Toastmasters Competitor Insights

Last week I reviewed the Toastmasters District 17 Convention 2017 held in Fremantle.  Today, I want to focus on the competitions.  I'd like to share with you Toastmasters competitor insights from some of our leading competitors in District 17.

Read today's blog post to learn tips and tricks that have been tried and tested by some of the most successful Toastmasters competitors in District 17.


Toastmasters Competitor - Janette Edwards 2017 D17 Table Topics 1st, Humorous 2nd, International Finalist

Get A Mentor

I was competing in the area contest, feeling I have done very well.  However, I was not sure how much further my speech would take me in the competition. Then a Toastmaster that I respected and admired came up to me after the contest and said, “That’s a good speech, and you have wonderful material. However, I can help you make it a great speech. Would you like me to help?”  I said "Yes!"

I was lucky - my mentor miraculously appeared. If this doesn’t happen for you, my recommendation is to identify a Toastmaster that admire and ask them for help. You may be surprised how generous that people can be with their knowledge and support.

Back To The Basics

My mentor gave me two pieces of advice:

  • Tell me in one sentence what your message is.
  • Read the guidelines for Speech 2 in the Competent Communicator.

That is what I did. It was amazing what a change it made. My speech structure was stronger and my message clearer.

Let Go Of material

Sometimes when developing a speech, you come up with so many ideas, quotes, phrases and story lines that you lose your message. My mentor’s advice made me look at my speech with fresh eyes. As I wrote my speech, I asked myself, “Does this support my message?” If it didn’t, I cut it!

That doesn’t mean that you have lost the material. It means you have built up your bank of ideas for new speeches.

Stage Time, Stage Time, Stage Time, Feedback, Feedback, Feedback.

Take any feedback you have received, analyse it and implement changes if you deem it appropriate.

However, don’t just take feedback – give it. I volunteer at any opportunity to do evaluations, making sure I evaluate to the speeches criteria as close as possible. I push myself to find at least two recommendations specific to the criteria.

The more we evaluate speeches, the better we can evaluate ourselves.

Be Yourself

Don’t try to emulate someone else. You have to be true to yourself. Develop your style. In doing that your message will come from the heart and it will be authentic and unique to you!

Toastmasters Competitor - Lisa Evans 10 District 17 Finals

High-level speech contests are very much like a performance, the speeches have been practiced, re-worked and practiced more. The best speakers are able to make their speech look natural, like it is the first time they have done it.

I believe that every time I step onto the stage in a speaking competition – I am a winner.

It takes courage, it takes practice, and you have to be prepared to lose – a lot!

In the past, I have been ecstatic to win, and I have felt discouraged to lose. That was before I changed my mindset. These days, the trophy is no more than a “shiny object”. These days I don’t enter to win.

What matters most to me is being able to reach out and make a connection with an audience. If I can make a difference to at least one other person in the audience with my message, then I am a winner.

If I can inspire another Toastmaster to step up and enter the contest, I am a winner. If I can show people that their stories are precious, powerful and worth sharing, I am a winner. If I can encourage one non-member of Toastmasters to join the organisation, I am a winner.

It’s not about the trophy

No trophy can ever replace the feeling of genuinely reaching out and touching another person in a heartfelt way. The power of storytelling is when one human connects with another human. This is the reason why I compete. I can honestly say it is not about the trophy.

If you are a Toastmaster who is currently competing or considering doing so, remember this; every time you step up and share a speech, you are a winner. You are learning and growing and if you are hopefully making a difference in the lives of others. That is what matters most.​

Check out Lisa's website ( for an extended version of this article!

I asked Lizeth:  "What have you learned from being a Toastmasters competitor in the District 17 Final of the International Contest, and coming second as a relative newcomer, that could help future competitors?"
Toastmasters Competitor - Lizeth D, Ruiz 2nd in 2017 District 17 International Contest

It has boosted my motivation to pursue public speaking.

It has given me a sense of reassurance or confirmation of the success of my Toastmasters journey, based on the fact that English is not my native language and I never thought I would be able to speak in front of an audience without fainting

The most important thing, it has brought me to the realisation of the large magnitude of the support that one can find in Toastmasters as a family

I asked Martin:  "As a Toastmaster competitor, you've won the District 17 Evaluation contest three times on the trot.  How do we become as good an evaluator as you?"
Toastmasters Competitor - Martin Lindsay 1 x District 17 International win, 3 x District 17 Evaluation wins

I was really surprised to win the District Evaluation competition 3 years in a row.  I have always drawn late in the contest, so I cannot compare the previous evaluators as I did not hear them. The upside is I had more time to prepare in my head.

The evaluation contest has a formula: three commendations, two recommendations, one final commendation and a summary.

I like to go with what I see, what I hear, what techniques were used, and how did it make me feel?

Recommendations can be challenging, so I think of all the feedback I have received, or heard in Toastmasters, and look for opportunities to share those insights, passing it forward.

It is really important to remember the summary; it is worth 15 points on the judges’ ballot. Oh, and watch out for that red light, it comes on really fast!

I asked Peter:  "Your won the District 17 Humorous contest once, the International twice, came second in the International three times and came third in your semi-final at the 2014 World Championships.  What is the biggest tip you can give to people to become as successful a Toastmasters competitor as you?"
Toastmasters Competitor - Peter Law 3 x D17 wins, 3rd in Semi Final at the 2014 World Championships

​My biggest lesson is that you need truth tellers on your journey.

I had a couple of friends in the Club who would give me the real feedback at the end of the night. Many of the club evaluators are new, inexperienced and sometimes even scared to provide feedback to someone who speaks well. You need truth tellers who will listen and tell it like it is.

Other Tips:

  • Your speech is for an Audience, not yourself.
  • Practice, practice, practice and practice until you hate your speech then practice some more until you love it again.
  • Practice whenever and wherever you can - get group evaluations at the end of each one.

I Learnt some of this the hardway, you think you can do it yourself, but if no one is telling you the truth you just keep giving the same old speech without improvements.

I asked Sam:  "What have you learned from being a Toastmasters competitor in two District 17 Finals of the International contest?"
Toastmasters Competitor - Sam Walsham 2 x District 17 International Finals

When you enter Toastmasters competitions, the biggest thing you realise is just how quickly you can learn!  In my first year of competition in 2016, there was a particular aspect of my speaking style which substantially reduced my effectiveness by referring to stories in the past tense, rather than reliving them on stage.

The thought of retelling such stories in the present tense seemed completely unnatural and alien to me.  However, the 2017 round of competitions allowed me to hone this style to a point where it feels completely natural and allows more options to emphasise emotions in the stories.

If you want to learn a skill quickly, enter competitions because their very nature forces you to adapt, be creative and experiment with techniques you would have avoided otherwise.

Setting out to compete this year in the International category I would never have imagined making it to the district final a second time in a row.  The competition was so strong and healthy at every level of competition I was bewildered each time I progressed. 

The biggest tip I can give from this is quite simple, never assume the limit of how much you can accomplish and never compare yourself to others.  For a start, the intention of Toastmaster Competitions is for you to improve yourself as a speaker.

Yes this a competition, but in reality, it's a competition with yourself.  If you leave the stage having tried something new, learnt something new and had fun, you have won.  A good speech is a natural byproduct of this mindset.

Are You A Toastmasters Competitor?  What Insights Do You Have?

What experiences have you had as a Toastmasters competitor?  What have you learned on your journey that could help others?

What questions do you have about competing?  Is there anything else you'd like to know?​

Please comment below!

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Martin J O'Connor

In 2015, Martin was the District 17 Toastmasters Table Topics Champion and came third in 2014. He was in the District 17 final of the Humorous competition in 2015 and is in the District 17 final of the Evaluation competition in 2017. He is very proud to be a founding member of Competitive Speakers Perth Toastmasters club.