Interview with Ryan Avery: 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking
Ryan Avery was selected as the 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking a few weeks ago at the Toastmasters International international convention in Orlando, Florida.
I was delighted to discover that Ryan is a Six Minutes reader, and was doubly delighted when he agreed to an interview.
His story is that of a champion, not only of a contest winner but a young man with big dreams and the commitment to make them happen.
Six Minutes Interview with Ryan Avery
Question: When did you develop an interest in public speaking? Is it something you’ve found easy through high school, college, and into your career, or have you struggled?
I have always enjoyed talking with people but just because you talk, does not mean the person listening is enjoying themselves. I am part of the “like” generation (where we say “like” every other word). I wanted to make sure I was representing my generation and my employer, Special Olympics Oregon, in a professional way so I needed a place where I could improve and develop my speaking skills.
I have always felt confident speaking in front of large groups but what I struggle with is making sure I am connecting, engaging and leaving them with something that will make their life better. I don’t just want to speak. I want to connect and leave them with something of value. There are thousands of speakers but very few resonate and connect.
Question: You posted a YouTube video eight months ago declaring your world champion goal, complete with the beginnings of your whiteboard brainstorming (“Story, Humor, Vocabulary, Surprise, Prop, Alliteration”). What were the key steps you took to realize your goal?
In January I had a good friend send me a text message that asked me what the hardest task I have had to accomplish. I couldn’t give him an answer I felt had merit.
I was lying in bed that weekend and was watching hours worth of YouTube videos when I came across a kid my age who was going for the World Championships. I remember saying to myself “if he can do it, so can I” and I told myself if I don’t go for something big like this right now in my life I never will. So I walked out of our bedroom and my wife was siting on the couch, enjoying one of her paint by numbers (she likes crafts) and I told her “Babe, I am going to go for the World Championships of Public Speaking” and she said “ok.” We went to go get some white boards from Home Depot and white boarded our living room and I recorded a video so I could put “positive pressure” on myself. If it was out there, I had to make sure I followed through with it. Then I started going to five clubs a week. That is how I started.
[Ed: Here's the YouTube video where Ryan declares his goal...]
Question: The title of your world championship speech was titled “Trust is a Must”. Why did you choose this theme?
Randy Harvey is the 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking and my mentor. “Trust is a Must” came from Randy’s training of listing out three key questions:
- Who am I?
- What am I about? and
- Where did I learn that?
Randy’s coaching helped me find the things that were important in my life and the stories that went along with them. This took me months to work on and most people don’t know that the speech I gave on the finals stage on August 18th was my 27.0 version of “Trust is a Must”. I changed it up that many times in order to get it that point and it was because I was finding out who I was and what message I wanted to send. I am still figuring that out and something tells me it is a life long process!
Question: The speech you used at previous contest levels was titled “Push Past It”. What message did you deliver?
It is a message about living your life to the fullest because life is limited. One day we all leave this earth. You have right now. Enjoy this moment. Don’t let the little things in life bog you down. The speech was originally called “Just Jump” but I was on the phone one day with my grandmother and she gave me some of her wonderful wisdom…“Push Past it”. It was one of those eureka moments where I thought to myself “duh, ryan!”. The speech then became about the lessons my grandmother helped me learn in life and how I pushed past them.
Question: Each year, thousands of Toastmasters around the world enter speech contests. What advice do you have for them?
Get a mentor!
Answer Randy’s three key questions of:
- Who am I?
- What am I about? and
- Where did I learn that?
You need to be persistent: There will be times when you don’t want to wake up at 5am or you will get no one to laugh at the speech you thought was funny! Get up, speak and keep going!
HAVE FUN!!! One of my mentors told me “Ryan, no one rides a roller coaster to get to the end. Enjoy the ride!”
Question: I’ve read that improved public speaking skills were part of your career strategy leading to your dream job as Director of Communications and Marketing at Special Olympics Oregon. What does it mean to you to serve in this role?
John Maxwell said “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you discover why”. I was born to help people communicate so they can make a difference.
For me Toastmasters helps me communicate Special Olympics Oregon’s message. For others they might want to talk about politics, equal rights or environmental issues. Either way, if you improve your public speaking skills you do a better job representing the things that matter most in your life and can do more good for the cause.
I am very blessed to be in this role and am thankful every day I get to work for Special Olympics Oregon as their Director of Marketing and Communications.
Question: You co-author a blog (AveryToday) with your wife Chelsea where you share life lessons and reflect on your four pillars. How did this joint project originate? What does it mean to you to work on it together?
It goes back to “communicating to make a difference”. Chelsea and I have four pillars we live our life on:
- LIVE a healthy and happy life
- GIVE 10% to good causes
- SAVE for tomorrow
- TRAVEL to see what else is out there
We like to blog about our life experiences and leave every post with a life lesson. Blogging is the same as speaking for us. Don’t just give a speech, send a message. Every time I speak or write a blog article I want to make sure I am making a difference in other peoples lives and adding value to their life.
Question: What’s the next great big dream you’ve set your target on?
Be part of the team that helps raise $25 Million for Special Olympics Oregon in the next three years. We support the largest disability population in the state with more than 10,000 participants going through our year-round programs. In 2008 when the economy took a dive we had to suspend our state-games for a couple years due to funding. We want to make sure that never happens again and we can serve our athletes every year for generations to come.
Write a New York Times Best seller. I might be an okay speaker but I am not the best writer. It will be a challenge for me and I am looking forward to the task at hand!
Remember: “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream” — Anatole France
Question: Finally, what advice would you give to other Six Minutes readers who aspire to become more confident and effective speakers?
Find the best mentor you can think of that lives around you and ask them to coach you.
Practice, Practice, Practice! (I would give my speech in the middle of downtown whilepeople walked by, stared me down, looked at me like I was crazy. Once you do something like that you will be confident on any stage you walk on!)
Videotape yourself and watch what you do right/wrong!
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