Toastmasters District Contest
We are one day away from the International Speech Contest District 26 competition here in Denver Colorado on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Eight finalists representing more than 150 clubs throughout Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska will speak for 5-7 minutes to see who will leave with the big trophy and advance to the International championship in Las Vegas this August!

Competitors first had to win the contest at their club level, then advanced to the area, where a person usually competes against 3-5 contestants from other clubs. The winner from there advances to the Division contest, where the competition is usually against 5-7 contestants.

If you are fortunate enough to win your Division contest and advance to the District level, you’ve certainly made quite an accomplishment! Going beyond the District, for most of us mere members, is just a dream.

Speech Contests are Not Just About Trophies

People seem to undervalue or lose the real meaning of Toastmasters speech contests. Some see them as a “fun thing to try.” Some see them as putting undue pressure on oneself. Some look at speech contests as a pure waste of time.

As a self-certified “former Toastmasters contest junkie,” who entered every contest available either as a contestant or a facilitator, I really only had one goal. My desire to compete was to prove to myself that I was at least a little above being an incompetent speaker.

Sure, I was intimidated at first. How would I match up against such skilled speakers that had been competing at these events for years?

If I could win against seasoned members of my own club, that would be a major accomplishment in itself. But, if I could win at the Area or even place at the Division, I would know for certainty that I had at least some skill as a speaker that I definitely did not have before joining Toastmasters.

Every Speech is a Contest

In our club, at George Sutton Toastmasters in Aurora, we have informal contests every week. We have a “Best Speaker” award, a “Best Evaluator” award and a “Best Table Topics” award. This weekly competition gives us all that little extra nudge to do our best each week. It keeps us competitive for those moments when we need to be…competitive with our speaking.

For example, I was once asked to speak at a networking event. One of our former members, Mark Crowley (KNUS Radio Personality) was the Master of Ceremonies (the MC). I was told to be at the event at 10am to give my presentation. Fortunately, Toastmasters teaches us to arrive early so I showed up an hour in advance.

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by the event planner running toward me, “Marty!” she yelled across the room in full sprint coming in my direction. “You’re on in five minutes! John is on stage now giving his two minute pitch. Mike goes on after him. And, then you give your 2-minutes to tell the audience what you’re going to be presenting in your break-out session.”

Breakout? I didn’t know there would be a breakout. I thought I was there to speak to the entire group!

I had just spent the past three DAYS working on assembling my 2-hour workshop presentation. And, now I have to SELL the audience to attend my session instead of the sessions being presented by the other two guys??

For a split second, I thought my week had been totally wasted. But, then instinct kicked-in. “This is just like a Toastmasters contest,” I said to myself.

“I’ve competed in tons of Toastmasters contests…and I’m going to win this one too!” I reassured myself.

Up on stage I went.

After my two minutes were up, I left the room not sure what to expect. After another hour of waiting for the main event to be over, I sat in my breakout room wondering if anyone would show.

The event doors opened. I could hear people talking down the hall about which topic they wanted to hear or if they should choose an early lunch.

One person came through the door and greeted me. I guess that meant I would be giving my two-hour presentation to at least someone! Then another entered the door. Then three more. After about five minutes, I was in the hall myself trying to find someone from the hotel to bring more chairs into my breakout room! We only had seating for about 50…and there were AT LEAST another 30 people wanting to be in my session!

As I passed the other breakout rooms looking for chairs, I noticed five people in one room and about ten in the other.

The majority of people wanted to come to MY SESSION! All from a 2-minute mini-speech, where I treated it like a Toastmasters contest.

Had I not been a member of a Toastmasters club that has weekly contests AND if I had no interest in competing at the contest level, would I have been able to convince that many people to come to my session?

Maybe. But, I sure would have struggled to figure out what to say—especially with only four minutes of notice.

Enter Contests to GET Good

Next time your mentor or one of your club members suggests that you should compete in an upcoming Toastmasters contest, I urge you to accept the invitation. If no one asks you, register to compete anyway! Prove to yourself you belong in a Toastmasters competition.

You don’t enter a Toastmasters contest because you’re good…but to GET good.

An ‘ol friend in Toastmasters, Jim Fritts, once suggested to me that “Properly preparing for a Toastmasters contest speech is like preparing for five club speeches. Delivering a contest speech with total commitment to winning brings you the equivalent of 10 manual speeches in experience!”

Cheapest Entertainment in Town

You can become a better speaker just by watching Toastmasters contests, especially at the District level.

For that reason, I’ll officially recommend for you to at least attend the District speech contest on Saturday night, May 16.

Day 1 of the conference starts tonight (Friday) and then various events and educational sessions will be happening all day Saturday. The location is the Marriott Denver Airport At Gateway Park, 16455 E 40th Circle, Aurora, CO 80011.

One of the guest educational session leaders is one of my National Speakers Association buddies, Scott Friedman, He is a very popular professional speaker who will be teaching the audience on Saturday how to use humor. Seeing Scott will be worth anything you pay for your weekend registration! So, that’s definitely worth attending if you’d like to make a day of it.

The speech contest itself will be in the evening. You can attend only for the speech contest at the bargain rate of just $10 or sign-up for the dinner or the entire day for additional educational sessions for various pricing. Here’s a link to the sign-up page on the website.

Register Here >>

Bring your friends. Bring your spouse. If you haven’t been to a district Toastmasters contest, make this your year! The location is easy to get to and it truly is the cheapest entertainment in town.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that by just watching this contest, you will walk out of the room a better speaker. And, the next time you get faced with a challenge at work, you’ll be able to draw on that experience of even just watching a district level Toastmasters contest and come out the winner! Toastmasters contests are not just for fun, they mean business!

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Marty Dickinson, ATMB, joined the George Sutton Toastmasters club in 1995 and has served as club as president, area governor, division governor and district webmaster. He attributes Toastmasters for teaching him how to enjoy speaking instead of dreading it. Today Marty is an author, presenter, and mentor to new speakers through