Alumni Profile: Rich Breiner, Ph.D. '80
Toastmasters three-time world champion of public speaking and Kent State University alumnus Rich Breiner, Ph.D., ’80, visited campus recently for the first time since graduation nearly 40 years ago.
School of Communication Studies (COMM) marketing assistant Mikala Lugen sat down with Breiner to talk about his college experience, his successful public speaking career and his tips for leading a happy and prosperous life.
What inspired you to further research your dissertation topic: “An examination of apparent role fulfillment of TV network news commentators during crisis periods in 1973-1975?
"I was in a combined program at the time with journalism, broadcast and speech. My research really incorporated those three areas. I was taking a journalism class during the summer of 1974 and that’s when the whole Watergate Scandal was happening. I got to interview David Brinkley, Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid and Howard K. Smith, all big news network names at the time, and tried to dig into what exactly they were doing. They gave their opinion on everything that was going on in the country and world. They would do a two-minute segment about the news and what the government should do about it; they were serving roles in their positions. I gave them all a transcript of their broadcastings and had them analyze if they advocated for public policy. The dissertation came down to the fact that these guys were so influential and they were opinionated. They weren’t supposed to advocate policy, but they were able to sly in their views. They would use the word ‘should’ in terms of, ‘The government should do this.’ It was so subtle, they were great writers for the ear."
You taught at the University of Great Falls, Mo., for 26 years. What inspired you to study and then teach effective and influential communication?
"While an undergrad at John Carroll University, I did a speech on ‘Pickpockets’ and it was a huge success with the department. I got more interested in the area but dropped out to go into the army. I finished my undergrad at John Carroll and I came back to Kent in 1971, the year after the shootings happened. The shootings were irrelevant to me, I wanted to go to graduate school to be a speech teacher and Kent was the only university who offered it at the time. I really just was so inspired by my three speech professors at John Carroll have so much fun with what they do. I wasn’t the best undergraduate student at John Carroll so I was put on “probation” when I came back to Kent for my master’s. I got A’s and B’s and I got called into Dr. Gordon’s office and was told I should submit my application for a teaching position at Baker University. I ended up getting my first teaching position there. I would’ve stayed there if it wasn’t for the year-only position. I’ve taught at seven universities over the years, and I was able to broaden my view of the different methods of teaching speech to different segments of people and students. Over the years I came to find a position at the University of Great Falls, Mo., to teach broadcasting, journalism and speech. It was really a perfect match for me. I stayed there for the next 26 years and I really loved it."
Tell me a little about your experience with Toastmasters and how you’ve become a three-time world champion of public speaking finalist.
"There wasn’t a lot of applied communication courses when I was an undergrad. I sought more information and experience of performance speech. My first week teaching at Baker University, a senior communication major came up to me and told me about Toastmasters. We both went to check it out and we both became members that day. You have to continue to improve yourself in whatever you do, and with Toastmasters you got immediate feedback. I’ve been in Toastmasters for 36 years now and I had set a goal to be the world champion for one of the yearly competitions. I never won it, but was a finalist three different times. Every year, 30,000 Toastmasters from around the world compete in four levels of the competition to get to the finals. You have to write a new speech for each level you make it through so it’s a real kick. It really is quite an honor, speaking in front of 2,000 people. You can really touch people’s lives with some of your speeches and it’s a great feeling. The third time I was at the world championship, I was the 10th speaker. I was thinking about the audience, and when I came out on stage, instead of saying my opening line to my speech, I connected with the audience. I released tension throughout the room with a joke and hoped it went well. The place erupted with laughter and it was exhilarating. The moment really lifted me up and I did my great speech."
What are the Five Key Techniques students can use for effective communication, and how can you apply the techniques to live happy and prosperous lives?
"I do have five key secrets that everyone should keep in mind to live happily throughout the lives. These are based on some of my winning speeches that really resonated with audiences and really makes sense to put together.
1) We’re all born to boogey, you (have) got to dance like no one is watching.
2) Don’t let fear stop you, no matter what situation you find yourself in.
3) Doing good with what you got, which is based on a student who was in my class at Kent State. He was a stutterer and made do with what he had to succeed. The class loved his sense of humor, and he really portrayed that it’s not what you can’t do with what you don’t have, it’s what you can do with what you’ve been given.
4) Poke fun in liabilities, highlighting to not take life and its responsibilities too seriously and to enjoy yourself.
5) Find the right person to marry and right career that you’ll love to wake up for every morning."