Toastmasters: Prepping for your contest

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Why you won’t win your contest, which is getting more attention as the Toastmasters contest season begins. Recent experiences have taught me a few things that may help you see more success as a contestant:

1. Get feedback at every level. Ask someone, in advance, to give you an evaluation. Make it from a manual (CC projects # 2-6 always work, 9 and 10 may work as well) and ask them to keep the judging criteria in mind when they do. Use a different project each time you give the speech (both in practice at your club and at contests). This should be in addition to your coach (if you have one) so you get a fresh perspective.

Why? It blows me away to see someone not do well, then ask what they could have done differently. Some will even say, “I wish I could hear what the judges were looking for.” You don’t want to hear from them. They took just one minute to decide on your score. Then they concentrated on the next speaker. Get someone good to pay attention to you, and get some feedback you can use.

2. Don’t worry about the judges. Yeah, that’s easy to say, but there is more to winning a contest than being liked by the judges. Plus, they can tell when a speaker is talking just to them.

Why? They are looking for your skill as a speaker, and some things they take into account are how you reach your audience, and how the audience reacts to you. Make sure to remember your audience before you speak.

3. Watch your competition. See as much of them as you can stand. Visit other clubs (don’t judge – that’s a rules violation) and other Area and Division contests when you can. Carpool if you need to. Others are going.  

Why? There are some great techniques on display, and some colossal blunders you may want to avoid. Plus, seeing how different speakers use different room configurations and how audiences react can teach you volumes to improve your own speaking ability.

4. Get some help. I mentioned a coach in #1 above. There are professional options, but you don’t have to spend money to get help. You just have to decide how much time you have, and how much time/help you’ll need. Sometimes members of your club or a nearby club may be willing to help you. Just ask. Chances are you can find someone willing to help, even if it’s just a little.

Why? Practice helps you, but without feedback it has little value. It’s good to have someone to help you focus your practice and serve as a filter for all of the suggestions you’re going to hear.

5. Remember, it’s about being the best speaker, not just having the best speech. This one is a lot like #2 – easy to say, hard to prove. After all, the greatest speaker in the world won’t win with a dull, boring speech. But then, the greatest speaker in the world wouldn’t give a dull, boring speech either. The best would know their audience, know their message, and know themselves.

Why? That’s just how it is.

This advice may not be for you, but if you are in it to win it, you might want to consider doing more than you have before. Do your best…be your best…that’s what competing and winning is all about.

Editors note: If you are thinking about professional coaching, check out World Champions EDGE (Affiliate link). This is a great resource, and the first month is just $1.

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