World Champion of Public Speaking Pres Vasilev: 10 Tips on Structuring your Speech


On Saturday, February 22nd, at the Toastmasters Leadership Institute held by District 30, the 2013 World Champion of Public Speaking Pres Vasilev gave a keynote speech about how to structure your speech to make it more effective.  He used famous speeches in history, plus his own speech “Changed by A Tire”, with which he won the International Speech Contest last year, as examples of the points he was trying to make.

1.   Repetition creates Rhythm

If you read the works the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, you realize that he repeats certain phrases such as “rosy-fingered Dawn” and even entire passages, such as when describing the ritual of an animal sacrifice.   In a speech, you have only 5-7 minutes to create an impression, so reinforcing your message through rhythm, which means repetition of phrases, becomes important.    Another element that contributes to rhythm is word order, which you can vary to draw attention to the words of your speech.

2.  Beginning Echo

One form of repetition is beginning echo, which is when the beginning of one sentence echoes the beginning of the preceding sentence.   An example from historical speeches is the phrase “I have a dream …”, which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to punctuate his famous speech in the nation’s capital.

3.  Ending Echo

If beginning echo is repetition at the beginning of the sentence, then ending echo is naturally the ending of one sentence echoing the ending of a the preceding sentence.   An example from historical speeches is the phrase “Yes we can!” which President Barack Obama used to punctuate his acceptance speech of the nomination for President at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

In Pres Vasilev’s own speech, he used the phrase

the jack collapsed,

my car collapsed,

my lungs collapsed”

as an example of ending echo.

4.  Full Circle

Combining the beginning echo and ending echo gives you the full circle, where the ending of the sentence echoes the beginning.    For example, in a previous World Championship of Public Speaking speech, someone used the phrase

“I had changed everything in my life,

but nothing had changed.”

This shows the word “changed” which occurs towards the beginning of the sentence in one context, and also at the end of the sentence in another contrasting context.

5.  Chain of Change

This is where the ending of one sentence echoes the beginning of the subsequent sentence, creating a chain of change.    He used the words of the philosopher Yoda from Star Wars I movie:

Fear leads to anger

Anger leads to hatred

Hatred leads to suffering.

6.  Sudden Twist

This is a chain of sentences, where the last sentence changes the level of discourse, usually from serious to comic.  He used an example from his own speech,

If you want a better voice, reach out to a singer

If you want better writing, reach out to a writer

If you want better tire-changing skills, reach out to me

Here there is a sudden twist from the serious (a better voice, better writing) to the comic (better tire-changing skills).

7.  Balanced Contrast

When you have two sentences that have parallel structure, they create an impression which is stronger than each of them individually by creating a balanced contrast.   From the words of Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to step on the surface of the Moon:

That’s one small step for a man

One giant leap for mankind

Notice the parallels in contrast:   “small” vs. “giant”, “step” vs. “leap”, and “a man” vs. “mankind.”   Each of these ties the one incident, that of a single man stepping on the surface of the Moon, with the larger framework of the entire history of man.

8.  Reversed Order

In this parallel structure, the second sentence has a structure which is the reverse of the first sentence.   For example, here’s an example of reversed order from a line from one of John F. Kennedy’s speeches:

Ask not what your country can do for you

Ask what you can do for your country

From Pres Vasilev’s own speech, he cited the line

I stopped to change a tire

Instead the tire changed me

and later on in the speech

I used to believed that to reach out was a weakness

But I discovered my weakness was refusing to reach out

9.   Sublime Rhyme

What was the one phrase that people remember from the trial of O. J. Simpson:

If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit

When you create a sublime rhyme at the end of your speech, you will give it a sense of finality and an echo of what came before during the entire speech.

10.  Pauses

One often overlooked element of creating rhythm in speeches was the use of pauses.   In terms of word count, Pres Vasilev’s speech was the shortest.   This allowed him to use pauses to contrast one block of the speech text with another.

Pauses are important because they give time for the audience to reflect, and for you to connect.

CONCLUSION

Even in this last sentence of his presentation “time for the audience to reflect, and for you to connect”, Pres Vasilev showed an example of the power of structuring the sentences in your speech to give them more resonance with the audience.   

The most amazing thing about Pres Vasilev is that he won the world championship of public speaking–and English is not his first language.   Originally from Bulgaria, he came here and decided to use Toastmasters as his way of helping him improve his communication skills in English.    If he can go all the way to the top in a language that is not his mother tongue, then I can say for certain that none of us for whom English is our first language have any excuse for not trying to improve!

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