Toastmasters International meets in Cincinnati to crown the World Champion of Public Speaking

UPDATE: Local contender Chris Nachtrab, a member of A Toast of the Town, Kenwood Toastmasters Club No. 7780, will advance to the finals.

Nachtrab finished first Thursday in his semifinal round of the Toastmasters' International Speech Contest and will compete Saturday with eight others in the World Championship of Public Speaking.

The Madeira resident, talked about "The Box," a cardboard storage box in a spare room that he and his wife intended to discard. But after he took the lid off, he discovered a boxful of memories—from the couple's wedding-invitation list to a Time magazine with the 9/11 attacks on the cover—and couldn't quite bear to throw out most of the items. He said everyone has such a box, and the memories can be shared for years with children and others.

The finals take place from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Duke Energy Convention Center.

Original Story Below:

CINCINNATI -- So if you were attempting to become the World Champion of Public Speaking at this week’s Toastmasters International Convention in downtown Cincinnati, how would you prepare?

Practice. And practice some more.

That’s what Chris Nachtrab, a member of A Toast of the Town, Kenwood Toastmasters Club No. 7780, has been doing for weeks. Actually, months.

Nachtrab started on his journey to the semifinals early this year, first winning his club competition, then progressing through various area and regional competitions. He is one of 88 speakers from around the world who will be competing Thursday in nine groups of either nine or 10 people each.

The nine group winners then advance to Saturday’s finals, where the World Champion of Public Speaking is crowned, and second and third places will be awarded.

“They give you five to seven minutes to talk about anything you want,” Nachtrab, a commercial real estate agent, said. “Some speeches will have humor, some have tender moments, or something to think about, or some call to action—it can be about anything in the world.”

That five to seven minutes is precisely a minimum of 4:30 and no more than 7:30, he says.

“If you go to 7:31, you could’ve just delivered ‘I Have a Dream,’ but it wouldn’t matter because you would be disqualified,” Nachtrab, 46, of Madeira, said.

The road to Toastmasters

Nachtrab joined Toastmasters about 10 years ago. He had been in speech and theater in high school, and he thought that the club “seemed like a lot of fun. It’s helped me professionally and personally. I’ve made business contacts out of the organization, friends out of the organization. It has been great.”

He said people join for a variety of reasons: Their bosses send them there to work on communications and speaking skills, or a best man wants to do a wedding toast correctly, or someone looking for a job might want to brush up on interviewing skills.

“Some stay long term, some accomplish a certain goal, and that’s all they really wanted to do,” he said, noting that there’s a core group at the Kenwood club who have been members for years. About 25 show up at the weekly meetings.

“Communication is a skill like any other, and public speaking is just a variety of that,” Nachtrab explained. “It’s one that requires flying time. You get an opportunity to get up on a weekly basis and open your mouth, and you can screw up there, and it’s OK, as opposed to doing so in front or your boss or a client or someone else. The more I’ve been able to do that, the more comfortable I’ve become. We’ve had people come in literally shaking uncontrollably while giving their first speeches,” and then start feeling comfortable after weeks of practice.

The Toastmasters story

Toastmasters International, based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., was founded in 1924. 

  • The organization has more than 292,000 members
  • 52 percent are women
  • About a third of the members are in the U.S. 
  • There are more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries

The first convention was in 1931, and Toastmasters began crowning a World Champion of Public Speaking in 1938. In all of those years, two Ohioans—including Cincinnatian Otis Williams Jr. in 1993—have been named the top speaker.

This is the first time that Toastmasters has had its international convention in Cincinnati; it was in Columbus in 1986 and Cleveland in 1970. The group expects about 1,500 Toastmasters from around the globe to attend the conference, which runs Wednesday through Saturday at Duke Energy Convention Center. Next year, the conference goes abroad to Malaysia, the first time out of North America.

Toasting success, here and abroad

“Communication and leadership skills are the great differentiator,” Toastmasters International executive director Daniel Rex said shortly after his arrival last weekend in Cincinnati.

“In a job market that’s tough and in an economy that’s changing, you’re looking to be different. Communication and leadership skills are really the key, and we can give you those in a practical, hands-on, experiential way.”

Rex first attended Toastmasters during graduate school. A little later, he went to work for the organization as a marketing manager and has now been with the group for 23 years. He became executive director five years ago.

With almost nine decades of history, Toastmasters has experienced much change, and Rex— who grew up in Utah, New York and Colombia, South America—has seen his share of it.

“Perhaps our biggest change is to recognize the global nature of our organization,” he says. “Asia is our fastest-growing area. All areas outside the U.S. are growing at close to 10 percent a year.”

A new day for training

Rex also noted that technology is pushing the organization to change how it delivers its training—from paper manuals to digital devices. However, the basic mission of the organization remains the same: People still will learn communications skills in face-to-face groups.

The microphones or stage devices might change—“Abraham Lincoln stood on a soapbox to give a speech to 900 people, and now, if we can’t have a microphone to talk to 50, some feel discouraged,” Rex says—but people still will need to speak directly to others.

“That in-person, face-to-face experience is critical to the way function,” Rex says. “It’s what really prepares people to step up. Whether it’s at work or in their community or in some other organization, it’s really tough, if not impossible, to replace that personal interaction.”

Using words for impact, fun

Toastmasters groups not only help people learn how to give a speech. They also help with evaluating the message of the spoken word, conducting a meeting, time management of speeches and other communications processes, Rex says.

He said he’s been speaking since he was 12, starting with Boy Scouts. He’s comfortable speaking, but even he gets nervous before significant speeches: “I just learned to deal with it.”

For Nachtrab, the presentation is the fun part.

“The more difficult part of the process is writing the speech,” he said. “I really enjoy getting up on stage.”

Nachtrab has been using the same basic winning speech—through various iterations— since the first club contest early this year. He says he’s heard stories of world champions who, a week and half away from the international competition, rewrote their speeches, which he would advise against. Plus, when semifinalists become finalists, they must deliver a different speech two days later.

Nachtrab’s speech Thursday—expected between 2:30 and 4 p.m.—is called “The Box,” in which he talks about cleaning out a spare bedroom with his wife. If he makes it to the finals, he plans to deliver a talk on the Gavel Club, a Toastmasters-like group for people in a substance-abuse program at the City Gospel Mission in Cincinnati.

Tips from Toastmasters

He encourages people who have an interest in improving their communications abilities to explore one of Toastmasters’ 57 local clubs.

Nachtrab’s top tip for giving a good speech?

“Practice. That’s a lot of it. Practice with somebody who will give you honest, constructive feedback.”

But being a true storyteller, Nachtrab doesn’t stop there.

“The longest lines at Kings Island are on the roller coasters. People like to go up, people like to go down, people like to go up. Take people on a journey. Have them laugh, make them think, but leave them up. Don’t leave them down.”

Daniel Rex, Toastmasters International executive director, offers these tips for public speaking:

  1. Outline. Don’t write it word for word. When you stand up, speak it. Don’t read it.
  2. Know and understand your audience. Know who they are. Know how they’ve been prepped to listen to you. You can tailor your material for them. If you’re an engineer, and you’re speaking to a group of non-engineers, write your material in such a way that it can be understood by people who don’t understand the intricacies or the technology of what you are talking about.
  3. Know the environment. Get there early. Walk the stage. See where the microphone is going to be. Ask whether you will have to turn on the microphone.
  4. Visualize yourself giving the speech. Rehearse it again and again. Practice your physicality. Are you standing behind a lectern, are you free on the stage, or are you sitting in a chair?
  5. Relax. Count to 50 backward. Take deep breaths. Walk around the room and stretch. Drink a glass of water. Whatever it is that makes you relax, do it.
  6. Don’t apologize. Don’t tell people that you’re sorry that you’re nervous, that you lost your notes, that you couldn’t sleep last night. Focus on the message.

About the Toastmasters International Convention

  • When: Aug. 21-24, 2013.
  • Where: Duke Energy Convention Center, 525 Elm St., downtown Cincinnati.
  • Who: In addition to the World Championship of Public Speaking contestants, attendees can see session speakers such as Roger Love, an expert on vocal power; Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” who will accept the Golden Gavel award; Judy Carter, humorist and author of “The Comedy Bible,” who will share how to turn life's "eureka" moments into speech material; Erica Dhawan, leadership expert, journalist and Harvard and MIT graduate, who will explore how connecting all generations drives innovation; Sam Davidson, an author, entrepreneur and co-founder of Cool People Care, who will share practical tips on how to identify personal talents and lead with maximum impact; and Dr. Hassan Tetteh, assistant professor of surgery, U.S. Naval commander and thoracic surgeon, who will discuss how to create an enduring personal legend.
  • Cost: International Speech Contest Semifinals, $70; Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking, $85; Golden Gavel Dinner, $115; President’s Dinner Dance, $115.
  • Information and registration: toastmasters.org (click on 2013 International Convention)
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