No way… not me!
That was my reaction the first time I heard about Toastmasters speech contests. As a fledgling member still waiting to give my Ice Breaker, there was no way I was going to get entangled in any kind of competition.
Then I gave my first Table Topic. After a strong opening sentence, I bombed…. hard. I froze up so spectacularly that after the meeting, both the Table Topics Master and Toastmaster came up to me and asked, “Are you OK?”
Our Club President, on the other hand, approached me with a different question. “Aubrey, would you be willing to compete in our club Table Topics Contest?”
I thought he had to be joking. He wasn’t. In true Toastmasters style, he recognized that impromptu speaking was a skill that I needed to improve. By inviting me to compete, he was telling me that he knew I had the potential to get better, and not only that, but the club was going to help me do it.
With the encouragement of my club members, I ended up competing in the Table Topics, International Speech and Humorous Speech categories over the next few contest seasons. Through these experiences, I learned the secret of Toastmasters Speech Contests: It’s not about whether you win or lose.
I know — Cliché Alert! But my biggest takeaway from my time on the contest stage is that there are more valuable benefits to competing than winning a trophy. Here’s the proof of what Contest Season can do for you:
Take your speaking skills to the next level
One of the primary objectives of Toastmasters is to develop your communication skills. The contest environment kicks this up to the next level, driving you to perform at peak ability while strengthening your presence in the Toastmasters community. Competing allows you to stretch yourself, grow as a speaker and find out what you’re capable of. Normally in Toastmasters, when you finish a speech project, you move on to something new. For a contest, you’re likely to focus a considerable amount of time and effort on one speech. You’ll be revising and rewriting and reimagining. You’ll deliver it multiple times in front of multiple audiences. You’ll hear diverse perspectives on ways to improve. You will be motivated to give the most polished, well-delivered speech you’re capable of giving.
Competing in a contest also opens up horizons for you beyond your home club. It puts you in front of fresh eyes and gives you a better sense of the larger Toastmasters community. You will have the chance to make an impression on people you might never have met otherwise. After competing at the Division level, I was invited to visit other clubs as a guest speaker or functionary. Don’t be surprised if, months after the contest is over, you meet other Toastmasters who will come up and say to you: “Hey, I remember that speech you gave at the contest…”
Develop leadership abilities
While I encourage everyone to try competing at least once, maybe this really isn’t the year for you — that’s OK! When I was ready to take a break from competition, I found there were many opportunities to participate in contests as a functionary — Toastmaster, Judge, Timer, Ballot Counter and more. Taking these roles helped me develop leadership and organizational skills as I worked “behind the scenes.” I also met and networked with local Area and Division leaders who provided invaluable mentorship and guidance to me, opening doors I never expected.
Offer coaching and feedback
Your club champions need your encouragement! Help them prepare for the next level of competition by listening to their prepared speeches and offering constructive feedback, or drilling them in Table Topics. Give them the moral support they need to feel motivated — and celebrate their participation, no matter the results!
Learn from the best
Whether you attend a contest to compete, fulfill a functionary role, support a club member or just applaud from the audience, you’ll get to see and hear talented speakers in action. Take the opportunity to study new styles and techniques, and find inspiration for your next speech project!
I’ve learned that every time I participate in a contest in any capacity, I come away a winner. How will you participate this spring? I hope to see you at a contest soon! YOU can be a winner, too!