Entering Speech Contests in Toastmasters (Part 1)

As my Toastmasters journey continues, I have been reaping a lot of the benefits from being an active member. In my last post, I spoke about how taking a club officer role helped me in working on my leadership skills. In this post, I would like to share with you my experience from entering Club Level, Area Level and Division Level competitions. A few years ago, the idea of entering a speech contest would have terrified me since I was never comfortable speaking in front of people. Competing in a speech contest was a goal that I wanted to work towards but one that I felt was of my reach, however thanks to the confidence that I built in delivering speeches at my club and thanks to the warm support of my club members, I was able to finally reach this goal. 

Crafting the Speech

I must say that this part was extremely hard; I communicated to my club’s Vice President of Education (VPE) in January 2022 that I wanted to enter the competition which gave me roughly a month to the club contest and a couple of months for the area contest. I spent a lot of days during the January holidays at my local café, staring out of the window and trying to think of the perfect idea. I tried hard in coming up with original ideas, but my brain refused to cooperate, days and weeks passed but all my ideas just felt lame and not worthy of a speech. I jotted down the following bullet points when I was brainstorming. I told myself that the speech should: 

  • Contain elements of humour (I was entering a humorous speech contest)
  • Have some elements unique to me and my background
  • Contain a powerful message
  • Allow me to use vocal variety and body language 

A few days before the first club speech contest club meeting, just when was thinking about giving up, the lightbulb in my head turned on. I was going to do my speech about this dessert that I had encountered recently in Japan. I will not go into too much detail, but this dessert allowed me to make some analogies with my background; this was my unique story that I wanted to share. I wrote my first draft but just like many first drafts, it required numerous edits. One big misconception that I had before writing speeches is that the perfect speech is written overnight. This could not be further away from the truth. The first draft had a lot of inconsistencies, points which I thought I was getting across but were not clear; with a fresh pair of eyes thanks to my wife’s help, I made some amendments and had my first draft for my club meeting. 

I was very lucky to have a supportive club and extremely competent VPE, he must have organised at least four club meetings prior to the area contest to help members deliver their contest speeches. Usually, at Toastmasters, a speech is evaluated during the General Evaluation session by the individual evaluator, however since a lot of club members were practising for the contest, after the speech we had a 5-minute feedback session for other club members to openly share improvement points. This session was extremely important in shaping up my speech; getting direct feedback from many experienced Toastmasters really helped me add strong improvement points and cut weak points. If anyone is considering becoming a professional speaker or delivering speech at a competitive level, my advice is to get as much feedback from as many people and to act on it.

Some important suggestions for my speech were: 

  • xxx part of the speech was not clear. I know what I want to say but that does not mean that the message is easily understood.
  • Speech Length: a lot of times we need to be selective with the parts of the speech that we want to emphasise so being told what added or what detracted is very important.
  • Suggestions for using visual aids and adding more body gestures

In this post, I only focused on my preparation for drafting the speech however there is more that I would like to share. It is not enough to have a good speech to be successful at speech contests; one must also be able to deliver the speech, ensure that the speech is eligible for the competition (follows guidelines, is delivered within the time limit, etc). In my next post, I intend to focus more on the execution which naturally ties well with practice. In preparing for the contests, I received some very useful suggestions which I would like to share with you. Thank you for reading!

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