ramona smith public speaking

she and nine other finalists delivered speeches to a crowd of 2,000 in chicago over the weekend during the annual toastmasters international convention. smith is just the second african-american woman and the fifth woman overall to win the public-speaking championship since it began in 1938. smith’s winning speech, titled “still standing,” explored how she found strength in the face of adversity throughout her life. in an interview with business insider, smith broke down the techniques she used in her speech and how they pushed her over the edge. “pain and difficulty and adversity, those are things that everybody everywhere can deal with, whether you’re in america or australia or africa,” smith told business insider. smith was highly animated as she delivered her speech, balling her fists and crouching into a boxer’s stance to drive her points home, and punctuating them by mimicking the punches, jabs, and hooks of an actual fight. but experience, as well as a few acting classes, taught her that there’s no use in holding back. i’m just going to do whatever feels good.

“so i got up there, and i was shimmying my feet and acting like a boxer — in high heels, to boot. smith said one of her most important techniques was to ask the audience questions and give members enough time to actually formulate an answer. smith said in her speech, stopping for a beat and looking out into the crowd. “those pregnant pauses are so important,” smith told business insider. smith has absorbed lessons from countless public speakers on the professional circuit and in her local toastmasters club. hettiarachchi recommends speakers open the palms of their hands to the audience to convey openness — something smith did throughout her winning speech. “it just makes the audience feel more connected, like i’m really open, i’m vulnerable, and i want to give you all of me,” she said.

smith is a relative newcomer to the public speaking scene. in an interview with business insider, smith explained the ways she’s improved her delivery, and it’s great advice for anyone trying to work on their public speaking skills. “i used to pace for no reason,” smith told business insider. “but i learned that you need to move with each point. titled “still standing,” smith’s speech used the metaphor of a boxing match to explore how she overcame adversity at three points of her life — dropping out of college, divorcing her husband, and failing on the speaking circuit. each moment was another “round” in the boxing match, and smith walked to a different area of the stage to introduce each one. at an earlier point in her career, smith would have been scared to commit to the role. “my acting coach would tell me, ‘stop being afraid to look stupid,'” she told business insider.

“when i got on the stage, i said, you know what? i’m just going to do whatever feels good. i’m not going to care about what happens.” another big change smith said she’s made over the years was learning to ask her audience questions and pausing long enough for them to think of an answer. in smith’s seven-minute speech, she asked questions like “can you think of a time that life tried to knock you down?” “those pregnant pauses are so important,” smith told business insider. a naturally fast talker, smith said her speed was the biggest concern for the judges who evaluated her in the weeks leading up the toastmasters competition. that adjustment was critical on the international stage, where many of the competitors and audience members speak english as a second language, she said. “if i say something too fast, it’s going to sound like something else to them,” she said.

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