Toastmaster Contests: “To speak… or not to speak?” That is the question”

Submitted by Jamie MacDonald, DTM


Hamlet wondered about the value of life and the mysteries after death, with his “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

Toastmasters at this time of year wonder about overcoming a similar fear.  We ponder not just death and public speaking, but speaking in a contest!  That is a “life altering” experience to contemplate!

Many people step back, not forward, at contest time.  “Oh, I don’t do contests.”  “I am not competitive.” “I wouldn’t know what to speak about.”  “Contests are silly.”

If you are hanging on to these or similar beliefs, they might be robbing you of one of the greatest growth opportunities in the Toastmaster system.  I believe that contests have contributed to my growth as a speaker and a person, more than any other experience I have had in Toastmasters.

Contests helped me learn to run toward danger, not away from it.  No one wants a leader that runs away from problems or difficulties.  As emerging leaders, we need a laboratory, a simulation, where we intersect with fear safely.  Enroll in a contest and we show ourselves, more than anyone else, that we can access courage when we need it.  Courage, after all, is acknowledged as a key trait of leadership in life and business.

Contests reveal when I take myself too seriously.  What am I afraid of?  The Toastmaster audience is always warm, supportive and even forgiving, so that is not the issue.  Am I afraid of looking bad?  Forgetting my speech?  Or do I just hate losing?  Yes, all of these thoughts apply to me! 

These fears and emotions are evidence that my “self-focus” is out of balance.  This distressing condition can be cured with one thought: “Am I speaking for myself, or for others?

If I am thinking about myself, of course I am going to be overcome with nerves and avoid competing like the plague.  If I focus instead on the value of each person in the room, then I can’t wait to share a valuable message, to entertain with a story or encourage them.  I can be genuinely there for others.

Contests are my “growth on demand.”  Contests are self-improvement with a deadline!  Don’t you remember all those term papers and exams we had in school?  At the end of the course I often had mixed emotions: I was glad to have it over with, and I wished I had started earlier, because I learned so much!  What if there was no deadline?

There is nothing like a deadline to force me into action.  The day after participating in a contest you will look back and see how much the experience impacted you.  Your skill development is exponential compared to regular week by week Toastmaster activities.

Contests stretch us and bring out the best in us.  Ultimately, we volunteer to compete or we support others, by performing one of the many contest roles that make a great contest happen.  Both of these activities are essential for a healthy club and growing speakers.

See you in the contest!