Why Aren’t There More Women Competing in the World Championship of Public Speaking?

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this morning in malaysia was the 2014 world championship of public speaking!

it was in a gorgeous venue at the kuala lumpur convention centre and it was a packed house.

IMG_8027there were some quality speeches and message sent this morning and the results are as follows:

first place was dananjaya hettiarachchi from sri lanka, second was kwong yue yang from china and third place was kelly sargeant from houston!

world championship of public speaking 2014 winnercongratulations to everyone who competed this year, i know the competition was fierce and congratulations to dananjaya for taking the cake!

this competition holds a special place in my heart since my husband claimed the 2012 spot and we dedicated our lives that year to learning everything we could about speaking and communication (and still are learning as much as we can). i will say it’s much more enjoyable now to not have the anxiety and stress of him competing and being able to concentrate on other peoples’ important messages.

one perk of this is that we get front row seats to the contest along with the other world champions from previous years, which means i can sleep about 7 minutes longer and for that i am grateful. (not pictured but also in attendance was mark hunter).

world champions of public speaking

a great group of mainly men that have provided mentorship for my hubs as we navigated the chaos that ensued following his win!

out of the past 70+ years that this contest has been going on, four women have won (thanks for the correction paula and others). only four.

1977   Evelyn Jane Burgay, Springfield, Virginia

1986   Arabella Bengzon, Ontario, Canada

1985   Marie C. Pyne, Ireland

2008   LaShunda Rundles, Dallas, Texas (who passed away in 2012 but put a lot of energy into spreading her message and inspiring everyone she came in contact with)

the disappointing thing about this contest, and many previous years of the contest is the lack of women making it to the finals stage.

out of 91 contestants competing in malaysia at the semi-finals contests, 18 of them were women. only 1 woman made it on the finals stage (and yay kelly for placing 3rd!), accompanied by 8 men. toastmasters international consists of slightly more than 50% women so why aren’t we being adequately represented on the world stage?

are we less interested in competition? does our storytelling not fit into the mold that has been created by men winning the contest? i don’t necessarily have an answer for this but i do know that it fires me up inside.

olivia and chelsea avery

i got a chance to informally chat with oliva schofield yesterday in the middle of the conference centre hallway and we were both upset and sad about the lack of women being represented at the contests. she is a fireball that was on the finals stage in 2011 and from what i hear, completely and totally rocked the house. she is also passionate about finding a way to have women better represented and i was glad to feel not alone in these thoughts.

i don’t have a solution at the moment. i just felt compelled to share my thoughts and bring light to the fact that we, as women, have incredibly strong voices and messages that the world needs to hear. while we don’t need trophies and contests to validate this, it would be nice to be represented on these platforms when they do exist.

important note: i don’t want to take anything away from any male competitors, male world champions or dananjaya because he was an engaging speaker that delivered a fabulous message and was 100% deserving of the title! i am simply expressing that i’d love to see more women chasing and eating that cake.


  1. Wynne Price

    August 23, 2014 at 3:54 am

    You certainly have a point: women having to compete in a set of rules developed over many years by men. Applies across all sorts of activities, not just public speaking.

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 6:37 am

      agreed wynne! this applies to many arenas and activities and can be hard to both fit into that same set of rules or try to form new ones! thanks for your comment

  2. CoryB

    August 23, 2014 at 4:57 am

    In the past of have commented about not wanting to compete in the WCPS yourself. You are so very public in sharing your message yet not interested in taking on that challenge even with Ryan and his mentors to back you. If you are honest about the desire to have more women on the stage look, perhaps privately, at your own reasons for not pursuing the contest. I know in District 64 the co test starts skewing male at even the club level.

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 6:39 am

      that’s a valid point to explore why i’m not so interested in competing myself cory. one of the main reasons is because i enjoy helping other women find their voice and confidence through coaching them to help share their message but perhaps something deeper for me too.

  3. Chuck Mencke

    August 23, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Chelsea, I too have wondered the same thing why more women don’t make it to the finals. This is especially true when the majority of Toastmasters membership is now made up of women. It continues to baffle me why and I don’t have an answer. Serving as a leader on the club and district level, I’ve always tried to spur on the female members to compete and soar as high as they’re able. The situation is very perplexing and I don’t have an answer.

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 6:40 am

      i’m happy to hear you are helping to encourage women to get involved to compete chuck-that’s excellent. agreed it’s perplexing and disappointing not to see the organization adequately represented in this area of it. thanks for your comment!

  4. Jennifer Haston

    August 23, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Chelsea, I LOVE that dress! and on a more serious note, I totally agree with you. We need more women! We are 50% of the population. To that end, I am actually competing this year. My goal is to become a better speaker, and while winning is not the goal, (maybe that’s part of the issue) I know competing already raises the bar for me because I am among seasoned speakers who have competed and won before. I am in a club contest on Tuesday for “Humorous Speech Contest” but I promise my focus is on “giving a message from the heart” but winning, sure that would be great.. I like winning! 🙂
    Jennifer Haston recently posted…Good Vibrations at the Dentist! FINALLY!

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 6:42 am

      thanks jennifer about the comment of my dress…my mother gets the credit again 🙂 happy to hear you are competing this year and interesting that winning isn’t necessarily your goal (i feel that way too about a lot of things and in the end i think that is a better mentality for this competition. not about the trophy) it will absolutely raise the bar for you! best of luck in the contest! keep sending that message from the heart!

  5. Donni

    August 23, 2014 at 6:41 am

    I’m glad you brought this up, I have noticed the same. We need more women to compete! There was some discussion in the Toastmasters International Facebook group about this and some comments were made that women are too “sing songy” and topics are not as “deep” as men. I have only been a Toastmaster for 2 years so I don’t have a ton of experience with contests to really break down specifics. That would be interesting to delve into further.

    Maybe this means that you (Chelsea) should go for the championship and then you can be the first married couple to be champs! 🙂

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 6:48 am

      hmm interesting about people making comments about “sing songy” and topics not being as deep donni! there was one specific woman who competed in the semi-finals who gave an incredibly powerful speech where most of it had to the genocide in rawanda. intense but also well balanced with other emotions. she came in second place in her semis so who knows.

      thanks for your comment and we shall see about competing…for now i’m more passionate about helping other women find their message and develop it!

  6. Diane Allen

    August 23, 2014 at 7:50 am

    I’m fired up too sister! Last November I spoke at the D7 Fall Conference. I did fine but I really felt awkward. My discomfort had NOTHING to do with nerves. My energy was off. Way off. At the same time I had been participating in a monthly motivational series for women where I feel completely in sync with my energy. Hmmm…. Last January after hearing Ryan speak at D7 Governor’s Training, I was driving home with such inspiration and excitement. Suddenly, I yanked the car off the road “how many women have won the contest?” and did a mad Google search on my phone. “2”! The last piece of the puzzle – I place in this contest year after year…without trying! Bringing all these pieces together – when my energy is off it’s when I’m trying to fit into a masculine way of speaking, I vowed to figure out how to deliver a Toastmaster speech with a feminine way of speaking and chose to actually prepare for the upcoming International Speech Contest. I envision myself winning this contest, being a role model for feminine speaking, and shaping the course of future women through Toastmasters. And now you know why I joined Competitive Speakers PDX!

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 7:01 am

      loooove this diane! thanks for sharing more of your story! energy plays an immense part of speaking and interesting that you felt completely in sync while preparing with your women’s group but that felt off when you were expected to fit a more masculine way of speaking. absolutely love that you are preparing with the intention to spread a message, being a role model and shaping the course of toastmasters! love it and so glad you joined competitive speakers pdx-still completely amazed you drive 4 hours each way to be there!

  7. Paula Howley

    August 23, 2014 at 9:03 am

    GRRRR. I just wrote a bloody dissertation about this on your site and it disappeared! But, I feel strongly enough about this to write it twice. I suppose now it’ll be more well thought out. Bonus.
    Girl, I feel you on this one, do I ever! I had a party at my place last night (13 Toastmasters in a 950 square foot house! Not an easy feat!) and we all took note of the lack of women. We were not impressed. As usual. I believe it’s starting to approach joke territory now. Not cool. And while we were not all in agreement as to whether Kelly should have taken third, there was some serious hooting and hollering when she did.
    It made me think of this joke though. In Canada, when an Olympic athlete gets a bronze medal, it’s jokingly referred to as “Canadian Gold”. It’s starting to feel like 3rd place at the World Championship of Public Speaking is “Woman Gold” and I don’t like that at all. It’s like they’re throwing us a bone and that just pisses me off. We don’t need to be thrown a bone thank you very much. They’re so wrapped up in their own damned bone they can’t see how excellent OUR freakin’ bone IS!!!! I know you know what I’m talking about! Can I get an amen?
    As you know, I dedicated the year of 2012/13 to winning the World Championship of Public Speaking. I even wrote a year long blog to document it. http://www.ayearinthelifeofatoastmaster.com I really wanted it and I thought I was up to the challenge. I even hired a coach for the first time ever.
    But I wanted to win because of what I thought it would GET me. I had objectives that I thought could only be fulfilled in winning the WCPS!!! Isn’t that stupid? Luckily I had a great life coach, Micaela Pennell, who helped me see that the goal was not the goal.
    However, THROUGH the process of competing and putting everything I had into it, (even though I did not win) I realized that I had met almost all my objectives! And the following year, after starting my business of teaching public speaking to kids, I found that I had met and exceeded EACH of those objectives! I was very happy and very much at peace. (I still competed though and this past spring, put together what I feel was my best speech ever.)
    Where am I going with this? Well, I don’t need that trophy anymore. But I’ll tell you what. I sure as hell want it. And I’m going after it again. I’ll be in Vegas next year one way or another but I’d sure like it to be another. And I’m going to have some new weapons in my arsenal. And I want to share them with you and every other woman because although I’D like to be the one holding the trophy, I want to see ANY woman, any deserving woman holding that trophy. I know we have what it takes. And we don’t need any bones.
    Carol Carter competed in the semi finals in 2012 and came in second in her semis- to the only woman who made it to the finals. And the maddening thing is that there were almost FIFTY PERCENT WOMEN in the semis that year. FIFTY PERCENT. And one in the final. Carol took note of that and started studying. For over the past year she has put a ton of work into solving this particular problem. Check out her website http://www.beforeshespeaks.com . She has some excellent advice for upping your game if you are a female speaker. Because the bottom line is- it’s NOT an even playing field, but there’s no sense whining about it.
    I believe that there IS just this subconscious thing we all do that automatically defers to men (Chelsea, your bank story attests to this)
    Women will HAVE to be better and work harder to be considered as good and that’s just the way it is so let’s get down to business, shall we? Like whatshisname said at the finals this year, if you want it, you gotta go get it.
    Let’s dedicate the next year to putting as many women on the World Stage as possible. Let’s show the world how freaking AWESOME we are and that our stories matter because they too, are universal.
    By the way, there have been 3 female champs, not 2. And one is from Canada so we have a decent track record of contributing champs. Also, remember that women couldn’t even BE TOASTMASTERS, let alone compete at the WCPS until the 70’s! Doesn’t that just BLOW YOUR MIND???????????

    Oh, we’ve come a long way baby.
    But we’re not there yet.

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 7:09 am

      ahhhhmen paula! first, thanks for your correcting the fact that there are 3 women who have one, not two! i’ve updated the post and included their names as well. sad but true that we will HAVE to be better and work harder (like other areas in life, particularly business) in order to get noticed and rewarded. love what you said about making this year all about it! thanks for carol’s site-i didn’t know she wrote about that! wish we would have talked about it while we were together here!

      it is incredibly crazy that women were not even allowed in the organization until 1973. insane. really not that long ago AT ALL. mind blown.

      thanks for writing your comment again because it’s full of pertinent thoughts about this topic, especially coming from a badass speaker like yourself!

    • Liza Richards

      August 25, 2014 at 3:42 am

      Paula I LOVE your passion!! I have been competing since 2009… Made it to the semifinals in 2012. And I will continue to compete until I can’t do it anymore (either because I win or my voice is gone). But one correction: 4 women have won… 1977 was EJ, 1985 was Mary, 1986 was Arabella Bengson, and 2008 was LaShunda.

      You…Me…Vegas…World Stage!!! See you next year!

  8. Richard I. Garber

    August 24, 2014 at 5:55 am


    The simple answer is that Toastmasters started as all male and stayed that way for almost 50 years, until 1973. In 1938 the International Toastmistress Clubs began. See:

    • chelsea

      August 24, 2014 at 7:12 am

      very valid point i probably should have included about toastmasters not allowing women it until 1973! i checked out your blog post and had no idea that ITC existed and exclusively for women when toastmasters started! thanks for that insight…toastmistress…hmmm

  9. Jill

    August 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    This is a pattern seen all the way down to the District level. In Area contests, it will be about 50-50 men/women, but then at Division it/s 30/70 (if that), and at District it’s 20/80 or 10/90. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve placed second at Division and been the only woman competing at that level.

    The balance is so far off, and we’ve made so little progress since 1973, that I now believe that Toastmasters should have a male and female division in the contests.

    Short of that, I truly believe Toastmasters International and District leadership needs to do a much better job of COACHING and MENTORING WOMEN. There should be special boot camp and training classes provided for women until the representation at semi-finals is at least 50/50.

    • Paula Howley

      August 24, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      I agree that Toastmasters should do a better job in actively recruiting female contestants. As far as leadership goes, our District is amazing. We have had a female DG for 4 of the 7 years I’ve been a TM.

      I don’t know about a male and female contest- I would be worried about the women’s contest becoming ghettoized- the obviously LESS important contest- the concession that HAD to be made.

      But I think that this problem is obvious enough that something should be done about it from the TOP level all the way down.
      Paula Howley recently posted…Public Presentations For Kids

      • Jill

        August 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm

        That’s wonderful that you’ve had a female DG… but I didn’t actually mean women in Toastmasters leadership positions. I meant that Toastmasters and District leadership need to be much, much more proactive in coaching and mentoring female speech contestants. How many female International speech contestants have gone from your District to semi-finals in the past 10 years? If you’re like the typical District, the answer won’t be anywhere close to 5.

  10. Holly-Marie

    August 24, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    Please don’t forget about this champion – 1986 M. Arabella Bengson, Islington, Ont., Canada.

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

      thank you holly-marie! i’ve added her 🙂

  11. Robyn O'Donnell

    August 25, 2014 at 12:49 am

    The contest was fantastic, and congratulations to the winners and all contestants. I would love to see more women on the finals stage, and was.discussing this with others at convention from my district. One thing I have often wondered is if as a general rule, men have an advantage with vocal projection, which is needed in a larger venue. I know that is something I struggle.with, and perhaps others do. I guess that could be overcome with coaching though. Whatever the reason, I think this is a great idea to explore the issue, so thankyou for the discussion forum.

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 10:51 am

      thanks robyn for your insight! that is an interesting thing to think about in terms of vocal projection, something i know both some men and women struggle with. thanks for sharing that
      chelsea recently posted…How to Throw A Birthday Party for a Dog

  12. Julie Kertesz

    August 25, 2014 at 1:02 am

    Perhaps women toastmasters, many of us, think of success, as you do, I do: giving courage, help, even skills to others. Pushing those around us further, instead of competing with them. In my opinion, that is also our success. Different one then championship, yes, but not less important.

    How many Presidents, Coaches, Workshop Leaders and Mentor women between us? A lot more! We do a very important task and enjoy seeing others gain confidence. There are different kinds of Success.
    Julie Kertesz recently posted…Learning how to tell a story…

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 10:53 am

      absolutely agree that giving courage, skills and helping others is huge and important as well, julie. agreed that there are different types of success but many women do want to win the world championship but more often than not a man walks away with the trophy. it’s interesting. mentoring is HUGE and definitely something we should all be doing for one another

  13. Kim

    August 25, 2014 at 6:26 am

    Great points Chelsea. Heather and I have been confused by this for years. We see many women competing at the area level. At least in my district, we see many of them filter out by the time we get to the division level contests. We were lucky enough to have Helen Fu compete one year, but in my ten years in Toastmasters, that has occurred only once. Oddly enough, we have had many women win the humorous contest in the fall. I am not sure what the reasons are.

    There is a long discussion on Facebook on the Official Toastmasters page about the lack of women at the elite levels of the contest. In my district that has been a perception that you have to do your time to compete. That perception has slowly eroded but it was not until about 5 years ago that the message presented by our district winners was really a message to could win.

    I was in the audience when Olivia went overtime with her speech. I had her in first place that year. I was so sad for her, but in my mind she is still a winner. If I recall correctly, she was the only woman on stage that year and her interview response was amazing. I will never forget it!

    In a year, I will be eligible to compete again and I plan to do so. I do believe that our voices are part of the problem. We speak in higher tones and are more breathy which does take the power away from our voices. A great vocal coach should help that a bit. I plan to work with one, I am already preparing ideas (I have a year to plan). For awhile I lost my joy in competing. Besides, I hated competing against my own daughter who is the better speaker.

    At the same time, I do think that our stories are different, our messages are different, but we have to appeal to the whole audience and the judges. BTW, the judges are about half men and half women. Maybe we should be surveying women in Toastmasters and see if they can help us. I am willing to help

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 10:56 am

      wow only 1 woman in your 10 years of being in toastmasters, kim?! i should look back on my district and see. last year we had a woman represent us but not sure before then. glad the discussion was also happening on the FB toastmasters page about the lack of women at the higher level.

      glad to hear you will be competing next year, kim! thanks for your offer of surveying women in toastmasters and gathering more insight! will keep you posted

  14. Jim Key

    August 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I would love to have more {fill in the demographic category} in the ranks of my WCPS colleagues. As has already been expressed, the only way that happens is for more people in those categories. I know of none of the contest guidelines, judging forms, judge’s training, etc. that is skewed towards any one group, but I’d be open to evidence that it is.

    P.S. I do think it’d be cool for you to enter the contest, Chelsea. I have the feeling that you’d do quite well.
    Jim Key recently posted…The Power of Words

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 10:58 am

      thanks for your comment, jim and while the judging forms and training is never skewed, i think there may be a piece where we are subconsciously influenced by past performances and winners that is not even known to us. who really knows the cause but i do know i’d love to see more woman!

      we shall see about competing, thanks for your vote of confidence 🙂

  15. Johnny

    August 25, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Actually, there were four women who made World Champion. The fourth one is Arabella Bengzon, originally from the Philippines, who migrated to Canada and represented one of the Canadian Districts in 1986. In the Philippines, it is very much the other way around. During a 12 year period recently, only one man won the District contest.

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 10:59 am

      thanks johnny, i added her and super interesting that it’s the other way around in the Philippines. i’m glad to hear that women are more accurately represented-that’s great!

  16. Carol Carter

    August 26, 2014 at 4:55 am

    I know … Working on explanations for this. I watched one woman deliver a speech that would have inspired at a Tedx event, but would not win the world stage. I watched several “good” women who just don’t have that “greatness”. I’m beginning to understand it more after 2 years of study. It’s a combination of factors, but it comes down to one thing – you have to be world stage material to win in the world stage. Not everyone has it, and women definitely have to work harder to become world stage material. We naturally have more challenges. Hoping I can finish this book by Christmas!

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 11:02 am

      hmm interesting to think that that one woman’s speech would be great at a TED event but not TM. agreed about needing to be ‘world stage’ material and ryan and i always work from “you have to train like a champion” both mentally and physically!

      excited to read your book, carol!

  17. David Blum, Public Speaking Trainer

    October 9, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    I had no idea the international Toastmasters stage was so dominated by men especially since, as you mentioned, the clubs have roughly a 50-50 gender split. In fact, I I cut my teeth in a Toastmasters club that was slightly more female with my two unofficial mentors being very strong, accomplished women. I loved to hear their speeches because they 1. often presented a point-of-view that I hadn’t previously considered, and 2. were quality speakers and storytellers that provided me with role models.

    I wish I had the answer as to why more women don’t make it to the international stage. Perhaps it’s related to why we don’t see more women in the C-suites and boardrooms.

    • chelsea

      October 14, 2014 at 11:06 am

      that is great to hear you have two strong and accomplished women as your mentors, david! i’m glad you appreciate their different points of view and are learning from them 🙂 thanks for your comment!
      chelsea recently posted…How to Throw A Birthday Party for a Dog

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