinkled throughout the workshop, though, and I’ve captured some of them below:

  • Don’t look at the excuses, look at the opportunities.

  • Who is that one person you’d hike across the Grand Canyon for?

  • You should never “give a speech.” Speak from the heart and send a message.
              — Randy Harvey

  • You must impact yourself before you can impact an audience. To accomplish great things in your life, you should:

    • Put it out there. Go for your dream.
    • Delete negative people from your life.
    • Visualize your reality. Change the story in your own head to be what you want it to be.
    • Set up visualization stations, aids that help you imagine where you want to be, or what you want to become.

  • Never tell a joke. Share a failure instead.

  • Make you speeches Simple, Impactful and Relatable.

  • Remember the acronym, SMILE:

              SSimple stories.
              MMistakes; talk about mistakes, and lessons learned.
              IImitate, e.g. – imitate characters for effect.
              LLaugh; look like you’re enjoying yourself, and so will the audience.
              EEnthusiasm; add some energy to your speech.

  • Dress to relate to your audience.

  • PRACTICE. How you practice is how you will play. Get serious about practicing.

I had a great time attending Ryan Avery’s workshop, and I felt like I learned a lot from it. If you’re interested in public speaking, and the opportunity arises, attend one of his workshops. It will be worth it. Additionally, he’s got a book on public speaking coming out in early 2014, so keep a watch for it.

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