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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Navarro

Winning Toastmaster Speech Contests

Hi. My name is Anthony and I am a Toastmaster.

Yay, now that we’ve got that out of the way…

We are in Contest Season and I am competing in the Toastmaster International Speech Contest. Seeing what kind of speeches have won in the last few contests I have watched or participated in, I wanted to give you a couple pointers of what kind of speeches appeal to the judges and make it to the next level.

Which Speeches WIN?

There are a number of different kinds of speeches that people can deliver.

Instructional Speeches educate your audience. An example of an instructional speech is like one I gave on “Backing Up Your iLife – Protecting Your Data in the Digital Age.” It typically involves instruction, comparisons, and a final recommendation.

Motivating Speeches have a goal of having your audience take action, usually via a positive incentive. A speech I gave called “The Power of NO” had the goal of finding the things my audience members needed to say “no” to in their lives in order to be able to spend the most precious resource they have – time – on things that would move them forward with their life goals.

Persuasive Speeches would be a speech to sway the opinion of an audience, for instance one can argue why you should never own a home and always rent, why Macs are better than PCs, or why the governmental system of a Democratic Republic is superior to a pure Democracy.

And the winner is…

Inspirational Speeches are the most common types of speeches that win contests. Inspirational speeches tug at the heartstrings of your audience – and the judges – and just like movies, books, and biographies, the human story is the one that is most compelling.

There are certainly many other types of speeches that can be listed here. Maybe that will be fodder for a later post. Suffice to say, if you are looking to win not only your local club contest, but advance to the higher levels, including the World Championships, you should focus on an Inspirational style speech.

Make it Personal

Your speech, in order to truly inspire, has to come from the heart. The most effective way that this can happen is in terms of a personal story. It has to come from you. You cannot tell someone else’s story and be authentic. You can be a co-star in the story, however. For example, instead of a speech about how you battled cancer, (if you didn’t) you can tell the story of how you were there by the side of your (wife, child, brother, mother) during their cancer. The tragedy or challenge doesn’t necessarily have to have happened directly to you, but you ought to have been directly involved in the tragedy.

Make it Hurt

Every story has to have something bad happen to the hero or the main character. Luke Skywalker discovers his father is the greatest scourge of the galaxy. Frodo has to leave all that he loves and take a one-way trip to destroy The One Ring. John Wick loses his dog. Your spouse is diagnosed with cancer.

Point Them To the Light

Your audience needs to be guided out of the hurt into the light. You need to have an exit strategy and you need to keep it simple and hammer it home. “Use the Force.” “Just Do It.” “Just Say No.” “Everyone has a Garden to Tend.” “Time to go to work.” When you come up with your “Phrase that Pays” you need to use a sufficient number of examples in your speech, each one building on the other, so they are stirred into your…

Call to Action

Once you have your audience’s sympathy, you need to stir them into action – “Get into the Battle.” “Get in the Garden.” “Make it happen, Captain!” “Just Do It!” This is the most important part of your speech and the part that can make or break your chances of winning.

Be Yourself

Of course, instructions on how to deliver a winning speech are like the Pirate Code. They’re more like guidelines than hard, fast, rules. The most important thing you can do is be yourself. I (you) will never win a contest channeling Steve Jobs. I cannot stir the hearts of my audience to choose a vocation I myself have never worked in. I cannot convince parents to raise their kids a certain way as I myself have not had children of my own.

The 2010 World Champion of Public Speaking, David Henderson, delivered his speech wearing a costume – a patch-riddled bomber jacket, a flying helmet and goggles. Everyone and his brother told him that it was a bad idea, that every winner previous to him wore a “proper” suit jacket and tie.

He decided to be himself, and he won.

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