You may already be a winner!

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!

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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!

About Aubrey Carrier 9 Articles
Aubrey Carrier joined Toastmasters in January 2011 on a dare. Though she expected to leave after a few months, Toastmasters sparked her lifelong love of learning and she’s now been with the program five years and counting! Participating in Toastmasters has opened up opportunities Aubrey never imagined, ranging from team leadership and large-scale event-planning, to re-enacting urban wildlife encounters and pretending to be a cabaret singer (not at the same time). After serving in multiple club officer roles, she was inspired to get into District leadership to achieve immunity from competing in speech contests. As District Director, Aubrey guides the District Leadership Team to motivate, support and inspire the members in our District, toward the goal of providing a welcoming environment for all members to achieve personal and professional development goals – and have fun doing it! As a diverse and talented membership, our many voices make up one strong community! Outside of all things Toastmasters, Aubrey spends her time walking up and down hills and perfecting her applause techniques at various live theater performances around the Bay Area.

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