From Cleveland…to the World Stage

Ramona J. Smith’s Dream Comes True after Winning the World Championship of Public Speaking

Ramona J. Smith (center), World Champion of Public Speaking, stands with Zifang “Sherrie” Su, second-place winner (right) and Anita Fain Taylor, third-place winner.

Ramona J. Smith is not your typical, everyday Toastmaster. First off, she outcompeted 30,000 other Toastmasters from all over the globe this past August to win first place in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. But she’s also…not afraid to speak in front of people. Never has been.

“I’ve never had a fear of public speaking,” Ramona told me over the phone. “That’s how I knew it was my passion and my calling. Even in elementary or middle school, where you have to get up and present your topic or your project, I’ve never had a fear of public speaking. That’s how I knew it was my gift.”

Ramona, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, was 19 when she decided she wanted to be a motivational speaker for a living. But she didn’t know how to go about it. “I didn’t know anyone who was a public speaker; I had never heard of the National Speakers Association or of Toastmasters,” she recalled.” It wasn’t until a couple years later while living in Los Angeles that she found a path forward, thanks to her sister. “My sister said, ‘Well, if you’re going to do public speaking, you probably ought to join Toastmasters,’” Ramona recounted. “I actually went to a club in my area and I joined.”

Ramona J. Smith’s winning speech was titled “Still Standing.” In it she shared the challenges she’s faced and overcome, and encouraged the audience to learn from their failures.

That was in 2010. Five years later, she competed in her first speech competition—in District 10—after having moved back to Cleveland. Ramona talks about that competition in her award-winning speech, “Still Standing.” (watch here) After winning at the club, area, and division levels, Ramona lost at the district. While she described making it to the district level as “beginner’s luck” and “amazing,” she also said the loss was “devastating.”

“I was crushed.” Ramona related, “but that was because my ego was in it. That’s because Ramona wanted to win. She wanted a trophy. She wanted bragging rights. She wanted the ability to say ‘Oh I’m the world champion and I’m better than everybody else.’ That’s ego.”

“My ego had told me that I’m the best; I’m going win. And then when it was like, ‘okay, that’s what you think. Let the judges tell you you’re not the best.’ That’s why it hurt so bad.”

What Ramona Did Differently This Time Around

In this year’s championship speech, Ramona tells the audience to “stay in the ring; learn from those past fights.” Living that advice is, arguably and perhaps somewhat ironically, why Ramona has the trophy and the bragging rights and why she now actually is the world champion. One thing she took from her loss is that effective speaking is about the audience, not the speaker. She went into this competition with a completely different mindset.

“This time around my ego was not involved. This time around it was genuine.  I was living in the moment at each level of competition. I respected the other competitors and I had the mindset of may the best man or woman win.”

Getting to that point took some work. Ramona went to the international competition the year she lost at district and studied the speakers and especially the eventual winner, Mohammed Qahtani. Watching him, she said, is when she realized “it’s a lot more that goes into it than me thinking I’m the best. I could tell he was prepared. I could tell he was coached. I could tell that he was himself. And I could tell that he had a message for the audience.”

A focus on the audience led Ramona to scrap the speech she had written for the finals before the competition and write a new one…the night before the contest! International speech competitors must use a completely different speech in the finals than the speech they used leading up to the finals. Ramona, like many other competitors, had prepared a second speech beforehand. But as she was competing in the semifinals, she said, she connected with the audience and knew that her prewritten speech would not resonate with them.

“When I wrote the first speech, I was in my house, I was behind my laptop, I didn’t have any audience in mind,” Ramona said. “But at semifinals, I was like, now I see my audience and …is this really what they’re going to want to hear about? No, I don’t think so. Let’s rework it. Let’s change the title. Let’s add some entertaining elements to it and switch it up so that it resonates more with my international audience and with what works for this speech.”

A Dream Come True

Since winning the competition, Ramona’s life has been a whirlwind. She’s been giving innumerable interviews, sometimes two a day, and accepting speaking engagements—all over the world, including Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain, and India. But even though it’s been “chaotic” and “crazy,” Ramona is on Cloud 9. “This is my dream. I’ve always wanted to be an internationally known motivational speaker. Now that I have this title, I’m going everywhere. I’m going to speak all over the world. I’m going to speak in every single city. I’m going to speak in every Toastmasters district. I’m going to capitalize off of this title because this is my dream.”

She’ll finish off her contract at her teaching job in Houston this year, but next year she hopes to be living that dream—“speaking, training, coaching, meeting people, inspiring people, and inspiring people to find their purpose the same way I found mine.”

Shout-out to District 10 and the Cleveland Club

Although she was a District 10 Toastmaster for only a few years, Ramona has fond memories her time in District 10 and especially her home club, the Cleveland Club. “That’s where I really became a professional, that’s where I was able to sharpen my skills, and they taught me about what it means to really support your club members. They were at every competition, at every level, they were cheering me on, they were giving me feedback, and I always felt connected to my Cleveland club, more than any other club that I’ve been a part of because of the massive support.”

To all of District 10 Ramona says: “Thank you for the support. Thank for challenging me. Thank you for the honest feedback during the evaluations. Thank you for the love. Thank you for the support. I appreciate it.”

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