Combining the sublime with the subtle, Manoj Vasudevan wins the 2017 Toastmasters International Speech Contest

Many congratulations to Manoj on his wonderful achievement in winning the 2017 International Speech Contest. I’ve listened to it in search of tips (one day that club “Best Speaker of the Evening” award will be mine!). You can listen to it here. What I noticed included:


Open with intrigue

(1)  The title intrigued me, so I listened attentively. By the end of the speech, I understood why it was his—and ultimately, the audience’s—mantra.

Keep the language and message simple. But relevant

(2)  Manoj’s rhetoric and delivery were relentlessly simple and clear. English won’t have been everyone’s first language, so it’s good to remember that the larger the audience, the simpler the message should be. 

(3)  He wrapped his premise eloquently around a cupid bow and arrow metaphor. People understood immediately. Equally important, the premise resonated with everyone in the room.

(4)  His choice of theme was well received for another reason. We all identify with relationship advice and at the individual level we experience a visceral response to his speech. Manoj also pointed out that 142 nations were represented there, and everyone was getting along just fine. Of course, that’s the sort of world most of us want to live in. So his premise appealed at the collective level too—eliciting a positive intellectual response. Outcome: a bottom-up and top-down message for our troubled world.

Stay at the same level as your audience

(5)  By describing his journey of discovery, he didn’t position himself above anyone—he simply shared what he’d learned. And he was careful never to poke fun at anyone but himself (see (6) below).

It’s best to preach to the converted (while pretending the thesis is all yours)

(6)  The speech won over judges and audience alike because we intuited it as truth, while perhaps feeling guilty we don’t always follow this path. So he (cliché alert) preached to the converted. Or to the want-to-be converted.

If they like you, they’ll believe you

(7)  Who was ever conned by someone they disliked? I’m not for a moment suggesting Manoj was conning anyone. However, by smattering the speech with self-deprecating humour (we only waited six seconds for the first joke), warm smiles, and open gestures, he makes us like, and believe him.

If they believe you, they’ll trust you

(8)  If you’re going to sell an idea in your speech, you need to be sincere or the audience won’t but it. If you present some lofty ideal of which you have limited experience, they’ll likely remain unconvinced. If it’s about personal experience—in this case Manoj’s marriage—then you’re far more likely to be believed. And when we believe someone, we trust them.

Pace and repetition

(9)  Notice too how slowly the speech was delivered, and its relative paucity of words. Also, he had the confidence to use repetition and pauses to let points sink in.

 You’ve hooked the room. Now reel ‘em in.

(10)  In his finale, he involved the audience by encouraging—almost forcing(!)—people to repeat his mantra, which demonstrated they’d got the message. Why deliver your punchline when you can get your audience to? I’m sure this clever tactic gained him an extra point or two with the judges.


So Manoj’s sublime performance employed an array of tactics, many of which weren’t obvious to the listener, but each gained him a subtle advantage over the competition. Well done, Manoj—a worthy victory! 


Author: Ben Starling