Four Lessons I’ve Learned from Competing in Speech Contests

In a world that is often cold with cynicism and dark with indifference, speakers need to ignite sparks that will restore hope and energize initiative.

  1. How to create a speech for a contest
  2. How to compress a speech into a limited time frame
  3. How to channel excited energy while speaking
  4. How to want so passionately to be declared the “best” while still being able to deal with not even placing in the top three

Creating a speech for a contest is much like using an outline to write an essay or a plan to build a bridge. You need a blend of three elements: your end goal, the rules or guidelines and your own creative experience to choose a topic that you believe in.

Compressing into a Limited Time Frame

The self-discipline of delivering a seven minute speech is the same kind of discipline needed to complete work or home tasks without running overtime. Use a stop watch to monitor yourself. Edit, edit and edit to free extraneous material.

Channeling energy while speaking is probably a lot like channeling physical energy for athletes. The adrenaline rush needs to be focused on achieving your goal. Incorporating body language, verbal pacing and stage movement to best share content is what makes each speaker unique.

#4 is one that’s taken me years to achieve- not the wanting to win part:  that has always been there from the time I first began speaking in public around age eight to my first contest in university in my twenties to the most recent contest more than forty years later on April 9th. 2011.

Learning to Accept

Learning to accept the judges’ decision without crying, feeling like a victim or like a “big winner” has taken time for me personally. Usually I’m pretty independent about preparing for a contest.

My latest contest involved me requesting and receiving more coaching from people I admire and trust than at any other time, being more candid than at almost any other time, practising on a stage in a real theatre ahead of time and even enlisting the help of our church decorator to package one of my props. I even went shopping with a Sweet Adeline friend for the most appropriate clothing for this particular contest.

Entering a multi-level speech contest, advancing to stage four and then not even placing gave me the chance to step back and objectively realize that someone else was in fact better than I was (even before the judges’ decision was announced) and it was okay.

The old Pauline would have been devastated or at least pitiful with the results. Instead, I was able to see this contest as a wonderful opportunity to discover the talented kindness of friends and family, the unique gifts of fellow competitors, my own ability to provoke laughter.

Although it is “only a contest” in fact a speech competition is a tiny microcosm of life. “Best” is a relative word and in speaking we are always growing.  For anyone considering entering a contest, ask yourself “Why not?” You will gain greater confidence, skill and inner courage to attempt other ventures.

Congratulations to Susan Lamb Robinson who won the right to represent District 86 at the International Speech Contest in Las Vegas in August. As one of our fellow competitors said, “See you next year!

Pauline Duncan-Thrasher came second in her first speaking contest. She was an introverted Journalism student at the University of Western Ontario speaking passionately about the needs of integration of black people into education and communities. In 1980 she began competing in Toastmaster contests: speech, evaluation and impromptu. She won some and lost many.

When she heard about the Canada Day contest it took five years of progressing to the next level to finally win the chance to speak on Parliament Hill with her Canada Day Speech in 1990. She spoke about the need to appreciate the diverse cultures and languages represented in our wonderful country. Pauline helps students of all ages to develop their unique styles as speakers whether in contests, work or just living.

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