This year, I had a chance to put my money where my mouth is in the International Speech Contest. As the Division S representative, I competed in our District Contest against some fierce competition, and I lost. Big time. In fact, if you saw the report that went to TI, you’d see I finished 6th…out of 6. Ouch
What did I do wrong? Or more importantly, what did Ed, Julie and Charles do right?
A few years ago I wrote a post about things to avoid if you want to have a shot in a speech contest. This time, we’ll look at what to do correctly if you want to be competitive.
Message – When you’re in front of your audience, you need to leave them with something they’ll remember. Be explicit. If you think that they’ll get it from the story, history has proven you wrong. It’s that simple. Be explicit. That means have a phrase they can walk out of the room with – 7 words or less. Explicit. As 1999 champ Craig Valentine says – No Phrase, No Stage. I said this 4 years ago and it hasn’t changed a bit – I’ve seen this done at every level of Toastmasters contests. At district and above, an unclear message has a one-in-a-million shot to win (or even place). Know your message and make sure the audience hears it. And hears it again.
Story – The best 5-7 minute speeches have one theme, not three points, not five stories. One message (see above), one main story and maybe 1-2 sub stories. I’m not saying there is an exact formula, but there needs to be balance and the audience needs to be able to follow you.
Connect – Connect with the audience early and often. Notice how our 2015 Champ does it here. If you take 5-6 minutes to tell your story and then ask, “what about you?” or say “I challenge you…” then you’re probably too late. Get them involved early and throughout the speech. Even a rhetorical question or two can deepen the connection.
These three keys are what I saw our district champ Ed Young do, and do even better at the semi-final – where he finished 2nd to the eventual World Champion. If you practice these techniques yourself (and not just in contest speeches), you’ll see your skills improve and maybe even your contest record change for the better.
Editors note: Pictured above, Rob Christeson, D22 Director April Hendrickson, 2015 World Champion of Public Speaking Mohammed Qahtani, 2014-2015 International President Mohammad Murad, D22 Club Growth Director Christine Kramer and D22 Member Joanne Monroe.