With the upcoming Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking in August, the topic of the lack of women competing at this elite level has come up yet again. The World Championship is held every year beginning at the club level in Toastmasters and ending up at the Toastmasters International Convention in August. In our history only 3 women have won the championship since women were allowed in the organization in 1973. The last time was in 2008 when LaShunda Rundles won.
As usually the question is why? I honestly wish I had an answer. The percentage is almost as low for the Accredited Speaker Program that recognizes those Toastmasters who hold a level of proficiency to be paid, professional speakers. I believe that 12 of the 66 or so members are women.
For several years I have wondered why this is the case. I have heard several comments:
- Women’s voice tend to get lost or are too high to hear all of the nuances.
- Women chose topics that are too fluffy.
- Women do not compete at the same level as the men.
I am not in agreement with the last comment. I believe that women are just as competitive, but I do believe that we are also judged far based upon our appearance. So often we are told we must wear black suits, preferably knee length, closed-toed shoes, our hair needs to be up and out of our face. Are men judged because they have facial hair? While I do agree, that a solid color against the backdrop of the flags of the world is a concern, the stage changes from year to year.
At the high school level, the winner of the oratory category at the National Speech and Debate Association National Tournament in 2014 was a lovely young, black woman from a school in my home state. I am proud to say that I was convinced she could win it all when I heard her in a finals round at a conference tournament earlier in the year. I yelled and screamed when I watched her win it all on the national stage in Overland Park, KS (and yes, I watched it live streaming). My son’s came out of their room wondering what was going on on TV. I believe they only hear screaming from my room during University of Kansas basketball games. Yes, she wore a beautiful suit. More importantly, she had a great message developed to perfection and presented to the thousands in the auditorium with a conversational style. Maybe she will be our next World Champion of Public Speaking, but first she had to finish her senior year in high school.
This is the winning speech from the 2014 Finals!
I now get to mention that Amber Ambam, competed again this year on the big stage in Dallas. She finished 2nd in the finals round for 4th place (this tournament is a cumulative tournament with a total of 13 rounds of competition over 5 days. We all need to seek out opportunities to grow our voices.