Lessons Learned – 2013 Toastmasters International Semifinal Speech Contest

What I learned: I have a lot more to learn! At this level of the game – at the Semifinals and World Champion of Public Speaking contests – it’s the minor things that make a major difference!

Do NOT go over time

Two of my competitors were automatically disqualified because they went over the 7 minute and 30 second time limit. So disappointing. All that hard work, dedication, extra time away from family and friends to prepare, practice, edit, travel – and to go over time… UGH!

There were 2 reasons these contestants went over time:

  • One speaker forgot part of their speech, had a long pause, and went over time.
  • The other speaker got caught off guard by an audience member’s supportive applause, got completely off track and went over time.

Lesson I learned: practice a truncated closing in case I forget my lines or get distracted – or both!

During the 2013 Toastmasters International speech competition season I forgot my lines twice, once at my Area contest and once at my District contest. The ONLY thing that saved my butt was the regular participation in my club’s Table Topics section! It isn’t perfect but it really helps me “fake” my way back into my speech. As far as making up for the lost time, I definitely need more practice altering my closing on the fly, so I don’t go over time.

Insight from judges

A previous-year’s judge spoke with me for 30 minutes about what she looks for, how she judges, what bores her and that I, as a speaker, need to really grab her attention within the first 20 seconds of my speech. Otherwise, she’s thinking about what she’s going to order for dinner after the contest.

I also spoke with people who sat in the same contest room and listened to all 3 contest groups back-to-back (approx. 6 hours), and what patterns they see emerge (topics, speaking-styles, copycats) and what becomes stale and obvious. In particular, one former judge mentioned getting tired of hearing about cancer and death all day long! They became more of a “downer” rather than inspiring, she said.

Get a Toastmasters coach

Competing at International requires 2 speeches: one for the Semifinal contest and another speech for the World Champion of Public Speaking contest. The speech for WCPS contest must be brand new, and it must never have been presented during the current year’s contests (Club, Area, Division or District). And they have to be presented only 2 days apart (the Semifinal contest was on Thursday, Aug 22, 2013; the World Championship contest was on Saturday, Aug 24, 2013).

So when do I start writing my Finals speech?  I Tweeted 2012 World Champion, Ryan Avery, and he said I should only start writing my Finals speech after winning at the District competition.

All of the winners that I saw at the 2013 Convention thanked their coaches, who were all sitting in the audience. Even the speakers who didn’t win had coaches. There are plenty of 2nd-place World Champions – and a few 1st-place World Champions – from previous years walking the hallways at the convention. They’re all easy to talk to and exchange business cards with.

When I do this again, I’ll get a coach. I’ll also put together a roster of Advance Club members and District-level Toastmasters that I trust to move me forward.

Pick a better speech topic next year

There is a difference between my local District 39 audience and judges and International’s audience and judges. A few 2nd place World Champions I met mentioned that I should craft a speech to win at my District level, then re-craft it to win at Semifinals, as well as separately craft a winning World Champion speech. A few of my District’s advanced-club members observed the need to transform my District-winning speech for Semifinals. And guess what, those few local Toastmasters that told me straight-out that my District-winning speech would not hold up at Semifinals were right. And I’m putting them in my mastermind group.

Also, the difference between my 2nd place Semifinal winning speech and Chris Nachtrab’s 1st place Semifinal winning speech was obvious to me: all things being equal, his speech simply touched more hearts and had far fewer words than mine did. He talked about family, memories and cherishing life’s important moments. His speech was easy to follow and easy to swallow.

Get more practice time in front of groups

Practice in strange, distracting, embarrassing situations, like Ryan Avery did while training for his 2012 win. He even practiced on the sidewalks of his hometown. Speak at other organizations: Kiwanis, Rotary, etc. Ryan says he spoke to 50 Toastmasters clubs in the 3 months leading up to his 2012 victory. From my calculation, it was like a second full-time job.

Networking for the future

I meet Ryan Avery, 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking and his wife, Chelsea. I also met a couple of 2nd-place World Champions from previous years, including Kwong Yue Yang, the 2011 2nd-place World Champion (his 2011 speech “Fortune Cookie“). Kwong is the nicest guy, with helpful advice for me and anybody else who was around. I also met Douglas Wilson, the 2006 2nd-place World Champion. Douglas sat down and mentored me one-on-one for more than an hour. He was also super-supportative of all the 88 Semifinal contestants who came in from all over the world. Kwong’s and Douglas’s knowledge and wisdom is readily available in the hallways, dinners and educational sessions.

This is another reason to attend the International Convention every year: everybody’s there and easy to talk to.

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