Rich HopkinsIf you’re interested in public speaking, then Rich Hopkins is someone to watch. Rich has been involved with Toastmasters International for over seven years, started his own speaking business and will be competing in the World Championship of Public Speaking for the second time next month – Rich placed 3rd in the world in 2006.

In addition to being a great speaker, Rich is also a dedicated husband and father. As a youngster, Rich was diagnosed with a congenital defect in his leg, which resulted in part of his leg being amputated in 2006. But this was just a minor setback for Rich; he recently quit his full time to job to make the transition to full time professional speaker (please visit his web site at His passion for speaking shows in his willingness to help others improve their speaking skills. He and I met through an on-line public speaking forum — he was a great resource to bounce ideas off of.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Rich via email and here’s what he had to say:

Who are your speaking mentors and speakers that inspire you?

My mentors range from Billie Jones, a 25-plus year member of my club who was the first to tell me I had the potential to win the World Championship, to Tom Cantrell, a major competitor in the 90’s who coaches several professional speakers, to Randy Harvey, who has taught me a great deal about crafting stories and soft-selling a hard point.

Speakers who inspire me? Other than mentioned above, Darren LaCroix is someone who speaks and uses humor so naturally, he’s at the top of the Toastmaster list. Out in the non-TM world, speakers such as Les Brown and Zig Ziglar from the “old guard”, and more recent phenoms such as Larry Winget, Joel Osteen, and Keith Harrell.

The silver threads that tie them all together are humor and authenticity.

How does your physical disability impact your speaking and how do you overcome it?

Are you talking about my weight, or my Ben & Jerry’s Belly? The limp is noticeable, and becomes something I need to address with my audiences in order to set them at ease. At contests, this is not as important, but I usually throw something in as a humorous aside to make the audience more comfortable.

The physical aspect limits certain types of gestures or props – I won’t be falling down on purpose or climbing a ladder or jumping onto chairs.

Between the limp and the weight, I also end up out of breath a lot, which is probably my biggest obstacle! Sometimes a pause isn’t for effect, it’s to catch my breath!

What are your top three pieces of advice for people aspiring to become better speakers?

  1. Find an audience and speak!
  2. Videotape yourself.
  3. Find a coach – whether a group of Toastmasters, a mentor, or a paid coach.

It’s near impossible to do alone, unless you only want to become better at talking to yourself!

What’s most exciting about being able to compete in the finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking?

Probably the long-term value, the legacy I have a chance to leave on the crowd that day, Toastmasters in general, and even my family. Even without winning, I become a part of history, and show my children the value of going after a goal no matter how hard or unlikely it seems.

What have you found most challenging and most rewarding about becoming a professional speaker?

The answer is the same – Freedom. Freedom to succeed or fail, to make my own ultimate choices, to be responsible for the end result. Any entrepreneur faces him or herself in the mirror everyday and knows its all in there control – and that is frightening and exhilarating all at once!

You can learn more about Rich Hopkins at his website. I highly recommend visiting his blog where he’s currently writing about his preparations for the World Championship of Public Speaking. You can also see him in action in a video he posted.

Success Secrets: Interview with Region 1 Public Speaking Champion Rich Hopkins

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