2019 District 44 International Speech Contest: Shannon Kraiger

You may have watched a speaker on the stage and wonder how they prepared for their speech. Where did this idea come from? How did they write it and then practice the speech? What sort of help did they get before they walked on to the stage? How long did they practice before they delivered the speech?

This post is going to be delivered from two perspectives. The first from Shannon Kraiger and the second from her coach and SRT member, Natalie Gallagher. Whether you are working on a speech for the International Speech Competition, a Keynote at a Company Conference, or perhaps a Quarterly Report before the Executive Board at your company, these two skilled speakers will give you the valuable insights about preparing yourself for your time at the front of the room.

Shannon Kraiger:

I began working with Natalie Sept. 2018 in coaching me for the International Speech Contest. The speech was actually one I had previously used in the humorous speech contest in 2013 so I had a good starting foundation. I worked with Natalie on adding layers to the speech and getting raw and vulnerable about my struggle with putting myself into debt to try and fill the void in my life.

My sessions with Natalie were much like therapy in that I had to dig deep with my emotions and what I wanted to share with audience. At the same time, i had to find a balance to add humor into the speech to give the audience a bit of relief. The speech content actually changed from club to area to division.  

Natalie challenged me by having me read about the material (all shared by a Google Doc) and asked if it really fit the speech and the message to the audience.  There were times I really I liked a sentence or paragraph in the speech but as we progressed from contest to contest I realized it was not adding value to the speech (maybe only to my ego). 

I competed in 2017 in International Speech and made it to District but I did not place. Yes, I did practice the speech at a few clubs outside of my own and worked with my then mentor Barb Wallace on the delivery but I did not have a coach when it came to the content.

It's like acting. Meryl Streep can deliver an outstanding performance but if the writing is bad in the script it's not going to be a hit movie. Content does matter.

After taking a year off in 2018 to serve as an Area Director I knew I wanted to get back in the game and take another shot at making it to District and this  time placing in the International Speech Contest.  That's when I decided to hire Natalie.  I've always admired the way she provides feedback to the club really allowing the speaker to shine where they have excelled but leading them along the way to get better with things that can be improved in their speech.  In fact it was Natalie's voice I heard in my head when I also competed in the Evaluation Contest where I also took 2nd place at District. 

Natalie Gallagher:

Shannon reached out to me for coaching last fall, after I’d seen her deliver the early version of her speech for our Toastmasters club. I saw lots of potential: her raw material was witty, original, and had something important to say. But I knew it needed refining in order to make sure her extended metaphor worked and created an impactful audience connection.

We worked diligently, meeting over the phone and with an open Google doc with her speech on it in front of us. Together we could cut and paste, delete entirely, or rework parts of her speech until it sounded more and more like the real message she wanted to convey.

To Shannon’s credit, she took all of the feedback I gave her and considered how each and every piece of her speech fit together. Early on the part about Toastmasters was an extended metaphor that dominated the speech, but as time went on it became apparent that it was too much and it was overshadowing her key parts. Most speakers at this point would have been emotionally attached to that part and would have fought hard to keep it, even if it wasn’t working. But Shannon recognized that it wasn’t serving her speech the way she wanted, and was willing to scale it back to let the other, more valuable pieces, shine.

Getting coaching for your speech only works if you’re willing to listen to tough feedback, apply what you’re learning, and are willing to practice relentlessly until you have it right. Shannon’s success is based on her persistent work ethic, open mind, and drive to make the speech the best it could be.