Toastmaster on politics and public speaking

Dana LaMon was crowned the Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking in 1992. Since then, the retired administrative law judge, who is blind, has been speaking professionally to audiences around the world, spreading his message: “Making the moment meaningful.” 

He is scheduled to be on Capitol Hill on Friday to help the U.S. Senate Toastmasters club celebrate its 40th anniversary.  

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LaMon, a Distinguished Toastmaster, spoke about his career and the importance of public speaking on Capitol Hill.

How did you begin your public-speaking career?

My public speaking started in church, reciting long passages from the Bible and plays. In high school, my English teacher urged me to join the forensic league, where I did oratorical interpretation. After college, I started getting invitations to speak at schools about going to college and choosing careers. Eventually I joined Toastmasters in 1988 to practice using humor in my speeches. After participating in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking, I started my professional speaking career.

How has the loss of sight impacted your public speaking?

I do not consider my blindness a loss — we all have different strengths, and sight is not one of mine. Many public speakers are afraid to speak because they must look at the audience, but I do not have to worry about that. Since I cannot see the audience’s reaction, I include humor in my speeches so that I can gauge whether or not they are with me.

What role does public speaking play in Washington?

Two aspects of public speaking that are important in Washington are persuasive speaking and considerate listening. Once a politician has successfully persuaded voters and has won, he or she ought to become a considerate listener to keep open the free flowing of ideas with constituents and among colleagues.

Who do you think is an outstanding public speaker?

I would judge a speaker to be outstanding when she or he consistently delivers outstanding speeches — ones with a clear message, interesting content and a memorable presentation. In my lifetime, outstanding public speakers would include John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama.

How do the 2012 GOP presidential contenders compare to President Obama?

I have not heard an outstanding speech from any of the GOP presidential candidates. I would give high marks as follows: Ron Paul in sincerity and consistency of message, Rick Santorum with a folksy style, Newt Gingrich in analytical prowess and Mitt Romney in voice — pleasing to the ear.

What has been your favorite speaking experience?

The first that comes to mind is a speech I gave to the Taipei American School in Taiwan in December 2009. The high school students were with me throughout. As if on cue, they laughed, applauded, groaned and otherwise responded to what I said.

What has been your biggest public-speaking mistake?

I made what was supposed to be a humorous comment about a recent event in the news. Absolute silence … maybe even groans of disapproval. I had made the comment in a speech previously, and it received uproarious laughter. The second response stuck with me, and I never used the material again.