Why It Matters that a Woman is the New World Champion of Public Speaking

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before we launch into why it matters that a woman is the new world champion of public speaking, i realize i have varied readers (and thank goodness for that)! so if you’re a toastmaster, hiiiii and you already know what a lot of this means. if you aren’t a toastmaster, let me take three minutes to catch you up to speed.

toastmasters international’s mission states that “we empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” it’s a place for people in 146 countries to join a ‘club’ and work on their leadership and communication skills. one aspect of this organization is World Championship of Public Speaking® (which is now a fancy registered trademark). 30,000 people compete around the world for the coveted title.

i coached the 2012 world champion of public speaking and also happen to be married to mr. ryan avery. you can read more about our specific journey to the WCPS here! it was intense and changed our lives (watch his champion speech in that post too)! in fact, it lead to us starting our own company together!

toastmasters was started in 1924 and finally allowed women to join the organization in 1973.

out of the past 70+ years that this contest has been going on, four women have won…

1977   Evelyn Jane Burgay, Springfield, Virginia

1985   Marie C. Pyne, Ireland

1986   M. Arabella Bengzon, Ontario, Canada

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)

…until this past saturday at the world championship of public speaking in chicago when ramona smith became the fifth ever woman to WIN!


yes, THE TOP THREE SPEAKERS OF THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OF PUBLIC SPEAKING ARE WOMEN!!! this has never been seen in the history of toastmasters!

this is huge. like, let me record myself on instagram crying tears of joy, huge.

the 2018 world champion of public speaking is ramona smith, currently living in houston, texas! YAY!!!!

1st runner up is sherrie su, who currently lives in tianjin, china (and learned english a mere eight years ago) and the 2nd runner up is anita fain taylor, who currently lives in pembroke pines, florida!

not only did three women claim the top three spots but they are also women of color so hell yes ladies, hell to the yes!!!!

so, here are the top three reasons why it matters that a woman is the new world champion of public speaking:

1) it’s hard to be what you can’t see

as sally ride, the first american woman in space said, “young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose…you can’t be what you can’t see.”

it was a 23 year gap between when M. Arabella won in 1986 and when LaShunda won in 2008. it took another 10 years for another woman to claim the title this year (yay Ramona)!

no matter who we are, we seek out role models who we look up to. chances are, most of us admire different people from different walks of life, hopefully different races, religions, opinions, sexual orientations, genders, etc.

however, there’s been a disproportionate amount of men, especially white men in top industries roles, including speaking. this is changing and with women dominating this year at the WCPS, it is social proof that women can own that stage. we (both women and men) can now add new names to our list of people we look up to in this field!

RELATED: what can we do about the lack of women represented?

2) gives tangible validity that women are indeed world-class speakers (duh)

i mean, i know women are badasses and world-class speakers, amazing CEOs, incredible parents and important members of society. i hope you know this too. i also know that the majority of top-rated keynote speakers do not have to win this contest in order to be incredible speakers (and most aren’t winners of this contest).

however, adding ‘world champion speaker’ to your resume also doesn’t hurt. it gives an additional edge to ‘credibility’ when companies are seeking to hire you. there is the national associations of speakers but other than that, the speaking world is small.

RELATED: why aren’t there more women competing in the world championship of public speaking 

3) better representation of the organization

toastmasters international still has along road ahead of it but it’s getting better. it was born from the minds of white men and now is most definitely an international organization, represented in 146 countries. however, many rules and mindsets in place still cater to white men. this is how much of america still functions, not solely toastmasters. this is indeed part of our patriarchal society and indeed part of institutionalized racism/sexism.

RELATED: what is institutionalized sexism and racism?

because there has to be some common ground, everyone in the world championship of public speaking must compete in english. so yes, that’s already an advantage to native english speakers vs english as a second (or in some cases, third, fourth or more) language. this has been getting better because the past 10 year’s worth of winners have hailed from saudi arabia, singapore, sri lanka and of course, the united states (all men until ramona).

another note:

try as we might – speech judging is subjective. there are 14 judges from across the globe who judge this competition. these judges also have to have a certain leadership status within the organization to be considered. there’s a long list of clear criteria that judging is based on when it comes to the speaker and speech (think organization, inspiration, originality, body language, voice, etc.). people do their best to judge unbiasedly but all human beings have innate bias.

there are also a TON of unwritten ‘judging criteria.’ some of this is overt while a majority of it is subconscious. this is part of how we are socialized and until we can call it out, many of us remain ignorant to these biases.


hopefully we can all agree why it matters so greatly that a woman is the new world champion of public speaking! it matters greatly that the top three spots are held by three women of color. this is a big deal and should continue to be celebrated!

ps. feel free to share with your networks if it speaks to you!


  1. Jennifer Haston

    August 29, 2018 at 8:16 am

    This is a great post!!

    “You can’t be what you don’t see”

    Great quote- even better story!

    • chelsea

      September 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      it’s super true, isn’t it!

  2. Audrey

    August 29, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    Very cool. What an awesome achievement for these women, as well as an awesome step in the right direction for the organization. What an exciting thing to be a part of!

    • chelsea

      September 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      it REALLY is! it’s so damn huge and exciting!

  3. Charlene Maugeri

    August 29, 2018 at 3:13 pm

    Yay!! This is such incredible news. And thank you for the well thought out post and for filling us in. I’ve actually never heard of Toastmasters (I didn’t know what the organization you and Ravery are a part of was called). Now I’m intrigued and want to follow the championship every year!

    • chelsea

      September 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm

      that’s awesome! it’s a great and affordable organization especially for people who want to work on their public speaking skills! thanks for reading and your comment, charlene!

  4. Chuck Mencke

    August 30, 2018 at 7:03 am

    What a great post and SO true. My wife and I were watching the streaming and were “blow away” by all the speeches. As the judges were marking their ballots, my wife looked over at me and said, “The women just swept the WCPS, there’s no doubt about it!” She was right, it was an incredible contest.

    • chelsea

      September 18, 2018 at 1:48 pm

      you married a very smart woman, chuck 😉 glad you got to watch them live as they were competing!

  5. Jo L Burns

    August 30, 2018 at 11:14 am

    Love this post Chelsea! What an amazing collection of women speakers…articulate, passionate, funny and intelligent. All going for it. I shared this blog with my toastmaster club.

    • chelsea

      September 18, 2018 at 1:48 pm

      that’s so great! glad you shared it with your club, it’s still SO SO Exciting!


    August 31, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Won’t it be great when we stop caring about the gender, race, age, or even disabilities of those who win, and just refer to them as champions?

    • chelsea

      September 18, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      that will be the day…both within toastmasters and way more importantly, the world.

  7. Neil Dimapilis

    September 18, 2018 at 12:12 am

    Thank you for this wonderful insight! appreciate you as well for sharing this valuable information with us

  8. Kyra Rodriguez

    October 16, 2018 at 12:00 am

    “Its hard to be what you can’t see” This is true! I do remember when I was young, my role model was my mom. Because she really is great being a wife and a mom to us. Now, I applied everything she did to us, to my child. Great post!
    Kyra Rodriguez recently posted…Rayla Melchor Santos with Patricia Evans

    • chelsea

      October 23, 2018 at 12:28 pm

      that’s really wonderful that your mom set such a great example, kyra! i’m glad you can apply much of what she did to your own child!