Mount Laurel resident Jocelyn Tyson was named Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking last week for her speech, “Have you been there?”
A member of Toastmasters International, Tyson competed against contestants from more than 100 countries. This year’s months-long competition finished at the 2023 International Convention in the Bahamas as 28 semifinalists competed for the title.
The contest starts in Toastmasters clubs across the globe. From there, participants advance in four competition levels: area, division, district and region, according to Toastmasters. Two winners from each region-level contest move to the semifinals, where a panel of experienced Toastmasters determines the eight finalists. Each speech they give lasts between five to seven minutes.
Tyson’s speech centered on her experience competing in a triathlon on her birthday. She describes herself as someone who doesn’t bike, run or swim, hence the challenge part.
“My inner go-getter said, ‘Yeah, lets do this,’ but my inner critic said, ‘Slow down hot stuff. You hate swimming, you barely bike …” Tyson said in her speech. “Just like that I had two warring sides with two logical explanations … I decided to go with my inner go-getter.”
After eight months of training – working with swim coaches, running daily and spending time on a new bike – Tyson felt prepared for race day.
“It’s race day; people are lined up ready to start (the swim),” she recalled. “They blow the whistle and the race is off. I, on the other hand, am still at the bank of the lake. My brain couldn’t seem to understand that the dark, dreary lake water was the same water I learned to swim in at the pool.”
Tyson began to panic inside, causing her to freeze before diving into the lake to start a chaotic backstroke that led her in the wrong direction of the race. Ultimately a lifeguard in a canoe directed her while shouting that she was going the wrong way.
Internally Tyson was eager to quit, but knew if she could get herself going in the right direction, the hardest part of the experience would be over and she could feel more comfortable on the bike and during the run.
This is when Tyson’s “inner go-getter” kicked in, reminding her that after the swim, she was one-third of the way through the race. That was enough to propel her to the banks of the lake to finish the entire workout.
“I implore you, I beg you, look deep within on your next challenge,” Tyson said before walking off the Toastmasters stage. “Ffind your inner go-getter and see how far it can push you …,” I have been there, have you?’ Tyson said before walking off stage.
Despite having the talent and polish of a longtiime public speaker, Tyson has only been with Toastmasters International for two years and had never spoken publicly in front of large crowds until the competition. A pharmacist, she recently switched jobs to work as a vaccine and science specialist at the drugmaker Pfizer. She joined Toastmasters to improve her presentation skills at work.
“As a pharmacist, you talk to people, you communicate to people, but I have never had an opportunity to speak to people (of a larger quantity),” Tyson noted. “I wanted to get better at that and practice that, so someone (suggested) Toastmasters.”
Toastmasters members take on “pathways,” with Tyson’s being presentation. The organization’s speeches begin with short introductions and gradually expand to members conducting speeches in different formats to get comfortable in an array of settings.
Generally, each Toastmasters meeting is filled with assignments meant to improve vocabulary and working with groups, then speakers are evaluated by different judges once they present their speeches.
“One (speech assignment) in particular that stood out to me was one dealing with difficult audiences,” Tyson recalled, adding that such issues allow a contestant to adjust while speaking in front of a crowd.
Tyson’s crowd was anything but difficult: She made her audience laugh and got a round of applause when she finished. But she is ineligible to enter the competition next year.
“I’m a one and done,” she said with a laugh. “Once you win the championship, you are no longer allowed to compete in the Toastmasters International. Therefore, I have eliminated myself, but I guess that’s okay.”
But Tyson does look forward to an opportunity for public speaking in front of hundreds of people.
“it was very exciting,” she said. “Fingers crossed. I will see how (my) path goes and slowly start to build my craft and go on to another audience of that size one day.”