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The three lessons learnt from competing in a Toastmasters Public Speaking Contest
In 2019, joined my local Toastmasters Club to overcome the fear of public speaking and improve my communication skills. For professional reasons, I often need to stand up and communicate clearly in front of an audience. I was tired of battling with jelly legs caused by adrenaline surges and the lack of confidence influenced by negative inner whispers in my mind. So, I decided to take the bull by the horns and join my local Toastmasters Club in Nyon.
Two years after joining, I find myself competing at a Toastmaster Contest in 2021. It was not on my to-do list. However, my mentor and club president's encouragement motivated me to sign up for the experience. I am so thankful that they did! I'll never forget the experience and would like to share these three insights with you.
Be curious about the process, not the result.
Be warned. Your inner perfectionist may struggle to digest this piece of information. When you experience something as a process rather than a result, it relieves the pressure associated with the pursuit of perfection. The whole process becomes more fun and an experiment to see what happens if? When you approach it like a learning process, there is no wrong or right, only discoveries. My reasons for competing in the Toastmasters contest were:
a) Test out an idea for the topic of creativity.
b) Experience a Toastmaster Contest
c) Experiment delivering a speech that's entertaining, not boring.
d) Practice giving an engaging speech in an online environment
e) Expand my network and meet new people
f) See how far I could get with today's capabilities
g) Stretch my comfort zone in front of a wider audience
That brings me to my second point; comfort zones.
Enter the cave you fear and find the treasure you seek
One of my favourite Joseph Campbell quotes and relevant when talking about comfort zones is "Enter the cave you fear and find the treasure you seek". Competing in a contest was one of the caves I feared. I had never done it before, and it felt above my abilities and intimidating to put myself in front of people that I didn't know and who can tell a good speech from a bad one. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I go blank? What if I am boring? Self-doubt was running wild in my mind. But, I hushed my inner critic and signed myself up for the competition.
There is no stepping out of the comfort zone without courage and vulnerability. Despite the discomforting sensations, it's always worth getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Courage leads you to places where the magic happens. Be brave and step out of your comfort zone and grow into the next version of yourself. When you tread in unknown territory, you're rewarded—increased experience, confidence and feedback. And, don't all champions eat feedback for breakfast? Leadership expert Ken Blanchard thinks so.
Competing in four rounds of the contest from club, area, division to the district was an opportunity to practice the same speech repeatedly and receive feedback along the way. You do need to filter the input as Toastmasters, by nature, love to give feedback. If you listen to all of it - your head might start spinning. I recommend turning to mentors whose opinion and experience you trust, who know your evolution as a speaker and stick with that.
Be creative, and don't take yourself too seriously.
Creativity is intelligence having fun. By the time I reached the District Contest, I had rehearsed the speech almost one hundred times. There are three things I played with whilst practising. First, once I knew my content well, I rehearsed in disruptive environments, from walking outside amongst strangers to cooking or dancing. With this tactic, I trained myself to overcome disruptions and find the trail of my speech. The second creative way to prepare for the contest was to rehearse using replacement words. I did this with my son to make him laugh, but it was good training to deal with disruption.
The third technique was about body language, not words. In the past, I have felt too uncomfortable to use my body and turn the speech into a performance. With some nudging from my mentors, I filmed my rehearsals, testing different body language options to see what worked best. I must say that the first few times I watched the video of myself, I hated it, and then I adjusted and found it extremely useful to see what did and didn't work. On the morning of the division contest, I decided to use some of the fun material from rehearsals with family - the kind of content I thought I wouldn't dare to do because it was too silly. In the end, I dared to do it and felt proud of my final delivery and for giving it my best.
In a nutshell, I decided not to take myself so seriously and include the silly, exaggerated fun bits. As a result, I became the champion of Swiss Romande and won the silver model at the Southern European Speech Contest. I performed beyond my wildest dreams—and having budding aspirations and confidence to compete in future contests to see what happens next time.
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