Have you ever wanted to hang out with the cool kids? Be part of the popular crowd? Meet a person whom you admired and wanted to be like?
I’m going to tell you how I have been able to accomplish this, and provide three steps so you can do it as well. Let me start with a little personal background…
I have been involved in the non-profit organization, Toastmasters International, for almost eight years now. There are a lot of cool kids in Toastmasters – men and women who have achieved a certain level of communication and/or leadership that makes them revered and honored. They are celebrities within the organization, not reality TV star celebrities, but more like Paul Newman or Oprah Winfrey celebrities. They have accomplished feats that very few have – feats that have affected and influenced the lives of thousands.
From the website of the organization, Toastmasters International is:
… a world leader in communication and leadership development. Our membership is 313,000 strong. Members improve their speaking and leadership skills by attending one of the 14,650 clubs in 126 countries that make up our global network of meeting locations.
The world needs leaders. Leaders head families, coach teams, run businesses and mentor others. These leaders must not only accomplish, they must communicate. By regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams and guiding others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Every Toastmasters journey begins with a single speech. During their journey, they learn to tell their stories. They listen and answer. They plan and lead. They give feedback—and accept it. Through our community of learners, they find their path to leadership.
What few non-Toastmasters know is that there are speech and leadership competitions in the organization twice yearly. These contests begin at the club level – members compete against fellow club members – members who are often like family. The winner of the club contests compete against other club winners in an Area contest. The winner of the Area contests compete against other Area winners in a Division contest. The winners of each Division contest compete at the District level contest.
I am in District 2. There are approximately 3500 members geographically in Western Washington, and includes roughly 175 clubs. Three out of four yearly contests in District 2 (Humorous Speech, Table Topics Speech, and Evaluation Speech) end at the District level. However, the District winner of the International Speech contest will move on to compete against 10 other Districts in one of 10 Semi-Finals held at the annual Toastmasters International Convention. This year it will be held in Las Vegas.
On May 16, 2015 – three days ago as of this writing – I competed in the District level International Speech contest, and I won! I will be moving on to the semi-finals in Las Vegas! That’s where the cool kids are! There have been no more than 90 winners of the final contest – less than 90 individuals who have been crowned “WORLD CHAMPION OF PUBLIC SPEAKING”. In a few months, I will be in the company of the really cool kids – the World Champs of Public Speaking!
Many of the former champs will be at the convention, and they will make themselves available to the contestants. They will support and mentor the contestants in the delivery and content of their competition speeches. Who wouldn’t be excited for the opportunity to talk with Paul Newman or Oprah Winfrey, and receive advice from them?
How did this opportunity come my way? Through the Three P’s of Empowerment. I write about these three P’s in my book, SELF Centered Leadership: Becoming Influential, Intentional and Exceptional. Hanging with the cool kids, getting your dream job, and/or finding success in all you do will happen when you apply the Three P’s of Empowerment.
Can you ever be too prepared? You can certainly be under prepared. Sometimes preparation takes a lifetime. Sometimes it takes place in a few minutes, days or weeks. The bigger the event or desired result, the more preparation required.
I began preparing for the International Speech contest in 2007 when I joined Toastmasters. I committed myself to working the program, speaking as often as opportunity would warrant, and I said yes when asked to serve and help in the organization.
Many people join Toastmasters for selfish reasons – they want to be better speakers. There’s nothing wrong with this mindset, and in fact, I had the same goal. However, those individuals who see the greatest results are those who begin early to give back. They are the ones who turn from selfish motives to those of a selfless nature.
The first three speeches a new member gives in Toastmasters will teach him/her how to tell a personal story, organize a speech, and how to determine the speech purpose – to entertain, persuade, educate, or inspire the audience. All that in the first three speeches!
Every member receives feedback, called evaluations, from other club members. This is how members of the organization learn in what areas they are improving, and in what areas of communication and leadership they need to focus more time and energy on. Learning how to give this feedback is just as beneficial as getting it.
It goes without saying that if you want to pass a test, win a race, or get the job of your dreams, you must study, practice and obtain the required skills.
The speech I gave at the district level contest is not even close to the speech I started with at the club level contest. The title, “Happily, Even After…” remained the same throughout the three-month process. However, the speech content, purpose and delivery changed at each level to appeal to different audiences.
I had a fabulous mentor – one of those celebrities in Toastmasters. He has won at the district level twice before, and won at the semi-finals once before. Lee Amatangelo unselfishly sacrificed time to listen to my speech, provide suggestions, and helped me discover the message the audience would benefit from hearing. His contribution to my preparation was the key to my win. Solo preparation is possible, but partner preparation yields greater results.
At the District 2 Conference last weekend, Patricia Fripp was our morning keynote speaker, and she also provided a workshop on presentations. She shared some outstanding tips where preparation is concerned:
- “Build rehearsal into your everyday life”
- “Practice makes permanent”
She asked us, “Are you practicing to improve…or to reinforce bad habits?” This is so eye-opening when it comes to preparation – make sure you’re preparing for the right opportunity, in the right way, by focusing on the right behavior.
As I prepare my next speech to a brand new audience, I must consider who they are. I will be competing against 9 other individuals from around the world. District 2 (that’s me) will be in Semi-Final #10, and I will be competing against a Toastmaster from the following districts:
District 18 – State of Maryland, USA
District 21 – British Columbia, Canada
District 45 – States of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, USA: and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada
District 48 – West coast of Florida, USA
District 55 – Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Central/South Texas, USA
District 62 – State of Michigan, USA
District 76 – Japan
District 77 – State of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, USA
District 94 – Benin, West Africa
The content and delivery of my speech will need to be focused on connecting to this particular audience. Yikes! Preparation needed? You bet!
I invite you to follow my blog for updates about my preparations leading to my semi-final speech. Let’s call it INTERNATIONAL SPEECH WATCH 2015. To follow my blog, you need only subscribe on either the left or right side of this post. Super easy!
Tune in for the second part of this post. I will focus on the second P of Empowerment – PRINCIPLES.
Getting to Vegas is going to cost me a little money. If you haven’t purchased my book yet, I’d sure appreciate you doing so. Then I can eat while in Vegas this summer. Just go to Amazon and make your purchase. If you want a signed copy, email me, and I’ll bring you one, or have a signed copy shipped to you. There are no excuses!
I hope you’ll join me on this journey. If you’re in, please comment below “I’m IN!” We will be partners in preparation….