Wednesday, March 6, 2019

International Speech Contests - What's your message?

“If you want to be a World Champion of Public Speaking, every speech of yours should be a world champion speech” said Dhananjay, District 82 winner of International Speech Contest. Isn't that true? You are not in the World Championship race, with a one trick pony approach. You are participating in the contest because you want to master the art of perfecting your speech. World Championship journey helps you to learn the art of perfecting your speech so that - your ordinary speech becomes an extraordinary speech, your simple speech becomes a star speech, your club class speech becomes a world class speech. The core of any World Championship speech is the "Message". This blogpost provides some tips about coming up with a message for your International Speech.

A few years back, I attended a workshop conducted by a fellow Toastmaster on "How to come up with topics for International Speech Contests". During the workshop the Toastmaster said, “If you are going to die tomorrow, what is that ONE message that you want to tell the world?” I thought it is an interesting tip. So, I noted it down immediately and used it in my next workshop. After the workshop, a 18 year old young Toastmaster came to me and said “Saro! Why are you talking so negatively? I’m still young and I don’t want to think about dying tomorrow… and I also don’t have any message to tell the world. What should I do?” That young Toastmaster added “I have not lost crores in business... I don’t have a mother or sister in wheel chair... and most of all, I haven’t gone through any alcohol rehabilitation". Now tell me, what should I talk about?

The moment you ask somebody to come up with a speech idea which has a message, they pick serious topics... like "Stop drinking alcohol", "Economic divide between the rich and poor", or "Why you should attend your club meetings regularly". Well, the last one was introduced to bring humor. Don't take it seriously.

You don't have to talk about serious subjects and make audience look for a kerchief when you finish your speech. I believe that if you can make the audience laugh and cry in the same speech, you've made the sale. The incidents need not be "larger than life" incidents. The incidents in your speech can be simple ones. However, the message that comes out of those examples should be powerful.

  1. Presiyan Vasilev, WCPS 2013 delivered a speech on “Reach out”. He told us how he wasted a lot of time pretending that he knew everything to fix a punctured tire. Finally, he was able to fix the tyre only by reaching out to a man in the nearby gas station. His message to the audience was to "Reach out" to people around them for help. 
  2. Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, WCPS 2014  gave a speech on the topic "I see something". He shared examples from his life where great mentors discovered his true potential and transformed his life. His message to the audience was "Discover your true potential".
  3. Ramona Smith, WCPS 2018 gave a speech on the topic “Still Standing”. She told us how she faced setbacks in life and how she got up, bounced back into action and achieved success. Her message to the audience was to bounce back and stand up, when something knocks you down in life. 
The good thing about International Speech Contests is, they don't give you a topic and force you to speak on that. They allow the participants to come up with their own speech topics. This provides a lot of flexibility to speakers, to pick any speech topic of their choice. Read: International Speech Contests - Topic Selection Ideas

When you are preparing for International Speech Contests, try to identify an interesting story or incident from your life, first. When you have the story ready, ask yourself... what message does the story bring out. Great speakers can do the opposite - you give them a topic or a message, and they can easily come up with a story or example to convey that message. However, for novice speakers, it is easier to come up with a story first and then look for the message.

A story without a message is like a car without wheels. It will not take you anywhere. If you are doubtful, deliver the story as a speech in front of your club members and ask them "What message do you infer from this story?" You would be surprised to hear their feedback. The same story can at times, convey more than one message. So, you'll have the option of picking the best message to share with the audience. Preferably, pick a message which most people in the audience can connect with or relate to. As a general practice, it is good to revise your script as you move from club to area to division to district to International - as the audience demographics change.

Mehmet Murat ildan, a famous author once said "There is no message valid for all times! Each message has a life span, sometimes a hundred years sometimes five thousand years, but ultimately the mission of each message ends! When you give people a message, you should know that even if your message is as bright as a sun, one day, like the sun, it will fade away!”. So, don't squeeze your brain and push yourself too hard to share a message that lasts forever. Look for a message which is relevant to share, today!.

[Also read: Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests]

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