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Should You Enter Speech Contests?

By all means, YES!

By Bill Brown, DTM


As you’ve no doubt noticed, Toastmasters offers many ways for you to learn. My favorite—and the one where I have grown the most—is the speech contest.

Every year, districts conduct a number of contests, typically four. It’s an opportunity to test your skills against other Toastmasters in a multi-round, single elimination tournament. What’s so great about that? You get to push yourself to become better in speaking and speech writing because you know that you will be competing with some really good speakers.

Toastmasters offers five different types of contests. Each district chooses which ones they wish to conduct, although one of them must be the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. Let’s look at each one.

The Toastmasters International Speech Contest is so called because, unlike the other contests, each district winner goes on to the Toastmasters International Convention to compete for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking. There is no requirement for the type or topic of the speech but, at the higher levels, inspirational speeches often win.

The Humorous Speech Contest is the most fun for the spectator. After all, we all like to laugh. This is not stand-up comedy. Contestants present speeches on topics of their own choosing and make them as humorous as they can. If you think you are funny, this is the contest for you.

My favorite is the Tall Tales Contest. This one involves telling a far-fetched story. I achieved a major breakthrough in my speaking ability by competing in this contest. I soon learned that you need to be very expressive to deliver an effective tall tale. By pushing myself, I stretched to the point where I became a much better speaker in general. You see, telling a tall tale, by its very nature, encourages us to be more expressive than we normally are. And it’s not just me. I have seen others take their speaking to a whole new level by participating in this contest. That is why I personally believe that it should be a part of each district’s contest menu.

What is the advantage of participating in a contest? In a word: growth.

Many districts conduct the Table Topics Contest. If you really enjoy Table Topics, or you would rather not have to write and practice a planned speech, this contest is for you. The speech is just like the Table Topics you are familiar with in your club meeting.

The final contest is the Speech Evaluation Contest. In this one, all contestants listen to a test speaker. They then are escorted to a separate room where they have five minutes to prepare a complete evaluation. One by one, they are brought back to the main room to evaluate the speaker. I encourage you to enter this contest, but if you don’t feel up to it yet, by all means, consider being the test speaker. The feedback that you will receive is invaluable.

I believe the Speech Evaluation Contest has the potential for having the greatest impact on the clubs themselves. If a contestant becomes a better evaluator by participating, he or she is not likely to forget those skills when the contest is over. Instead, they take that new skill level back to their club and then serve as an example for other members, raising the quality of the evaluations in the entire club. This, in turn, raises the value of the Toastmasters experience.

What, then, is the advantage of participating in a contest? In a word: growth. On two occasions, I have seen someone who was not a strong speaker win a club’s International Speech Contest. To their credit, they embraced the task of preparing for the next contest at the area level. I attended both contests and was amazed at how well they did. Although neither of them won, the growth in their speaking was stunning. They made a quantum leap in their speaking ability and they never looked back.

When you ask, should I enter a speech contest, I would strongly urge you to answer yes. Even if you only compete at the club level, it will challenge you in ways that you won’t find in a standard manual speech. If you want to grow … If you want to be stretched … If you want to become a better speaker, by all means enter your next club contest.

And whether or not you win, I suggest that you attend the area, division and district contests. See what the best speakers in your district are doing, and then reach for that level yourself.