Toastmasters International’s speech contest is a highly competitive process. TI has clubs in over 90 countries and over 200, 000 members. We have all spent countless hours working on our basic and advanced manuals and at some point most members decide to compete. As an organization we have several different contests from our table topics contest (off the cuff speaking) to our tall tales contest. The international speech contest is the only one that TI requires that all clubs participate in.
The first WCPS (world champion of public speaking) was Henry Wiens of Reedley, CA in 1938. Since then the coveted title has been awarded every year except 1944-45. The first international winner was Glenn Carroll in 1960. Last years winner, Lashunda Rundles, became the first African-American woman ever to win the event.
But what does a champion really look like? One of the prevailing formulas is to “make ’em cry, make ’em laugh, and give ’em something to do”. Basically you have to have high points and lots of emotion as well call the crowd to action. A miniature inspirational seminar is basically what the formula calls for. In my preparation I have watch countless numbers of contest speeches from winners and those that simply made it to the final. I have also watched speeches from around the world that won club, area, division, and district championships. And without question I know that toastmasters is definitely the place to go if you want to improve your speaking skills. I also see a couple of separating factors.
All of the winning speeches are amoebas. By this I mean that we can all put ourselves into their stories. The speaker has crafted their 7 minutes of personal reflection in a manner that connects with the general audience. This removes many speech topics immediately. The key to these speeches is in how they are designed. People take amazing personal tragedy and success and deliver it in a manner that each individual can see themselves in that situation.
All the winning speeches are choreographed. Please don’t think that all the winners recruit and retain dancers to make their speeches “look good”. But many times speaking is more about what you don’t say than what you do say. Nonverbal communication is important in day to day dialogue and just as important when speaking. Even though I use the word “choreograph” I do not mean forced. Great speakers use the space and the time they have on stage with purpose. They don’t wander around, they move when the story moves. The great ones don’t plant their hands in their pockets or fold their arms unless the speech calls for them to do so to emphasize a point. Delivery is a large portion of the scoring system and what you look like and how you move is a huge part of the delivery.
All the winning speeches are well prepared. This may seem like an obvious one. You have to have some level of talent to compete in the WCPS or even to make it out of your club level contest. All the speakers in the contest are good! In much the same way that all professional athletes are obviously very good in their chosen sport. The difference between very good and great is usually in the preparation. This is the old visual of Michael Jordan staying after practice to shoot free throws or Jerry Rice running extra pass routes on an off day; the great ones work at being great. The greatest speakers do so as well. They deliver the speech to their club and the clubs in town. They speak to friends and family. They perform for kids and dogs. They take the time to write, rewrite, and then edit, write and rewrite their speeches again. They have writers look at their text, storytellers critique their flow, and more experienced speakers give feedback. Make no mistake about it, these guys work and work hard.
In working on my speeches, one of the things I enjoy the most is finding speeches that look like me. By that I mean that not only are the speeches well crafted and well delivered but they are especially appealing to me. Last years contest had some amazing work being done on the big stage. Lashunda Rundles had a tough group to compete and ultimately win against. I watched as many speeches from the top 10 as I could find. My personal favorite is Rory Vaden. He is young, high energy, emotional, polished, and gifted. More than anything his speech just connected with me.
Well done Rory!