You are all experienced Toastmasters, masters of your craft, and excellent speakers. What can I offer from my contest experience that might be useful and encouraging advice to you as a contestant?
- Start early. – It’s never too early to begin work on your next contest speech. Especially in the case where your home club has accomplished contestants. You will need to bring your best game from the outset. A couple of months of work on a speech is the minimum time for making it through a few revisions. Of course, a contest speech continues developing as long as you work on it. After winning each new level, it provides an opportunity to create a revised and improved version of your speech!
- Mine your magnetic message – In my opinion, we are drawn to those who speak openly, authentically, with honesty and vulnerability. We can relate to the struggles of others more than their successes. Tell your own story, and cut to the struggle in your opening lines. Choose a subject that relates to a current struggle and keeps your repeated delivery passion-filled and meaningful.
- Be prepared for the ups and downs of speech development – This process requires analyzing yourself in deep ways. It includes the frustration of feeling stuck. The discouragement of getting nowhere. Your breakthrough can be moments away, which is why you must persist. Sleepless nights can be the least of it. Knowing this helps you keep your balance.
- Know your best working style and cater to it. – Do you have the “thick skin” required to use the input of many clubs as your source of evaluative feedback? If not, you will want to get a coach. This year, for the first time, I developed my semifinal speech with a coach, and I loved it. It suited my working style very well.
- Use Pathways to help your club as you help yourself. The contest is a whirlwind. While delivering your speech at many clubs, it’s easy to give it as a “non-manual” speech. Don’t give in to that temptation. Track what you are doing in your Paths so you can help your clubs get their educational credits. Levels one and three lend themselves especially well to this (using the same speech for all projects). I have even purchased a new Path to complete another level one.
What I’ve gained:
- The rich experience of delivering my speech to a worldwide audience alongside other excellent speakers. Such an honor! Even better, I’ve bonded with my fellow contestants and stayed in touch. It has made for an amazing, worldwide community!
- Greater visibility. The incredible experience of having someone approach me whom I’ve never met. Though I do not know them, they already feel they know, like, and trust me, simply through hearing my contest speech.
- Greater cooperation. I suppose winning speech contests expands one’s influence. But I attribute the fact that when I ask, people usually say “yes” to the “know, like, and trust” factor. I get joy out of instant relationship-building.
- Every time I take the contestant journey, I rewrite my internal story, reshaping my life in powerful ways. Each foundational phrase is the result of diving deep, addressing areas in my life I’ve not quite conquered. Each phrase is wisdom that allows me to see my past in a new light. Like my last speech: “The only permission you need is your own.” What a remarkable discovery to get into my bones, even at a later stage in life! What value! This is why I participate in contests over and over.
Lindy MacLaine, DTM is a 4-time International Speech Contest District winner (three times in District 32, once in District 101, a 3-time Semifinalist, and the second runner-up in the 2020 World Championship of Public Speaking.