“You can share a story and people can carry that story forever.”
– Tremale Berger
Former foster student Tremale Berger’s love of speaking took him somewhere he never expected – the largest speech contest in the world: The 2013 Toastmasters International Speech Contest. Each year, nearly 30,000 people from around the world compete for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking. Tremale finished in second place at the District Contest, the competition’s quarterfinals. A first place finish would have made him one of the 88 speakers from around the world to compete in the International Semifinal Contest in Cincinnati, OH later this year.
The Toastmasters International Speech Contest starts at its nearly 13,500 clubs, which span 116 countries around the world. Contestants are evaluated on speech content, organization, voice quality and gestures. After a year-long process of elimination through 5 rounds — club, area, division, district and semifinal competitions, 9 contestants earn an opportunity to speak to a live audience of nearly 3000 people and compete for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking at the organization’s annual convention.
Tremale discovered his talent for speaking through his love of music. He was intrigued by the way music told stories and how the stories and music made people feel. ”I always wanted to do what music did for me,” said Berger.
The inspiring speaker at his high school graduation in 2004 also grew his interest in speaking. Tremale asked his foster care coordinator to help him find an opportunity to try out his speaking skills. His first major speech was at the Disney Concert Hall in 2008 where his success help stoke his speaking passion. Six months later, he spoke in front of 300 people and, in his words, “bombed,” leading him to question whether he would continue speaking.
In 2012, Tremale wanted to give up on his speaking, but a friend arranged for him to speak at a Boy Scout’s conference, which renewed his passion for speaking. So much so, he joined Toastmasters in June 2012 and starting giving speeches regularly in Toastmasters clubs in his area.
His friends in Toastmasters suggested that he sign up for the organization’s annual speaking competition. So, in September 2012, Tremale started writing his competition speech and would speak to groups three times a week for practice, all while holding down a day job that required him to work over 70 hours a week at times. By February 2013 and after 40 revisions, Tremale finally felt he developed a speech that represented his range of ability and would give him a chance to win it all.
With one dream, however, the course of Tremale’s speech contest journey changed. After having a dream the night before his Toastmasters club meeting, he decided to give an off the cuff speech about the dream he had at his club. The topic: his journey to get his society to hear him. The response received from his club members was unanimous – “that was the most powerful speech I have ever heard you give.” Tremale was left with a dilemna, play it safe and proceed with the speech he spent nearly 6 months working on or give the speech inspired from a late night dream…the one that tugged at the core of his heart.
Tremale was deeply divided, but it was a question that his fellow toastmaster and speech mentor, Andrew Chiu, asked him that helped him arrive at a resolution. The question: “which speech would you give if this was the last speech you ever gave?” After only a few months before the big contest, Tremale decided to make the change and go with the speech from his dreams, the speech that came from his heart. “It’s not your typical platform speech,” said Berger. “I wanted to push the envelope. It became about having fun.” Going on a speaking tour to 16 Toastmasters clubs helped him polish his new speech.
Tremale says his decision to switch his speech was validated when his former social worker unexpectedly came to see him in the area contest in April of this year. Seeing his social worker in the audience made Tremale break down and really connect with the audience.
Tremale made it through to the quarterfinals (District 52 Contest), where he came in second to a gentleman who was one of the 9 finalists at the 2009 World Championship of Public Speaking. He is glad for the experience because he learned “it’s all about the connection with the audience.” View his speech here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3f8lo8IolQ.
Berger said, “Despite the unexpected outcome, my desire to perfect my speaking craft has never been higher. I will learn from this experience and compete again next year with the reachable goal of taking it all the way to the big stage in Malaysia for the 2014 World Championship of Public Speaking.”
Besides public speaking, Tremale co-founded an organization called Gentlemen’s Agenda — a movement organization dedicated to teaching young men how to be gentlemen and bringing back the idea of gentlemen to the norm. He also serves as the organization’s director of youth initiatives, where he developed a 10 week experience called “The Passion Academy.” The Passion Academy is designed to provide young men with a conceptual road map to identify and explore issues they can be passionate about and subsequently pursue while consistently applying the core values which define being a gentleman. The ultimate goal is to showcase how being a gentleman directly correlates to success in every phase and aspect of life. The organization concluded the 10 week pilot for the program earlier in June, working with 26 kids at John Muir High School in Pasadena.
“It was a tremendous experience and I will be spending the summer creating at training manual so that we can offer the program to other high schools in the greater Los Angeles area,” said Berger. “In the end, I simply want to provide hope to the youth of our society, especially other foster/at-risk youth, that they can have a future of their choosing.”