Winning the Toastmasters Speech Contest

A few years ago, I wrote a post about contest speaking called Why you won’t win your contest. This included many of the things I see speaker do at contests all the way up to the World Championship. Since that post in 2011, I’ve seen a few more examples and even competed myself.

Instead of answering the question why you won’t win? How about we look at some specific how to ways to win your next contest?

1. Prepare!
Your speech should have a message. After my Area winning speech last spring, a woman came up to me and thanked me for the speech and said, “I won’t look at every day as just another day any more.” Even though I came in second at my Division contest, I received a call from a member who had attended and she asked me to give that speech at her club’s open house. Point? If your message resonates, the audience will tell you.
You should have a great story to go with your message. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen 3 main points succeed above the district level. It does need to resonate with your audience, so finding a relationship between your story and your audience is very important. My story began with joining the US Air Force right after high school, and I related to the audience by asking, “was your first experience after high school everything you expected?” With a different audience, I’d likely use a different connector.
You need to check in before the green card. I can’t count the number of fourth place finishers that tell their complete story, then just before the conclusion ask, “what about you?” If you add “I challenge you to…” to that mix and …hmmmm. You give the audience members the feeling that, “6 minutes in and now it’s about me?” Remember – No check in means no connection. My “after high school” question above comes about 1/3 of the way into my story.

2. Practice
Toastmasters. Duh! Visit clubs and carry a CC manual. Get an evaluation every time you speak. Yes, it’s legal to give the same speech for credit in multiple projects. In fact, you’re setting a good example while improving your speech! Remember, you’re earning credit by preparing, getting feedback and adjusting your speech.
Video yourself. Then watch it. Stick it on YouTube and get feedback. Watch it again. Remember, we had to watch you, so you should have to watch you.
At every contest, seek feedback in advance. Hand your CC manual to a non-judge and ask them to evaluate you (projects 2-6 are best). Don’t concentrate on just one area (i.e. vocal variety) simply give your best speech. Then look at the feedback after the speech. Get a verbal eval (one-on-one) if you’re able to as well. Remember to ask early. If you come to me after the contest and ask, “any feedback?” without telling me up front to pay attention, then you are just one of the many speakers I watched.

3. Perform
Dress for the part. Make sure you look professional when you need to. I’m not suggesting that a suit will win it for you, but professionalism counts, especially at Division level and above.
Scope out the site early. Know the room and as much as you can about the audience. Be early and have time to get comfortable. Test the Mic, the stage and any movements you have planned.
No excuses! If this is important to you, then be present when you’re on stage.

How do you win a contest? Simply read and follow those 3 steps: Take the time to prepare your message, your story and your delivery. Practice as much as you can wherever you can, video every speech and get feedback. Take your performance seriously, and always be on your game. No one (as far as I know) can promise you a formula to guarantee a trophy. But if you follow these steps, you’ll have a real chance at success. Now get out there and compete!

As a final though, don’t underestimate the power of good coaching. Note: Updated in 2016. Take a look at Jim Key’s site,  Darren LaCroix’s site, Lance Miller’s site, Ed Tate’s site, or Craig Valentine’s site. There is quite a bit of free material on these sites, as well as advanced programs where you can learn even more. Another great option is Rich Hopkins, a WCPS finalist and popular speech coach. Personal coaching will cost more. Caveat: Other Toastmasters may be willing to mentor (help) you just because you ask. Don’t expect 24/7 access, but there is a lot of experience, expertise and talent out there.

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