How Competition Improves Public Speaking Skills

Think for a moment about a story you tell friends or coworkers about something that happened to you. Were they engaged throughout the entire story? Did they ask you questions afterwards Or did they lose interest and steer the conversation in a new direction? How long did it take for you to get to the point?

Competition gives speakers an incredible opportunity to focus on particular skillsets in Public Speaking. Toastmasters International holds speaking competitions in three categories: International Speech, Humorous Speech, and Evaluation. You can speak about a wide range of topics, but you must adhere to the rules and most importantly qualify within the time limits.

Each of these focusing on a particular set of skills. For instance, Humorous Speech is focused on bringing an entertaining and funny speech to life through all of the skills in a speaker’s range: tone, rhythm, timing, setup, punchline, and most important, engaging storytelling. Evaluation focuses on active listening, recall, impromptu speaking, and critical thought. International speech is the dovetailing of all of these skills as the speaker has to connect and relate to a universal crowd, engage them, share their point of view, and communicate their message effectively to create a response. All of these speeches are delivered within a five to seven minute timeframe.

The hours of practice that are invested in simply writing a speech for the competitions pales in comparison to the hours invested in practicing, editing, revising, and gathering feedback. The end result being a well-honed speech that accomplishes the goals set by the speaker or fits within the contest rubric. Did I mention the 5-7 minute timeframe?

5-7 minutes may seem like a generous amount of time. It’s not. It goes by very quickly once the first word leaves your mouth. This is when the value of practice, editing, and rehearsing is realized. For example, I was practicing a speech in at a club meeting recently and I felt a bit of emotion creeping into the opening of my speech. This is a speech I wrote, revised, edited, and have delivered in different versions a few times, so when I recognized I was getting emotional I lost my place. I forgot where my I was in my speech and it took me a full minute to recover and I repeated part of a section. That was valuable time lost. I had to edit a different part on the fly and ended missing a couple of key points that would have clarified the message for the audience. In the feedback my time came back seven seconds over the time limit which would disqualify me in a competition.

Competition has an elevating effect in our club as we constantly strive to help each of our members improve their skills with effective coaching. At SRT, we hold each of these competitions to help our members stretch themselves and grow as speakers. We provide a supportive culture of coaching and experimentation. Each week is a new opportunity to step outside of comfort zones in pursuit of being remarkable speakers and professionals.

If you are working on a competition speech and would like coaching, feedback, or fresh audience to practice then be our guest.


Congratulations to Speakers Roundtable Members Chris Butsch and Ron Chapman for excellent showings at the District 44 Evaluation and Humorous Speaking competitions. They both took First Place in their categories.