Monday, 29 August, 2005

Toastmasters club speech contest

Toastmasters International is an organization that is dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking skills.  There are over 10,000 clubs worldwide, and it's likely that if you're in even a small city there's a club near you.  The clubs provide a friendly and helpful environment where individuals can practice speaking, listening, and thinking effectively--all essential skills no matter what your field of endeavor.

I suppose I'm better than average at speaking in front of a group, but I know that I can use some improvement.  Debra and I visited the local Toastmasters club last month and joined after our second visit.  The following week the vice president of education asked for participants in the club's speech contest and, being the kind of person who jumps in feet first, I thought I'd give it a go.  So tonight I competed in the humorous speech category and in Table Topics--short (one to two minute) impromptu speaking.

I learned an important lesson tonight in knowing the audience.  My speech was The Military School Way, a humorous look at my first day in military school.  It got a few good laughs, but the speech wasn't right for the audience.  That speech is appropriate at one of my school reunions or perhaps among a group of former or current members of the military, but most people couldn't relate.  My speech depends on the audience having experienced the military way of life.  The topic was appropriate, but the speech itself was not.

It came as no surprise to me, after seeing the other humorous speech and seeing the audience's reaction to mine, that I did not win the contest.  Nevertheless, I did reasonably well, managed not to fumble too much, and learned a lot while preparing, practicing, and delivering the speech.

Table Topics is an altogether different kind of speaking.  The idea is to speak for one to two minutes on the topic presented to you.  You have no time to prepare.  For the contest, all of the contestants went out of the room and were called back in one at a time and asked the same question:  "What is the first thing you know?"  My answer, in brief, was "hunger."  I obviously don't have a transcript of my answer, although one of the club members video taped the entire contest and I might transcribe it here after I've viewed it.  I managed to place second in the field of four contestants.

I'm very happy with my performance in both categories.  I didn't win, but I made a good showing and enjoyed myself.  If you're interested in improving your public speaking, I strongly recommend that you visit a local Toastmasters club.  They're always happy to have visitors.  You can find a club near you by visiting the Find a Club page at toastmasters.org.