The World Champion of Public Speaking, a goal that any Toastmaster can aim for, is a title that Terry Begue has pursued since he entered his first speech contest nine years ago. His wife expressed her doubt, asking why he wanted to compete. In the beginning, it was for the thrill; the adrenaline and excitement that’s created when you’re on stage and being judged. After nine years his wife still asks him why, but now it’s for a different reason.
Terry was a member of Toastmasters for a year when he first participated in a speech contest. That was 2008. He won the club level but did not make it past the area contest. However, it occurred to him that what he learned during that contest experience was equivalent to earning a Competent Communicator designation. He learned how to craft a good speech, how to practice it, and how to deliver it. Terry continued to compete. He found wonderful mentors along the way, like Maureen Zappala and Darren LaCroix, who gave him confidence to believe in himself. Kitty Brandal is another mentor; she provides honest feedback that Terry appreciates.
In 2012 Terry finally made it to the District competition, but as he says, “I embarrassed myself.” He lost his words and seems to recall saying something out of context. This did not stop him from being persistent. The next year, Terry won the District 10 contest and went onto the International Competition, which he repeated two more time, most recently last month in Vancouver.
More than 100 district winners attend the International Conference for a shot at the World Champion of Public Speaking title. The semi-final competitions consist of 10 groups of 10 or 11 speakers. When Terry saw his competitors, his heart sank for a moment. His group included previous World Champion finalists and other great Toastmasters. They were his friends, but they were good. So good that it was slightly intimidating.
Nonetheless, Terry’s excitement and adrenaline carried him to the stage. He took a breath and began. A few lines in the beginning created overwhelming laughter and Terry was in his element. Unfortunately, his speech did not go as planned and his journey ended at the semi-final competition. He was disappointed that he had not delivered his best speech that day. Terry said, “When I saw the class of speakers in my group I panicked! (3 past finalists.) One of the other finalists and good friend Katina Hunter helped me tighten my speech by cutting over 100 words, allowing time to slow down and use more pauses. I lost my place twice and I’m sure that hurt me. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have made that big of change less than 20 hours before the contest.”
I asked Terry, “Will you go for it again next year?” He replied, “Yes, if I can get it together in time. I’ve learned that it’s an ongoing process and each time I compete, I fix something and improve in some way. Winning is not a question of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when.’ After all, you only lose when you quit, right?”
Reflecting back on his journey, he shares some words of wisdom for Toastmasters.
“Don’t just give a speech… share and experience. Selecting a good topic is 50% of your speech. It needs to be a common, relatable problem in the world, but one that you’ve had your own personal battle with. Share the lessons you’ve learned and end with a positive. And sprinkle in a ton of humor. It’s all about connecting on an emotional level. You have to make your audience laugh, and sometimes even cry, within seven minutes.”
Terry adds, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” He attributes much of his success to asking for help and implementing it.
But most importantly, take the first step. Competing in his first contest was a life changing experience for Terry. In the beginning, the reason he entered contests was for the excitement. Now, more importantly, he enjoys the competitions as a way to share his message. While he didn’t win the speech contest in Vancouver, he is grateful for the opportunity to represent District 10 at the International Convention.