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Cleveland native wins public speaking world championship

August 26, 2018

Cleveland native wins public speaking world championship

CLEVELAND, Ohio – One word ran through Ramona Smith’s head when she learned that she won the 2018 World Championship of Public Speaking: history.

On Saturday, Smith became – in her words – a “legend” after becoming only the second African-American woman to win the competition in its 80-year history and the first woman in win in 10 years.

Smith, 31, is a Cleveland native who got her bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, she told cleveland.com Sunday.

She now lives in Houston, where she teaches child development and human growth development at MacArthur High School.

Smith has been a member of Toastmasters International, the organization that puts on the competition, since 2010. She said she joined because she’s always had an interest in public speaking and wanted to perfect her skills.

Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization that has more than 350,000 registered members, according to its website. The goal of the organization is to help people like Smith “improve their speaking and leadership skills.”

Smith got her start at the public speaking competition in 2015. That year, she made it relatively far in the competition but was defeated in the district levels.

“That was the year I talked about all the bad things that were going on,” she said, referencing a divorce, dropping out of college multiple times and her son’s fight with cancer. “I left people in the crowd wanting to give me a hug and pray for me.”

Smith learned from this and decided to still talk about her life’s struggles, but instead find a way to make her message uplifting.

She works with a support staff of coaches – usually club members she trusts – who help her do everything from touch up the speech’s grammar to improve her delivery and presentation, Smith said.

“I really like the synergy,” she said.

This year, more than 80,000 people started the competition before the that number was whittled to 106 semi-finalists, Smith said. When she was picked as one of 10 finalists at the Chicago convention, Smith said it felt surreal to sit and listen to the other finalists’ speeches.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Smith said. “I was inspired and entertained. I’m such a fan of Toastmasters that I watch old speech videos on YouTube. I want to hear those world-class speeches.”

The final speech of the competition has to be totally new, Smith said, so she wrote hers in the hotel room the night before. Her championship speech was titled “Still Standing.”

In her words, Smith’s boxing-themed speech was about how in life, “you’re going to take hits and get bumps and bruises. But you learn from past fights how to maneuver.”

Smith is celebrating with friends and family in Cleveland Sunday night before returning to Houston. As for future speech preparations? There won’t be any.

Because she won the 2018 contest, she cannot compete in the public speaking competition ever again. Yet Smith didn’t seem too upset.

“I feel good. I’m the world champ,” she said. 

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