On Saturday, August 20, 27-year-old Singaporean lawyer Darren Tay became the Toastmasters International world champion of public speaking. He survived several rounds of a competition that lasted six months and included more than 30,000 competitors from Toastmasters public speaking clubs around the world.
He and nine other finalists competed at the Toastmasters annual convention, held this year at Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. Tay took home first place for his speech “Outsmart; Outlast,” in which he tells the story of how he met a childhood bully as an adult, and how this reformed bully surprisingly taught him a valuable insight about dealing with inner struggles.
You can watch it below.
Business Insider spoke with Tay about his winning speech and what others can learn from it:
He immediately disarms the audience
Tay walks onto the stage, takes a beat as he stares into the audience, and then awkwardly steps into a pair of Calvin Klein briefs. He puts his hands on his hips to accentuate the underwear over his tailored suit and then begins telling the story of how his childhood bully once forced him to wear a similar pair of briefs over his pants and walk around school. That story could be told in a painful way, but Tay decided to keep it light.
'That is to get the audience comfortable first,' he told Business Insider. 'And when audience members laugh they are more open to your message.'
When a speaker goes before a receptive audience, the audience is also brimming with energy, hoping that the speaker will succeed. Speakers don't have to crack a joke, but regardless of the context they are tasked with breaking this inherent tension.
He develops a message
Every effective presentation, whether it's on a Toastmasters stage or a conference room, needs to have a thesis that the audience members take with them when they leave, Tay explained.
Tay's full message is that we are all our own worst bullies, and that the best way to deal with that is by acknowledging the presence of negative thoughts rather than fighting or ignoring them, as if we were observing a storm from inside a house. He uses a personal story to illustrate the effect childhood bullying had on him (hence the underwear over his suit) and gradually develops his message before leaving the audience with a clear, actionable takeaway.
He lets that message guide his speech
Tay said that he initially struggled with drafting 'Outsmart; Outlast' because he was too focused on telling an amusing story. 'That really got my speech message very diluted and disconnected,' he said.
His mentor, the 2000 Toastmasters International world champion of public speaking, Ed Tate, told him that he needed to start over and have the message be what guided his writing, and that the entertaining aspects would naturally follow.
He effectively uses body language
Tay said that it's common for novice public speakers to have their gestures centered either too close to their face, which suggests nervousness, or too low, which is distracting. He said the ideal center is around the belly button.
And when he uses a prop, the pair of underwear, he uses it as a sight gag, but not before turning it into a metaphor for shame. Then, he takes them off and tosses them away to accentuate his message: that we do not have to live with shame and regret.
He has a dialogue with the audience
Great speeches make audience members feel like the speaker is talking directly to them, Tay said. The way to do this is by sharing personal details and reading the energy of everyone in the crowd.
'When it comes to crafting a speech, audience members, what they want is a story,' Tay said. 'And if you tell a very powerful story, it can help to bring a message across much better.'
In addition to sharing personal details about himself, Tay asks rhetorical questions of the audience, including when he addresses the absurdity of giving his speech with a pair of briefs over his suit pants, which he then uses as a transition to the next part of his presentation.
Before he leaves the stage, he leaves the audience with the advice that they embrace being vulnerable during difficult moments and work with others to move on from such struggles.
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