It’s the Fall speech-contest season. As part of the Toastmasters experience, members are offered the opportunity to grow their skills in the contest environment. When you have the chance to compete, I highly recommend you embrace the opportunity. Here’s why:
1. The Mountain. The mountain climber, when asked “Why climb the mountain,” has traditionally replied, “Because it’s there!” Challenge is stimulating. It calls on you to be a better climber or speaker or person. As a Toastmaster, a speech contest sparks your competitive spirit and your creativity in a way that the routine Toastmasters meeting can’t.
2. Your Comfort Zone. It’s a great way to expand your comfort zone. If you speak only at club meetings, a group of 10 people becomes the audience size that feels good to you. A large audience may take your breath away. In fact, just standing on the platform before an event, looking out at 200 empty seats may be enough to give you butterflies.
My home club, PowerHouse Pros in Las Vegas, made the decision to grow the membership to give the members the opportunity to experience a larger audience. In about 18 months we’ve grown our membership from about 20 members more than double that size. And four times a year we plan a special meeting where we fill the room with over 60 members and guests.
The contest experience gives you that “larger audience” experience, too. The contest experience moves you from the club level, to the area, division, district, region and international. Your audiences usually become larger every time you step to the next level. You learn to be more comfortable with a larger audience.
3. Deadlines. The contest cycle helps you reach your goal of developing new material because it gives you target dates for having your speech written and re-written. Without the deadlines, we often spend our time “getting ready to get ready.” When you’re moving up the contest ladder, you’re forced to be ready by a specific date. The structure of deadlines is a good thing.
4. Better Feedback. As the audience size grows, so does the quality of feedback you receive when the audience responds to your material and your delivery. This is especially evident with a humorous speech but also applies to a motivational speech. The energy you receive from an audience is magnified as the size of the audience grows. In addition, as you win and move to the next level, your home club supports you by giving you more intense and focused feedback as you prepare your speech for the next level of competition.
5. Sense of Purpose. The contest environment gives you the push to do better and to try harder. Sometimes there is a tendency, when preparing a speech for a regular meeting, to just throw something together at the last moment. I’ve heard Toastmasters refer to a speech as a “red light” speech. That’s a speech written by a speaker while stopped at a red light on the way to the meeting. A negative aspect of becoming a better speaker is the tendency to occasionally become a bit lazy, because giving a speech may be perceived as easy. A contest helps motivate you to push yourself just a bit more than you normally would. You’re encouraged to put more thought into a speech which is prepared for a contest, for a special event.
6. Growth. Competition is not about winning. It’s about growing. Sure it’s nice to win. I like winning. When you win, you feel good. But in the long run, winning just puts a trophy on your shelf that won’t greatly impress people a year from now. The growth experience, on the other hand, takes you to a new level of competence where you will touch people at a deeper level, where you will make more people laugh, and where you will be remembered as a speaker who makes a difference. That beats a dusty old trophy on the shelf. Growth trumps winning in my book any day.
I recommend competing in every contest that comes along. International, Humor, Tall-Tales, Evaluation, Table Topics, Talent. The only people who lose are those who don’t compete.