Saturday, December 25, 2010

Interview with a Public Speaking Champion: Stephen Michael Lumanlan

They say that speakers are born, not made. But from what I have seen and experienced as a Toastmaster, that is simply not true. Speaking is an art that has to be honed with practice over time. Some people may have a knack for speaking but no one is born a good speaker. Effective communication is a skill that has to be developed. I have been a Toastmaster for almost two years now and I have seen many speakers deliver speeches, both in club meetings and competitions. Some of them were obviously beginners while some were seasoned public speakers. I have been to two Toastmaster District Conferences. In 2009 it was held in Marco Polo Hotel, Davao. This year (2010) it was at Bohol Plaza. If you have never been to a District Conference before I’m telling you it is one of the best experiences ever. The venue, the people and most especially the competition itself is really something else.

A lot of people ask: What does it take to become a public speaking champion? Having joined a few speaking competitions I have pondered over this question myself. What sets champions apart from the rest? How do they prepare for the competition? What set of rituals do they follow? To answer these questions I decided to interview the 2010 Public Speaking Champion of the International Prepared Speech Category, Stephen Michael Lumanlan.

Alex: When did you join Toastmasters?

Stephen: I joined Toastmasters last November 2009. But I got invited way back in college by one of my professors, Ms. Sonja Chan. She’s a DTM and one of the pioneers of the very first TM club in Baguio, the Pines City TMC. She invited me to join right after college but at that the time I wasn’t interested. DTM Chan was actually one of my mentors back in college when I was a member of the Forensics Society.

Alex: Forensics Society? It sounds like something out from CSI.

Stephen: It’s actually a discussion and debate society. We have internal debates and as we go on we follow a certain format. Every year there’s also a contest between schools.

Alex: So did you join any of these contests?

Stephen: Yes, I did.

Alex: How’d that turn out?

Stephen: (laughs) I don’t know. Not so good. I was just one of the back-ups then. After a while I became an officer of the club; Then came my fifth year. I got so busy so I had to give it up entirely. They asked me to become president but I was so busy I had to decline. I found another person to be president though. And she was good-Shiela was an excellent president.

Alex: Well I see you started your public speaking career back in college. So what do you do now?

Stephen: I’m in the human resources department. I do communications. I’m the PR guy.

Alex: On a regular work day, what do you do?

Stephen: There’s no such thing as a regular work day. Everyday is quite different. Generally I handle everything in our company that has to do with internal public relations. I make the official memos, I’m in charge on the in-house paper and sometimes I ghost write for the president and managing director of our company. One of our big events is the site meeting every quarter. I assemble the program work up the agenda, talk to the big bosses, put it all together, package it and invite people. On the day of the event I’m kind of like the floor director. I facilitate the entire event to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Alex: Do you also host the event?

Stephen: I used to do the hosting too. But now I assign it to other people. I enjoy teaching others. Hosting can really give you the opportunity to grow as a speaker. Actually I found someone who sounds like me.

Alex: Good! You should invite that guy to Toastmasters.

Stephen: Yeah, I would have. Except that he lives far from Baguio City.

Alex: Oh well, maybe some other time. So why did you join Toastmasters?

Stephen: It just made sense at the time. I didn’t have anything to do and I had a lot of time on my hands. So I thought, why not? It seemed like something I could shine and excel at.

Alex: So what is your norm now?

Stephen: Competent Communicator. I got it in less than two months.

Alex: Really? That’s amazing! How did you do that? Most people get it in 8-12 months.

Stephen: What can I say, I was inspired by Toastmasters. I set a goal. I told myself that at the end of the year I should be able to deliver my 10 speeches. I looked at the schedule of other clubs (we have around 7 or 8 clubs here in Baguio), delivered speeches there, and challenged myself. And it worked. I delivered by graduation speech in one of the classes of my mentor, Dr. Sonja Chan.

Alex: So how are you doing with your ACB (Advanced Communicator Bronze) tract?

Stephen: (laughs) I’m currently off track. I’ve already finished 4 advanced speeches but I haven’t been that focused on delivering speeches right now. My focus right now is on reviving my club. We need to get more members in. One of the challenges is that the venue is quite far. So we need to find a place in the city proper.  But anyway, I’ll get back on track eventually.

Alex: You were the champion of this year’s District Conference in Bohol last April. Again congratulations for winning. Who encouraged you to join?

Stephen: My boss at work. She’s also a Toastmaster, she’s now a DTM actually. She’s had experience in competing since she was also a national winner.

Alex: When she asked you to compete, how did you react? What first came into your mind?

Stephen: I was neither excited nor hesitant. I just thought, Ok I’ll try and see where this goes. So I did. I just wanted to do it for the experience. During the Area competition I was 1st runner.  But I was still allowed to compete in the Division level since they allowed at least 2 contestants per area.

Alex: When you won in the Division contest, how did it feel?

Stephen: It was a very happy experience. It was mind blowing. In the Area level I wasn’t that prepared. Somehow my heart wasn’t set at wining. But when I was told that I could advance to Division that was when the passion to compete in the district started. So when I won that was really something.

Alex: Maybe it really was for you to win it. You mentioned that FLEX (Foundations of Leadership Excellence) and ALC (Advanced Leadership Course) helped you win the international prepared speech contest. Why is that?

Stephen: It allowed me to go deep down to myself. It allowed me to get my identity and know who I am. To believe in myself. To be confident. To find my essence. FLEX is a 2 day activity. ALC is 3 days. So it gave me sufficient time to contemplate and really get to know myself.

Alex: Who or what was your inspiration in making the speech?

Stephen: My dad of course. My speech is all about him. He had colorectal cancer. He passed away two years ago but I can still remember that day like it was only yesterday. It was a Sunday. I looked at the heavens. There were no birds, no planes. The skies were clear with no cloud in sight. It looked like heaven was opening up to welcome him. And in my minds eye, I saw my hero going there.

Alex: I’m sure your dad is happy wherever he is. In TM, they say that everyone has his/her own time. Going to Bohol, did you feel like you were going to win? Did you feel like this was your moment?

Stephen: I felt it when I delivered my speech. Before my I spoke, there was a tug in my heart telling me that this could be my moment. But it was during the time that I delivered my speech that I really felt like I was in my moment. When you do something and you know that you just did great, you don’t think about winning or losing. I felt like I had a chance of winning. But it didn’t really matter anymore. My goal was to get the chance to represent the country and to relay a message.

Alex:  If you could sum up the message of your speech in one sentence or word, what would it be?

Stephen: LOVE.

Alex:  That’s a strong word.     
Stephen: When I delivered by speech in Bohol, that was where I was coming from. I delivered it coming from the heart. There are so many ways you can interpret my speech. It could be understood as honoring or loving your dad, the influence of a dad’s love, or that of a son being able to conquer sickness and difficulty in life. There are many messages you can take out of that speech. But if you ask, I’d just say love. I believe it doesn’t sum up just my speech but of everyone who presented there at the District Conference. Love is the universal truth in everybody who presented there.

Alex: Were you nervous while performing?

Stephen: Of course! I was shaking in the beginning. But when I got through the first few sentences, I was so into my speech everything flowed naturally. At the very last part I almost blacked out. Instead of plan A I went to plan B. And plan B worked. Plan A was a prepared part. I had the words to tie up everything. Plan B was something I devised when I found out I was number 10. I thought: Hey, I have the chance not just to wrap up my speech but all 10 speeches and the whole event as well.

Alex: How did it feel to win?

Stephen: Unbelievable. It’s like I was on top of the world. You can’t believe you’re there but you’re there. I was happy. I was excited.

Alex: Who do you wish to thank for your success?

Stephen: Everyone – especially the toastmasters who helped me prepare. But of course I’d like to thank my dad most of all.

Alex: What did you get out of that experience?

Stephen: I got a trophy! Haha. I never won a national competition before. Winning this competition helped me reinforced my being. It told me that there’s something that I could actually be good at. It made me feel complete.

Alex: I hope I can also win a national trophy someday. ^_^ Anyway let’s go to the world speech contest. You competed in the International Toastmasters Conference in California last August 2010 where you battled it out with Toastmasters from all over the world. Did you make a new speech for the international competition?

Stephen: Well I used the same speech but changed it a little. I polished the delivery. I tried to tailor it to an international audience. I prepared 2 speeches. But I wasn’t able to make it thru the semifinals.

Alex: Well you are still a champion to us. Just making it there is pretty amazing. So how was the experience?

Stephen: The nice thing was at that level, I was able to deliver my message. It didn’t matter anymore if I would win or not. The feeling was nice because everyone there had his own story to tell. It didn’t feel like a competition. All of us were just people who had a story to share. It was just amazing getting to hear the stories of these people from all over the world. Me sharing me story and getting to learn from their stories, I was floored. I was amazed by the experience. I was in the company of real people with real stories and real emotions.

Alex: Coming back to the Philippines after the international competition, what do you think changed?

Stephen: The appreciation or the realization that right now, I feel like I’m not just a citizen of my country but a citizen of the world. I feel connected to the rest of the world. You can’t just say I’m a Filipino, a German or a Japanese. Everybody is interconnected. People are becoming global and interactive. The world is becoming smaller. During my set, I met the champion – Linus Chang. Just by hearing his last name, I knew he was Chinese. But he was there and he was representing Australia. And then there’s this other guy, when you look at him, he’s black. His name is Elom. He looks like he’s from Africa. But he’s actually representing Germany. So you can’t judge a person by the color of his skin or his name because we’re so global right now. Technology allows us to interact from people from all over the globe. Look at social networking. Look at Facebook. I connect with my friends half way across the globe at home.

Alex: What would you say to Toastmasters out there who also want to conquer the stage and be a champion?

Stephen: Do not think of being a champion. Think about the message that you can give, the value that you can add to your audience. And when you share that message, speak from your heart. Don’t think of winning. Just deliver your message the best way you can.  

Alex: Any other tips or advice?

Stephen: Be open. I went to different clubs and they all gave me feedback. I had to be open enough to see were they’re coming from. We all have different perspectives. And when you talk to a large crowd, you are talking to a lot of people. So you have to find a way to touch everyone in some way. Being open allows you to learn.

Alex: Thanks for the tip. I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Do you want to leave last words of inspiration to Toastmasters out there?

Stephen: You really don’t need a trophy to be a champion. A trophy is a nice bonus. When you go out on stage and deliver a message, and it touches even just one person, then you are already a winner. When you speak you have the power to touch a life. When you are able to touch a life in a positive way that makes you a champion. 

Here's a link to his winning speech entitled, Real Power:
Check out the experience of a Brave Neophyte in the competition arena of public speaking.


  1. Congrats...:-)

    I may not deliver a speech someday...

    But I will deliver a song...hehehe

    Yes, "it's the same"...

    Congrats again Mikey:-)

  2. Hi Melvin, you should try delivering a speech. Its actually fun. :)

  3. Hi Alex, actually I was given a schedule here in Manila to attend one at Ortigas. Sir Stephen adviced me to join. I wish to be part of it someday. And to be honest, I just want to remove this crowd anxiety inside me...hahaha


  4. Stephen Michael LumanlanMay 2, 2011 at 2:21 AM

    "Effective communication is a skill that has to be developed." - words of wisdom from the 2011 Evaluation Speech Champion Alex Zeta.

    Congratulations Alex! I am blessed and humbled by the opportunity of sharing the stage with you in this competition. Your zeal and preparation brought you to the championships and you are the most deserving winner! My hats off to you.

    It's my turn now to ask tips from you and to learn from you. :)

  5. @Melvin: You should attend a TM meeting! Its a lot of fun. You get to meet great people and you learn a lot

  6. @Stephen: Thanks Stephen. We can always learn from everyone :)