Interview with LaShunda Rundles: 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking
LaShunda Rundles was selected as the 2008 World Champion of Public Speaking a few weeks ago at the Toastmasters International convention in Calgary, Alberta.
As reported earlier, LaShunda was one of 10 finalists to compete in the world championship speech contest.
One of my colleagues noted that “she delivered the best speech I’ve ever heard — a speech that moved my soul.”
I am honored that LaShunda made the time to answer several questions about her victory, her speaking career, and her remarkable life story. I am delighted to share this inspirational interview with you.
Six Minutes Interview with LaShunda Rundles
Question: How did you develop a passion for public speaking?
My passion for public speaking began as the youngest in a family of achievers. We all looked for our time to shine. My parents were both educators and rewarded participation in extra curricular activities.
My mother was a teacher and majored in English. She loved poetry and often used recitation as punishment for us. We would have to memorize pieces and learn to effectively interpret the meaning and deliver it to her satisfaction to get off the hook.
I enjoyed singing in the choir and being in church so much as the daughter and granddaughter of ministers, speaking was just something that came naturally.
Question: Several titles are now associated with your name: “World Champion of Public Speaking 2008”, “first woman to win since 1986”, “first African American woman to ever win”. Describe what these accolades mean to you.
The titles are all wonderful. I am proud to represent women, the African American community, and people with disabilities.
However, my favorite title is Dennis’ mom. When he was proud of me, it made all the difference in the world to me. I just want him to know that with hard work and dedication your rewards will come.
If these titles are anything, it is just a testimony of being brave enough to follow your dream. I believe in our life being a legacy. To know at this point that I have done something to leave a lasting name for me on this earth is a breathtaking thought. The individual lives that I have touched are something that I treasure much more than a title. I just want people to be hopeful and I just want life to be happy.
Question: What was the core message in your championship speech? What prompted you to choose this theme?
The theme of my speech was to speak up. People sit in silence so much afraid to express themselves and it often diminishes the quality of their lives and those that they love. The fear people have has to be overcome and the purpose has to be the passion.
I chose this theme because growing up, I saw so many people abused because of their silence. I witnessed people be broken because they would not speak in their own defense. Most painfully, I watched my mother die from cancer. When she began to finally complain, it was too late. I am sure that she had symptoms long before she revealed it to us. She was the kind of person who would grin and bear it. She was so giving that she didn’t ever want to feel like she was imposing on anyone. I believe that her silence allowed the cancer to take [her] life because it was about one month from her diagnosis until her death.
In addition, what I learned from her is that our words make a lasting impression on this earth. Her words still live in me and the values she instilled in me live in me and will live on through my son.
I believe that my victory also shows something else that I believe. I believe that when you can take self out of something and uplift others, you will often be lifted in the process of lifting others. My father passed away when I was very small and my mother worked hard to raise us. I want her to know even in heaven that I appreciate her direction and her unconditional love.
Question: Having gone through six separate speech contests this year, what lessons have you learned from competitive speaking?
The thing I learned most from competitive speaking is that you have to stay genuine.
As you advance you have all of these new people in your life. Some of them do not have your best interests at heart.
I learned so much about defining human emotions and seeing what does and doesn’t work. Through evaluations, I learned so much about writing and really listening.
I also learned about putting filters in place. I actually had someone evaluate me and slam my gestures, my voice, my enunciation, and me referencing my ethnicity. After the tears dried up, I realized that some people just have evil intentions. Your speech can be perfect and some people will find something wrong just to have something to say. I decided to follow my heart and I knew that even if I lost, I was true to what I had to say. Needless to say, my heart won.
I encourage all speakers to really grip this concept. What is right is right. It may not always win but we don’t always speak to win, we should speak to change lives even if it is just one. Hopefully that one may be a judge, but if not, it will still be okay.
Question: What personal goal did you set when you entered the speech contest this year? Were you aiming for the World Championship, or did you have a different goal?
People have asked me if I started out with winning the championship in mind. In reality, after almost losing my life, I set out to fulfill my part of a promise to God. When He brought me from 90 pounds and a feeding tube back to walking around and caring for my son, I knew I had to acknowledge His power.
In addition, my club had such faith in me and supported me so much while I was in the hospital, I wanted to make them proud. I have the most awesome club and I love them. They are my family. They let me talk about what was going on in my life and I drew so much strength from it, I couldn’t help but try for them.
So it never was about me from the beginning, it was about the collective efforts of all the people who said you belong on this earth and talked me into believing it. I feel that those were the words that gave me the power to fight. So when despair came up against the words of the Town North Trendsetters, there was no contest. My club won, hands down! Recently, they changed our flyers to say “Home Club of LaShunda Rundles…” In my heart I know that TNT is not only my home club, it’s my home.
Question: You are a lupus survivor, and I’ve read that you hope to become the national spokesperson for the Lupus Foundation of America. What would it mean to you to be able to accomplish this?
People who do not understand lupus do not have an idea of what I deal with each day. There are thousands of people living in pain daily.
I want to raise money, awareness, and understanding. I don’t want people to live with the shame that I did for many years wanting to hide it. My skin is not flawless, my scars are many, but my resolve is unbreakable. I want to bring hope to the lives of those that know what it is really like to have a “good” day. As the awareness grows the quality of life for many people will mean many more “good” days and better yet restful nights. In a world of limited resources we have to fight for our piece of the pie.
I lost a friend of mine who was 28 and died blind and in a wheelchair with lupus. If I can help prevent things like that through my voice, it would be a blessing and an honor.
Question: What other goals have you set for your speaking career?
For the long term, I just want to speak and sing to maintain a happy life. I don’t have any visions of grandeur other than to be able to travel and share as much time with my son as I can. I have several projects in the works both written and musically. I want to continue to help people live their best lives and to uplift the kingdom of God. I want to stay as healthy as possible and hope the doctors can advance research to make my life meaningful and long.
Then if I could have my ultimate goal, I can take over for Oprah when she decided to retire. I love the giving spirit in her heart and I believe without a doubt that is why she has been so successful.
I will have to live life in moderation because most people do not realize that I have days that I cannot walk. I still have periods of time when I cannot tolerate food and when the pain brings me to my knees. However, I am the World Champion of Public Speaking and no one can tell me that I didn’t do the work because I did. I believe that it was my destiny and I want to be a beacon of light to everyone who is not perfect. Your destiny is still your destiny. I am living my dream.
Question: Studying other speakers and developing self-awareness are necessary to grow as a speaker. What do you consider your greatest strengths as a speaker? How about weaknesses: what speaking skills or habits are you currently striving to improve?
My greatest strength as a speaker is the ability to stay truthful. I find my message and I let my words guide me from there. Also, I don’t try to become too staged. I work to have a conversation with the audience not a one-act play. I love to make eye contact looking for that one person who needed to hear me that day. I like to make the connection with my audience and laugh with them.
My weakness is timing. I always have so much to say. I am still learning that sometimes fewer words can still bring the necessary message. I guess that comes from growing up listening to ministers all the time. Unfortunately, they didn’t have timing lights in church. It may not be a bad idea though.
Question: What other advice can you give to Six Minutes readers who are striving to become more confident and effective speakers?
To become a better speaker I encourage people to just practice, practice, practice. You have to get comfortable in your own skin.
Also, be open to feedback. I believe that being able to expose yourself to a variety of settings for feedback assures the universal appeal of your message. Assemble a group of honest coaches who will tell you without the sugar coating what works. Don’t be so resolute that you cannot accept honest and reasonable criticisms. After all you are not talking to yourself, but if you don’t have enough care to consider the audience, you will be very soon.
Resources related to LaShunda Rundles
- Learning about Lupus:
- FOX News video: Local Woman Crowned Champion Speaker
- Toastmasters International
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