Speak like a leader: Takeaways from the Toastmasters International Convention

Didn’t make it to the Bahamas for the 2023 Convention of Toastmasters International?

No matter!

Check out these five takeaways that I captured as a virtual attendee last week.

Then choose a few nuggets you want to use right away to get better at what it takes to speak like a leader.

If you missed the 2023 Convention of Toastmasters International, a hybrid event broadcast live from the Bahamas Aug. 16–19, 2023, you missed a chance to be inspired by some of the best public speakers and trainers in the world.

As a virtual attendee, I was 1,000 miles away from the ballroom stage at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar Resort and Convention Center in Nassau, the convention site.

And yet?

I felt fortunate to carve out a couple hours away from work to catch these speeches live:

  • The opening keynote Aug. 16 by Lisa Nichols, founder and CEO of Motivating the Masses, Inc., whose global platform serves more than 80 million people (after just a few minutes, all of us had adopted the “Yes! Yes!” mantra that defines Ms. Nichols)
  • The World Championship of Public Speaking with eight finalists Aug. 19 (Jocelyn Tyson, a New Jersey pharmacist, now has thousands of new fans [like me] who were captivated by her energy, cadence and the resonating message of her winning speech: “Have You Been There?”)

In addition to enjoying these sessions live, I caught up over the weekend with the recordings, watching a handful of educational breakouts, semifinal presentations and the World Champions of Public Speaking Roundtable (as I was sitting outside on our patio with a cold beverage).

For a modest investment – just $55 USD for my Toastmasters All Access virtual ticket – what I heard and learned at this hybrid event delivered immense value for anyone wanting to improve their public speaking skills and get better at what it takes to speak like a leader.

Here are five takeaways from the Toastmasters International Convention this year.

1 – Play with your language

Keynote speaker Lisa Nichols was a master at language play. She effortlessly delivered dozens of lines like these:

  • “I’m more successful than most because I leap more than most … trust your ‘get-up.’”
  • “Don’t ask permission – give notice.”
  • “Speak to inspire – not to impress.”
  • “How can my soul activate your soul?”
  • “Stand ON your story – not IN your story.”
  • “What would your soul say if it has the microphone?”
  • “If you don’t ‘do you,’ you will never be done.”
  • “Will you lean in to your next greatest level?”
  • “Coach great messages to come out of your belly.”
  • “Love like you’ve never been hurt. Forgive like you’ve never been betrayed.”
  • “We want to love across cultural lines. We want to embrace across religious lines. We want to lean in across geographical lines. We want to erase all the lines!”

And speaking of lines?

Note that all these lines from Ms. Nichols are short and sharp.





2 – Use Me-We-You to connect with your audience

Besides mesmerizing us with her stage presence (what was she going to do next?), Ms. Nichols taught us a quick lesson on how to connect with your audience using three words – Me-We-You – as anchors:

  • Me: “There was a time when I …” (go back in your history, and share an experience when you were dealing with something)
  • We: “We have a tendency to …” (how do you generalize that same experience so that it relates to all of us and resonates with everyone)
  • You: “Have you ever …” (draw people in and create community using the powerful word “you”)

Here’s the example Ms. Nichols shared:

  • There was a time when I would always question myself.”
  • We have a tendency to want something – and then wonder if we’re good enough for it.”
  • Have you ever wanted to go for something in your life but immediately began to question if you were the right person for the job?”


And yet powerful stuff.

Because connecting with your audience is a skill you need to master if you want to speak like a leader.

3 – Be magnetic

Here’s how Jocelyn Tyson, who became the 2023 World Champion of Public Speaking, opened her winning speech:

“It was the summer of 2021, and I was reaching a milestone birthday.
“I decided to skip the party and pick something epic off my bucket list.

Three short lines that attracted us – right from the start.

So we stuck with her – all the way to the end.

Here’s how Ms. Tyson closed her winning speech (with even more magnetism!):  

“‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right’ was said by Henry Ford. Because what matters most is what is within you.
“Friends, you can be your worst critic. No one knows your weaknesses or your flaws like you do.  
“But at the same time, you can be your biggest cheerleader, and no one can PUSH you farther or TAKE YOU HIGHER!
“I implore you – no, I BEG you! – look deep within on that next challenge.
“Find your inner go-getter, and see how far it can push you.
“I’ve been there.
“Have you?”

Note the simple, uncomplicated words and sentences.

Because easy makes for powerful stuff.

4 – Match your HOW to your WHAT

No matter what line she was delivering, Ms. Tyson made sure that her HOW matched her WHAT:

HOW she was saying something matched perfectly with WHAT she was saying.

During my speech coaching sessions with leaders, this is probably the skill we practice the most.

Because if your HOW and your WHAT don’t align?

No one in the audience will believe what you are saying (and that’s an epic fail if you are trying to get better at what it takes to speak like a leader).

Here’s what I observed as Ms. Tyson described how she toyed with her decision to enter the triathlon.

Pay attention to the notes here that describe HOW she delivered WHAT she was saying:

“For those of you who aren’t familiar, (a triathlon) is a race that contains three disciplines: swim, bike, run (delivered matter-of-factly, like a teacher presenting a lesson).
“Now almost immediately my inner go-getter said, ‘YEAH!!!!! Let’s do this!!!’ (delivered as a SHOUT – an exclamation with adrenaline).
“‘Show ’em you still …’ (long pause for effect)‘GOT IT!’ (cocky on purpose).
“But my inner critic? (she’s asking a question – so her voice goes up at the end of the line).
“‘Slow down, Hot Stuff …’ (wittingly, knowingly, head down, eyebrows raised; her voice goes down at the end of the line).
“‘You HATE swimming …’ (firm, deliberate).
“‘You BARELY bike!’ (firmer, more deliberate, louder).
“‘And girl, wait a minute!’ (quick and louder still!).
“‘That swimming thing – YOU CAN’T DO IT!’ (the crescendo – a SHOUT!).
(Then a pause …)
“And just like that, I had two warring sides (resolute and softer now):
“Both with logical explanations on why I should or shouldn’t do it (quickly, practically and again matter-of-factly).
“A decision to make (conclusively, and then a pause):
“This one, yes.
“That one, no.
“Have you been there?”

5 – Surprise and delight

One of the fastest routes to boring an audience is being predictable as a speaker.

Neither Ms. Nichols nor Ms. Tyson were predictable in their speeches.

Far from it!

Both speakers found ways to surprise – and in turn, delight! – their audiences.

Ms. Nichols changed things up when she began speaking about what it means to “give yourself permission to grow like you’ve never grown before.”

She asks the audience, “Are you willing?”

And then?

She walks off the stage!

Down the stairs!

Right into the crowd that is her captive audience.

She weaves her way through the sea of seated people, asking questions all the way:

  • “Are you willing to play like you’ve never failed at anything?”
  • “Are you willing to walk a line so creative and yet so scary that sometimes no one else will get your vision?”
  • “So what better time than now to be disruptive?”
  • “What if you can cut the shackles to whatever conversation is keeping you smaller than you know yourself to be?”
  • “What happens when you stop cutting and pasting chapter 4 into chapter 24? And you write a fresh chapter 24?”
  • “What if you stop asking the world for permission: ‘Can I be great? Can I be amazing?'”
  • “I stopped by to say: ‘Why not YOU? Why NOT you!? If not you, who? If not now, when? If not here, where?’”

Ms. Tyson, on the other hand, surprised the audience in a different way when she shared what happened during the first leg of the triathlon: the swim.

As Ms. Tyson tells it, the whistle blew. But she stood paralyzed on the bank of the lake, which was “darkness” to her: not like the clear water of the pool where she had learned to swim.

She started to panic.

Everyone was watching her.

And then she said:

“I had a choice to make:
“Go forward into the water.
“Or go back home to where I came.
“A situation:
“This one, yes.
“That one, no.
“Have you been there?
“I chose to do the only thing anyone would do with that logical situation:
“I flipped over ON MY BACK …
“And started THE BACKSTROKE!!!”

The audience roared.

Mission accomplished.

The payoff of that story was indeed a surprise that delighted all of us (now primed and eager for more!), which Ms. Tyson went on to deliver, ultimately securing her spot as the 2023 World Champion of Public Speaking.

To speak like a leader, apply these 5 takeaways

If you are trying to get better at what it takes to speak like a leader, learn from the masters like Lisa Nichols and Jocelyn Tyson.

Watching (no, studying) these two speakers at work during the 2023 Toastmasters International Convention is a master class in public speaking.

While there are plenty more takeaways we could find and name, these five resonated loud and clear with me:

  1. Play with your language
  2. Use Me-We-You to connect with your audience
  3. Be magnetic
  4. Match your HOW to your WHAT
  5. Surprise and delight

And so I ask:

  • Which of these five takeaways are you most eager to apply in your next speech?
  • What will you do next on your journey of continuous improvement to speak like a leader?

Need help on your journey to speak like a leader?

Work with Teresa Zumwald: an award-winning speechwriter and speech coach.

Contact us today!