Dream Big

Ryan_Avery_1Ryan Avery (’09) is proof that you don’t have to be born a public speaker, you can be made one. And, if you set your mind to it, you can even be crowned the Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking. At age 25. With only nine months of practice.

On the heels of bungling a TV appearance, Avery became a member of Toastmasters – a decision encouraged by his dad. Not long after, he learned about the competition while watching YouTube videos of previous world champions. That’s when he decided, “I’m going to be the world champion of public speaking.”

But, it wasn’t public speaking that enamored him. “It was becoming world champion and holding myself to the highest standard. I didn’t know anything about public speaking. I just wanted to give a great speech. I wanted to push myself,” Avery says. So began his quest.

By day, Avery directed marketing and communications for Special Olympics of Oregon. By night, he trained for the competition with his wife Chelsea (’09) and under the tutelage of former world champion, Randy Harvey, who also lived in the Portland area.

Harvey’s advice: don’t give a speech. Instead, “You must send a message from your heart,” Avery recounts. His winning speech, “Trust is a Must,” weaves saying his vows to Chelsea with lessons from his childhood into a poignant life story.

The day after winning the 2012 competition Avery’s e-mail inbox contained 269 emails asking him to coach and give keynote speeches. Suddenly, he was a lauded expert. To Avery, the massive interest in his achievement and skill was “like riding a tidal wave on a wilted two-by-four.” He says everyone figured he knew a lot about speaking, while in actuality, he had never before given a keynote speech.

Ryan_Avery_2Furthermore, he felt that he’d only made an impact on these people because of winning the competition. Instead, Avery wanted to impact people’s lives. “That’s why every time you hear me speak, I’m sending you a message that I absolutely believe.”

Less than a year later, Avery has left his job with Special Olympics and launched www.howtobeaspeaker.com with Harvey. The two designed an instructional DVD course with the same name. Avery will then head to Columbia University for a master’s degree in strategic communications.

As emcee of the 2013 Green and Gold Gala, Avery may be one of the most qualified individuals to hold the post, but he’s also one of the most passionate about CSU. “In four years I earned two degrees, studied abroad, met my wife, and received a world-class education,” Avery says. “It was the best decision I could have made. I discovered who I am as a person.”

Public speaking has become another journey to self-discovery and one that Avery uses to inspire others. “If you focus on one thing and put your all into it, you can do it,” Avery says. “I never once gave a professional speech. Nine months later I competed against 30,000 individuals from 116 countries. People like to tell you what you aren’t able to do. Don’t base your success off other people. Base it off of you and you alone.”

Ryan_Avery_3Ryan Avery Ram Facts:

  • Born and raised in Humble, Texas. “We don’t say the ‘H’ so we know who the outsiders are.”
  • First in his family to go to college
  • Came to CSU sight unseen. “I knew I wanted to go somewhere in Pennsylvania or Colorado.”
  • Lived in Westfall Hall his freshman year. “When I arrived I didn’t know one person in a 500-mile radius so I decided to introduce myself to everyone and offer help if they needed it. Everyone thought I was an RA. ‘What’s an RA?’ – I didn’t know.”
  • Worked as a Resident Assistant and Orientation Leader
  • Double Major: Technical Journalism and Anthropology. “I came as an open major and took Anthropology 101 and Journalism 101 my first semester. I could’ve sat and listened to Pam Jackson for hours. I was so mesmerized by the power of people and the power of the media.”
  • Staff member at the Rocky Mountain Collegian

by Carol Busch (M.A. ’02)