Toastmasters D22: Jim Key’s awesome contest training

This last weekend, Jim Key visited the Kansas City metro here in District 22 and delivered what many agreed was an amazing session on Toastmasters Contests.

In Jim’s presentation, YOUR Speech Contest Advantage, Jim provides his patented contest prepadvice, and some important specifics that many speakers forget (or ignore) when their preparing their speeches.

Below are my notes from the session:

First, Jim covered the three measures of success
– Accolades <– many times this is the goal of a contest speaker, and it’s the one measure of success you have the least control over – Personal growth & learning – Chance to do/say something valuable for your audience Topic selection
– does not have to be inspirational or motivational, but those tend to do well
– what do you know?
– what have you done?
– what have you learned?
– what do you love?
How can all of these things come together in a way to make a positive impact for your audience?

1. If you had to sum up the message of your speech in one or two brief sentences, what would it be?
2. What will the audience be compelled to think, feel or do differently after they heard your speech?
The ultimate question: if this was the last chance to deliver a message to your children (or someone else important), what would that message be?
…what is your purpose?

Are there some topics to avoid?
Note: not according to the rulebook
“Flashpoint” topics: (some examples)
Gun control

Rules & Judging criteria
– contestants should certainly take judges training – you should learn about the contest from all angles
– if it’s in the rule book, it’s a rule. If it isn’t, it isn’t

Contestants pledge – You should recite this too
“I am responsible for knowing the rules. I will maintain my eligibility while competing, and I will assume responsibility for not disqualifying myself.
When I prevail, I will be gracious. When I don’t, I will be a good sport. Regardless, I will learn from my experience, I will grow as a speaker, and I…WILL…GIVE…BACK”

Writing your speech will help you clearly express a significant message in a shorter amount of time, and in a more memorable way

Clarity, efficiency and effectiveness

– Use the optimum number of words to communicate your point/message. No more, no less (in other words, don’t over-blab)

– Appropriately identify and develop your characters and the setting/situation – there may be elements that are not appropriate for that story in a given speech

– use of narrative / use of dialog

– the order in which you place the words that you choose to use that matters
– to make the impact last, make the impact last (move to the end of the sentence)

What should the opening, body and conclusion accomplish?

Grab their attention?
– question
– declarative statements
– action movie opening
– long pause (Ed Tate scan)
Establish a connection?
– self effacing humor
Convince them that the rest is worth sticking around to hear?

Maintain interest and connection?
– Jim used a quote from MLK jr other than “I have a dream”
Present the bulk of the message?

“Sell them” on the message? (Convince and compel)

Summarize my message?

Utilize a call-back?
– reference an earlier part of the speech

Be self-evident?
– shouldn’t have to say “in conclusion”

Have “stopping power”?
– the most important one minute of your speech is the one minute after your speech

Don’t memorize, internalize
– I like to use this example: You don’t memorize your name, you just know it. And you give it differently depending on the circumstances (just first name, first and last, with middle initial, etc.)

Body gestures/facial expressions
Staging (use the canvas)
– used chairs to enhance the height of the stage
– don’t always have to use the “left to right” staging for chronology
Story anchoring
– having a place on stage that you can reference to later
– no need to drastically change position/posture for multi-person dialog
Dissociative story telling (step-away)
– like hitting a pause button on a story and address something with the audience, then back to the story and hit play
Silence is my friend
– let them think
– let them laugh

You should only practice when you’re alone, or when you’re with other people
– don’t let yourself get whitewashed!?
– practicing is for improving, not stroking your ego
– asked what got your attention? and what inspired you?
– be prepared and secure enough to take it
Three types of feedback
– good feedback 🙂
– well-intentioned feedback 😐
– feedback from Mars ? 🙁 ?
You must evaluate your evaluations

Absorb what is useful
Discard what is not
Add what is uniquely your own
– Bruce Lee

Other feedback
– video recording (and study the video)
– practice like you play (attire, props, staging)

time budget
– write your script – * for laughs, ** for bigger laughs
— 4 seconds for * and 6-8 seconds for **
— higher levels = more time
– know your average rate of speech
— for 100 words per minute, don’t have over 700 words
dealing with emotions
– know the overall emotional “temperature” of your speech
– every once in a while give us a breather
– respect the audience’s emptions; never manipulate them
Always strive for sincerity and authencity

Jim’s essential
– entertaining
– appeal to intellect and emotion
– compelling and beneficial message
Bottom line: is my speech and its message memorable?

Do I have to do that formal acknowledgement thingee…?
– rule of 3 – 3 entities – contest chair, ladies and gentlemen, and everyone ever caught crying at the theater – cadence makes that 3 parts
Do you stand out?
– sameness = lameness
– establish your positive uniqueness
It’s not about you, it’s about them

My favorite quotes from Jim:
“Like Bigfoot riding a unicorn, you just don’t see that every day”
“You should get value from the things that cost you” – in reference to using stories about his children

Jim delivered an awesome experience for everyone who was there. A few days later, at a local Area Contest 3 people who had attended told me again how awesome his presentation was.

If you want to learn more, visit his website and look at what he has to offer!


  1. Thanks for these dynamic notes. I was unable to hear Jim Key speak in person that weekend. I have heard him speak, impart his knowledge, and give back through a CD purchased at an International Toastmasters gathering several years ago. In Toastmasters we attain refined public speaking skills with leadership skills. I am anticipating another stellar conference for District 22 at the Overland Park, Kansas, Doubletree Hotel April 17th and 18th.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *