Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests

Cracking the World Championship of Public Speaking (WCPS) Contest requires lots and lots of preparation, planning, practice and performance. During the contest season, our speakers scramble to find the "winning formula" to ace the International Speech Contests. The truth is "There is no winning formula". I always feel that the winning formula continuously changes or evolves, with time. We've quite a diverse set of speakers, who have won the WCPS contests in the last decade. If you find it difficult to come up with a speech topic for WCPS, you can look at the International Speech Contest Topics Selection Ideas or look at the past WCPS winning speeches. In this blog post, I've captured some techniques used by most WCPS champions to ace the WCPS contests.
  1. Tell Stories - They say "Facts Tell, Stories Sell". Telling stories is the most powerful technique to keep your audience engaged. Almost ALL world championship speeches include stories or incidents from the speaker's life. It is easier for a speaker to include the story of Barack Obama or Mahatma Gandhi. However, those stories are heard by people 1000s of times and they wouldn't be as engaging as your personal stories. Also, do not pick any stories from the Internet. Thanks to social media - in today's connected world, people get to read most popular Internet stories via Whatsapp forwards. So, it is highly recommended to include a personal story. A personal story would be "fresh" - most people in the audience wouldn't have heard your personal story. So, they would be curious to listen to you. A story well told has 3Cs - Characters, Conflicts and Climax. So, spend adequate time in your speech to describe the characters, the settings, the conflict and the climax. If you don't have a story, you don't have a speech.  
  2. Create a "foundational phrase" - The first time I heard this term "foundational phrase" was during Ovation 2011. Craig Valentine was one of our educational speakers and he shared with us a number of speaking tips. He told us about the importance of having a "foundational phrase" in our speeches. Foundational phrase is a crisp one line summary of the speech. It has typically less than 10 words and can be written in large fonts behind a business card (i.e., visiting card). For example, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi's "I see something in you",  Ed Tate's "One of those days", Ramona Smith's "Still standing" are good "catchy" foundational phrases. These phrases get used again and again during the 5 - 7 minutes speech and helps in reiterating your "core message" to the audience. 
  3. Add rhetorical devices - Rhetorical devices add more color to the speech. They help audience to visualize your thoughts. Rhetorical devices are also powerful tools for increasing the memorability of your speech. There are different rhetorical devices such as similes, metaphors, alliterations and triads. Once you are done writing your speech, see how / where you can add rhetorical devices in the speech, to maximize the impact. Read "Rhetorical Devices (Ideas & Examples" to learn more about rhetorical devices. 
  4. Add Quotes - Brendan Behan, an Irish poet once said "A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority". Quotes would spice up your speech, and it can explain what 1000 words cannot. Do not try to fill your speech with quotes. Add one or two quotes maximum for a 5 - 7 minutes speech. It is best to add them either at the Introduction or at the Conclusion of your speech. You can find quotes for any topic at
  5. Include "conversations" in the speech - Having conversations and dialogues in your speech add variety to the speech. Conversations and dialogues also help you to recreate the incident / story from your life, thereby enabling the audience to visualize the incident/story, better. Having conversations in the speech also would help you to demonstrate some vocal variety. It is easy to bring-in some natural voice modulation during conversations than during third person narrations. For example, during a regular narration of an incident you would say "I scolded my friend nicely for taking my bike keys without asking me". You can recreate the incident through conversations. For example, you can say ... When my friend entered the house, I looked at him and shouted "How dare you take my bike keys without asking me? My friend looked at me and said "Sorry pal ! I wouldn't do it again". Refer to Vocal Variety - 4Ps of Voice for additional information on voice modulation. 
  6. Add Humor - Most people think, WCPS speeches are serious speeches. However, if you watch the past WCPS speeches, almost ALL the world champions include humor generously in their speeches. Adding humor to the speech, is like the icing on the cake. It increases the engagement and connect with the audience. However, it is not an easy task to add humor in the speech. Don't worry! There are some techniques available to inject humor into the speech script. You can find them at Humorous Speech Writing Techniques. Ensure that you are making the audience laugh out loud at least 3 or 4 times in your 5 - 7 minutes speech. Be a little cautious when adding humor to your script - stay away from common pitfalls such as the ones captured in the blogpost 11 mistakes to avoid in a Humorous Speech Contest.

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