Toastmasters Speech Contests
Toastmasters is one of the best ways to overcome your fear of public speaking. Founded in 1924 in the United States, Toastmasters International has since expanded to thousands of clubs worldwide. Individual clubs are founded by people who want to improve and help others with their public speaking skills - though there are some differences between clubs, each one basically follows the Toastmasters program. Regular meetings consist of speeches, evaluations, and other aspects of presentations - such as impromptu speaking.
Toastmasters clubs will hold speech contests twice a year. These are obviously different from the regular meetings, but how exactly? Speech contests focus more on prepared speeches and friendly competition rather than learning. Normal parts of a Toastmasters meeting - such as the Table Topics session - are cut in order to focus purely on the contest. They can be a great challenge and experience, and regardless of the result you can still get credit in your Competent Communicator or Competent Leadership manuals.
Types of Speech Contests
The standard for Toastmasters contests is the International Speech Contest. This is just a regular competition where you can give a presentation about anything you want. Some standard Toastmasters rules apply - such as time limits (5 to 7 minutes). However speech contest rules are obviously a bit more formal than regular meetings. Your club may prohibit photography, for example, or have a stronger emphasis on silence in the audience than usual.
This is the easiest kind of Toastmasters contest to get credit in your CC Manual or CL Manual - because you can basically talk about any topic you want. To get credit for your speeches, simply hand your manual to a fellow member who will evaluate you (but not give a presentation for their evaluation, unlike regular meetings). Your CL manual will also have several projects related to Toastmasters contests - such as contest chair, and chief judge. Note that most contests require a certain amount of experience to participate - so those just starting on their first speech might want to wait.
There are also other kinds of speech contests with specific themes. Besides prepared presentations, Toastmasters clubs can also have Evaluation Contests and Table Topic Contests - where contestants practice their speech evaluation and impromptu speaking skills, respectively. Toastmasters also has prepared speech contests with specific themes - such as Tall Tales, Humorous, and Inspiring. Aside from the theme, they mostly follow the rules of any other contest.
Moving to the Next Level
If you’re good enough to win at your club, it doesn’t end there! Toastmasters as an organization has several “levels” to be aware of. The first is Area - a group of around 4 or more Toastmasters clubs. After Area is Division - a group of several Areas. Winning your club’s contest means going to an Area Contest, and winning the Area Contest means going to the Division Contest. From their it’s the national level, and if you’re good enough, the world stage at the Toastmasters International Convention. Most people obviously do not make it that far - but you don’t need to be the best of the best for a speech contest to be a rewarding, enlightening experience.
Preparing for a Toastmasters Speech Contest
Much of the preparation involved in a Toastmasters contest is the same as any other speech - though there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, and most obviously, you need to spend a lot more time getting prepared than you would for a regular meeting. If possible, find a quiet place in your house and apartment and practice over and over. During your commute or breaks at work, try memorizing your speech.. Don’t be afraid to make revisions either, or get help from experienced Toastmasters members. Some people get involved in speech contests just for fun, which is fine - but if you’re at all serious about winning, you need all the help you can get.
Second, another thing to remember is that regardless of the speech contest theme, the most successful speeches are those that manage to move people’s emotions. Toastmasters speech contests are not ideal places for an informative speech or technical presentation. The most successful contest presentations always blend humor, emotion, and inspiration with a good simple message the audience can take home with them. While learning other aspects of public speaking is important, save them for regular meetings.
Regardless of your motivation for participating - whether it be for self improvement or temporary fame - Toastmasters speech contests can be an excellent thing to be involved in. With a bit of dedication and preparation, you can make the most out of it and it will become a learning experience you'll never forget.