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June 2024
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How to Step Up Your Online Game

Contest season is here! Learn how to genuinely connect with your audience through the camera.

By Lindy MacLaine, DTM


Click play to hear an exclusive interview with the author Lindy MacLaine and the hosts of the Toastmasters Podcast.

My heart pounded. Adrenaline poured through me. This was the World Championship of Public Speaking®! Would I remember my speech? All that practice would have to be enough. A few body warm-ups, some deep breaths, and I was on …

All from my spare bedroom.

Have you ever dreamed of being a movie star? When the International Speech Contest went to an online format in 2020, I knew my chance had come. While I say this tongue-in-cheek, understanding that we’ve switched from one medium: stage, to another: screen, is elemental to mastering the craft of delivering a powerful, inspiring, online speech.

In this article, I will give you the most important insight from my own online competition journey. Since winning third place in the 2020 World Championship of Public Speaking, I’ve presented many times on “How to Become an A.C.E. at Virtual Speaking,” where I offer the nuts and bolts of how to connect authentically with your audience through the camera. A.C.E. stands for:


A = Authenticity

C = Camera dos and don’ts

E = Eye contact


What’s your biggest challenge when speaking online? No audience reaction, right? Many online contests disable the viewer’s videos, leaving no sense of an audience at all. A friend after her Area Contest even said: “I felt kind of sad and lonely up there.”

How do you connect authentically with the audience when it feels like no one is there? Let’s go back to being a movie star for a moment. Actors on the big screen routinely work without an audience. They give Oscar-winning performances without a single laugh, sigh of agreement, or applause. What they do have is each other. As long as an actor has another actor to be fully present with, to affect, and to be affected by, she has all she needs to create an engaging scene.

Even a picture of a human being will evoke a different quality in your voice, your face, and your body when you speak to it than the camera evokes on its own.

As Toastmasters, when we speak on camera, we do it alone. Try providing yourself with an imaginary “scene partner.” Once you are crystal clear on the message of your speech, think about who really needs to hear it. It should be someone you know, like, and trust. It might even be a younger version of yourself.

Next, get a photo of that person. Size it down to 1”x1”, cut it out, and tape it to the spot on or above your screen that equals “the perfect eye contact” spot. (That spot is pre-determined on Zoom by someone giving you precise feedback.)

When I first tried this, I thought it would be silly. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even a picture of a human being will evoke a different quality in your voice, your face, and your body when you speak to it than the camera evokes on its own. This is someone you need to win over, to encourage, to inspire. Your trust of this person allows you to show your true self. It’s more important to get through to him than it is to “look good.” You must passionately, with your whole self, do whatever it takes to reach him.

I’ve heard Darren LaCroix, Craig Valentine, and other World Champions talk about what they do right before going onstage: it’s always some version of focusing on reaching those in the audience who need their message.

Making your audience a single person is exactly what this medium requires. Through the camera, you are one-on-one with every audience member. Focus on reaching your “scene partner.” You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you finish your speech and have that feeling of simultaneous exhaustion and elation. You’ve been heard. You’ve changed a life.

You can do this! Go get ‘em!

Don’t Forget the Rules!

Watch the video below of 2019 World Champion of Public Speaking Aaron Beverly as he breaks down the rules for competing in Toastmasters International’s Speech Contest. (For any official competition questions, all contestants must defer to the chief judge of their speech contest).

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