Toastmasters: Contests help you get better


Have you heard (or read) opinions about how competing, and even winning, a Toastmasters contest has no real value in “regular” speaking?

I have, and I find it very confusing. With the exception of some very specific types of speaking, such as debates, I can’t understand why people have trouble translating great contest speeches into great speaking in general.

In a previous post, I wrote about some lessons I learned from watching contest speeches, especially at the top level. In this entry, I’ll describe how those same lessons apply to “regular speaking” (if there is such a thing).

First was, Have a message. In contest speaking, I think this is the single most important aspect of a winning speech. This is such an obvious need for any presentation, including project reviews, performance discussions, and any training that I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t see the correlation. No matter when you talk, without a message you are just blabbing. Right?

Next was Tell your own compelling story. While much of our corporate-style speaking may seem to be devoid of storytelling, the fact is that it is still the best way to make your point stick. It may be true that your boss only wants the brief facts without anything “extra”, but the fact is this is still an invaluable skill to have. You should be ready to back up your point with a story in case the boss wants more detail.

Use humor appropriately. I’ve had a couple of rare bosses with no sense of humor, but in a majority of cases even the most stoic of bosses like a little humor thrown in. Appropriately for those circumstances does mean to use caution and keep it professional, but it doesn’t mean you can’t elicit an occational chuckle.

Finally was Set the stage with grand and normal gestures. In this case, you may stay with more conservative gestures, but again the watchword is appropriate. Yes, it would be rare to use the type of stage presence that the Champs have used to win those awards. But knowing and practicing the appropriate gestures for your topic, audience, and stage is still a skill that will make a positive difference in any presentation.

The next time someone tels you that contest speaking has no bearing in “real” speaking (be sure you use the air quotes in your response), remember these tips. You can most certainly apply those skills you learn while competing. They wouldn’t just apply to professional speaking, but to corporate, volunteer and most other types of speaking.

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