Monday, April 28, 2014

Speaker Leader Champion - Book 13 of 52 in 52 Weeks - A Review

There's been a lot of hoopla around Ryan Avery & Jeremey Donovan's new book, Speaker Leader Champion - Succeed at Work Through the Power of Public Speaking, not in small part to Avery's attempt to set a Guinness World Record of Most Books Signed earlier in April. In fact, I purchased the book as part of the record-setting attempt.

It's also a big deal because most Toastmaster's World Champions don't have their own books, much less books that are published by a 'real' publishing house such as McGraw-Hill, and certainly not this fast. Avery's strategic choice to team with Donovan, who is also the author of How to Deliver a TED Talk, no doubt figured into the success of this book, and is a good lesson for the rest of us looking to break into the publishing world.

As I read through, I have to say I wasn't sure how much of the content was Avery and how much was Donovan. I reviewed Jeremey's book 'How to Win the World Championship of Public Speaking' last July, and Speaker Leader Champion read like an expanded 2nd edition, as they used World Championship Speeches to illustrate most of their 92 Speaking Tips, and interviews with the Champions themselves to add 44 Speaking Insights.

Let me say this straight away - I enjoyed the book, and much of it's content is spot-on, useful, well-illustrated, and will benefit the reader. The book works very well for readers who are Toastmasters, as so much of it is set in the TM competition venue, and if you want to compete, it's filled with gold throughout.

David Brooks, Lashunda Rundles, Mark Brown, & Darren LaCroix
are among the championship speeches in the book.
The 11 Chapters cover 'Selecting a Topic', 'Telling Stories', 'Using Humor', 'Amplifying Emotional Texture', and 'Getting in the Speaking Zone', and, of course, more - all using the Champs trophy-winning speeches as the proof of most of their points. They include the full scripts of several winning speeches, which makes this the first book I know of since I published Win Place & Show to include the entire copy of a WCPS Speech - in this case, three speeches each from the top three winners in 2006, including Ed Hearn's 'Bounce Back', which is mentioned but not reprinted in Avery and Donovan's book.

There is also a chapter on 'Designing Compelling Visual Aids', which, other than a bit of a tip of the hat to David Henderson's flight jacket and goggles, seems thrown in simply to satisfy the non-TM reader, as 'Big Stage' winning speeches rarely use props or visual aids at all, much less PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi.

Toastmasters, particularly those who compete, are going to love this book. If you're a non-Toastmaster reader, however, you'll have to filter through the competition-speak and mentally transfer the concepts to your speaking world. That may serve as a bit of an obstacle for 'real-world' readers who have never stepped foot into a Toastmasters club.

The book title offers two promises it fails to keep, in my opinion, as well. While 'Leader' is in the title, the book doesn't really touch on leadership, or how speaking lends to leadership. While both authors may be leaders, I don't leave with any ideas to make ME a leader. The words 'leader' and 'leadership' don't even show up in the Index.

In addition, the subtitle 'Succeed at Work Through the Power of Public Speaking' seems to be merely a way to pander to a corporate audience, as little in the book directly relates to speaking in the workplace, technical presentations, sales presentation, or even CEO speeches, beyond a quick mention of Steve Jobs in the opening chapter. While the tips in the book do transfer over to 'real world' speaking, HOW they transfer is only occasionally explained, and the benefit of becoming a better speaker in the workplace is given short shrift.

The authors do a fantastic job of dissecting the speeches themselves, and highlighting how their methods can become our methods, from Ed Tate's use of humor to Lance Miller's use of story to the stark differences between most of the Champion's speeches and Jock Elliott's 2011 winner, which was more subdued and 'old-style' that the others.

Still, a final disappointment came in their discussion of David Henderson's 2010 Championship speech. The analysis of David's speech is spot-on, discussing his use of emotion and his simplification of Sickle Cell Anemia for the audience - but leaves out an important point - that for all the emotion of his friend dying, that story was a fiction, the friend didn't exist, and therefore was more emotional manipulation, rather than true emotional storytelling.

An argument can be made that this doesn't harm the reader. Perhaps. But I also believe that discussing the issue of honest storytelling would have been extremely helpful to the reader. For more on this case, you can read my own blogpost on the matter here: The Speaker's Trust. Whether they made an active choice not to discuss this aspect of David's speech, which he openly admits, or simply didn't research it, is unknown.

Despite the aspects where I feel Speaker Leader Champion falls short, overall the book offers a great deal of value, and I do recommend it. Strongly, for Toastmasters - 4 1/2 out of 5 stars, a little less so for the regular reader - 3 1/2 stars.

What I hope to see next out of the 2012 champion is a bit of what I had hoped to get out of this book. That is, a book from his perspective, about his life, his experiences before Toastmasters and after, and what he has learned himself as he has launched his career. I want more Ryan, and less Champs. If his past record of producing content is any indication, I have high hopes that his next book, and hopefully more of HIS story, isn't far from being available to those of us who want to see the Real Ravery shine through.


  1. This is a great review, You're always honest, and don't hold anything back. When he first reads this, he may be a little stung. If he knows you, he will also understand, you wouldn't have read this book if you didn't think he had a story worth telling.

  2. Well written, I have not received my copy of the book yet. This review and rating does make me excited to read it from a TM perspective. And reading your writing, Rich, is again, a pleasure.

    1. Thank you Matthew! A pleasure to have you as a reader :)

  3. Thanks for the review.
    I get very uncomfortable when I see Toastmasters selling to Toastmasters. The TMIC in 2013 had me cringing as I walked by the tables.
    I have it stuck in my brain that this is a non-profit organization for self-improvement, not an organization that develops professional speakers who then turn onto their audience and "pass the hat."

    I believe the whole point of improving our communication skills is to share it with the *outside* world whether you give it away or sell it. This book sounds like RA & JD specifically targeted TM's.

    I still may buy it since you found some value in it, and since I am the target audience.

    1. Interesting thoughts Darren - and worthy of a blogpost of its own. Thanks for reading, and giving me an idea :)

  4. Excellent, thoughtful review. Thanks.

    1. Thank you Joan - especially since you heard the 'audio version' on Saturday :)



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