I’ve been a member of Toastmasters International for over 20 years. In that time I’ve seen hundreds of speeches and been a part of many speech contests, both as a participant and a judge. I’ve also had the privilege of judging many Rotary 4-way student speech contests for high school students. With this experience I can tell you that there are 4 areas that are of primary importance when giving your contest speech. If you get all four of these right, you’ll be on your way to placing well. Leave out one or two and you’ll be left wondering what went wrong.
How To Win a Speech Contest
First impressions mean a lot. When a judge evaluates your performance, they are looking at a lot of criteria. Having a professional appearance is a simple way to move to the top of their list in the visual category. Here are three ways to stand out above the competition.
- Dress a notch above. This usually means a suit and tie for the guys and a professional looking dress or suit for women. This will give you an instant edge over someone who dresses casually or wears jeans to the contest.
- Stand out from the crowd. Wearing power colors with contrast will help you stand out and be remembered. If you blend in you’ll be forgotten. Make sure the judge can describe what you are wearing. For niche or humorous speeches, dress the part you are playing.
- Finishing touches can make the difference. In a competitive contest, attention to detail is key. Being well groomed, having a recent hair cut or styling, and adding accessory items such as pocket squares for the guys or scarves and subtle jewelry for the gals can help bump you up a notch. Breath mints and deodorant are a must.
2. Speak with Clarity.
A judge must be able to hear you and make out what you are saying to be able to judge you properly. Adding vocal nuances can add extra points to your score. Here are three areas of concern
- Speak to the back row. You never know where your judges will be sitting. I always like to focus on people in the back of the room and speak to them. Mentally this will help you project better. It’s best to test this before the event. Have a friend sit in the back row and test your volume. Have them hold up their hand to indicate your audio level. Speak louder until they can hear you well. Some rooms are huge caverns which dilute your voice. Use a microphone if necessary.
- Learn to use a microphone. Many contests that I have been to will provide a microphone. It’s best to practice with the available unit before the event if possible. With lapel microphones, make sure it is placed properly so you get good sound. Practice with handhelds to get the proper distance without breathing noise. Holding them under your chin may help.
- Use vocal variety. Vary your voice to make different points. Be loud and expressive to hammer a point home. Be soft and quiet to draw your audience in. Learn to speak from your diaphragm so you project well.
3. Make a Point.
Your speech content needs to be fresh and compelling. You’ll have a distinct advantage over your competition if you make your audience think. If you are repeating time-worn topics, you’ll put your audience to sleep.
- Keep it fresh. Nothing worse that using cookie cutter topics, overused examples, and well-worn clichés in your presentation. Change it up. Make it new and exciting. We have all heard about Martin Lither King’s speech and John F. Kennedy’s moon quest. Pull a Paul Harvey, find new material, and then tell us the rest of the story.
- Add contrast. Contrast is the black and white of your presentation. Shades of grey don’t work well here. The greater the contrast, the more compelling your speech will be. Tell us… what is, and then tell us…what can be.
- Close the deal. Once you have made your point, you need to close the deal. Ask your audience to take action. Take us home…
4. Tell a Story.
Almost every contest winning speech I’ve ever heard has used powerful stories. A good story engages the audience, wakes them up, and draws them in. Here are three things you’ll want to add to your story to make it a success…
- Use the 5 Senses. Show us in words how something looks. Let us hear how it sounds. Let us know how it feels. Give us a taste and let us enjoy the aromas. Including the 5 senses in your presentation can make a major impact on your audience.
- Have conflict and emotion. A winning speech is like a best selling book. It must contain conflict. Let us vividly know what is wrong with the status quo. Add emotion, such as fear, heartbreak, joy, and success. While we don’t like conflict in our lives, we love it in our stories!
- Have a great plot. Structure your speech like a great novel. Reveal important details as you go along. Don’t give us everything up front. Keep us on the edge of our seats with suspense and mystery. Give us clues along the way. Add twists and turns. Structure will make or break your speech. Make it compelling!
Overall. You can simplify a good speech this way…Tell a story, make a point! If you dress well and project with your voice, you’re well on your way to win a speech contest!
Bonus Content: Speech Evaluation Forms
Question: Have you won a speech contest before?