Performing Your Best at a Speech Contest

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Every year in March and September, many toastmasters dust off their speech writing pens and put on their A-game to compete in the toastmasters speech contests. Speech contests are held twice yearly. The International Speech Contest and Evaluation Speech Contests are held in March; the Humorous or Tall Tales Speech Contest and the Table Topics Speech Contests are held in September. Contestants in the International Speech Contest can advance all the way to the World Championship of Public Speaking (which incidentally will be held in Vancouver in 2017), where the winner is crowned the World Champion of Public Speaking. All other contests end at the District level (our District 96 encompasses approximately half of British Columbia).

Over the 4 years I have been a toastmaster, I have participated in two difference speech contests. The very first contest I entered was the 2014 International Speech Contest, where I did not even place in the club. The second was the 2014 Tall Tales Speech contest, where I had the fortune of placing 3rd at the Division level. Having once advanced through two levels of competition, I would like to share some tips I discovered on how to perform your best at the contest, or in any speech you deliver.

Rehearse with a video camera

Often we are not aware of repetitive gestures, distracting movements, or contradictory facial expresses that we do in our speeches. Recording yourself with a video camera will give you instant feedback on these aspects of delivering a speech. While it may be intimidating to watch a video of yourself in the beginning, you’ll quickly get used to it and discover things you never knew about the way you speak, and it will greatly accelerate your learning. Muscle up the courage and try it! Our club owns a video camera for this purpose. Just make a request to our club Sergeant At Arms, Kevin Lee, the week before your scheduled speech.

Watch your time, especially at a speech contest!

In a normal speech, you get clapped down if you go overtime. But in a contest the rules are strict. If you do not meet the minimum time requirement, or exceed the maximum time by even 1 second, you are immediately disqualified. It is always heartbreaking to see a speaker deliver a great speech, only to be disqualified due to time. The key is to time yourself when you practice your speech, and leave yourself some margin. For a humorous speech, keep in mind to leave time for the audience to laugh and enjoy your jokes. The larger the audience, the more time it will take for the audience to settle down again after a joke.

Embrace your nervous energy

Experienced speakers always say you can channel your nervous energy into your speech performance. I didn’t understand this until after I finished performing my Tall Tales speech at the Area contest. When I went back to my seat I realized I was shaking from nervousness/excitement. When you’re on stage, use the adrenaline to put even more energy into your performance. The audience will feel your energy and be drawn even more into your speech.

I hope these three tips will help you perform at your best in the next speech contest. If you have never entered a contest, I highly encourage you to try it. You’ll never know what you are capable of unless you push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Best of luck!

Jason came third place in the 2014 District 21 Division B Tall Tales Contest.

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