Stuart’s experience differed from many champions and finalists as family priorities limited his ability to practice prior to the World Championship. Perhaps his speech was so authentic and fun because it was only the seventh time he had delivered it. He viewed the contest as an opportunity for personal growth and camaraderie.
In his own words, here are the insights he captured along his journey.
Tip #1: Don’t Try To Win, Just Strive To Connect With Your Audience
“Though it may sound paradoxical, my first piece of advice is don’t try to win. Making a connection with the audience is what matters. If you are all about trying to win, then I don’t think it is going to happen.”
“I found the contest to be such a valuable experience that I am looking forward to entering again next year. To me, it was not a competitive experience. There was a real camaraderie between the contestants. I learned so much about myself and how to connect with an audience that I would like have another go at it. Obviously, I want to do as well as I can, but in my mind, it is not actually about trying to win.”
Tip #2: Stand Out
“I wanted to be original; to stand out in some way. On the one hand, it is good that there are all these former World Champions who provide great advice. There are lots of places you can go to find out how to improve your speaking. However, one of the problems is that if you are not careful, your speech can start to look everybody else’s.”
“There were a few ways I found to stand out. One of them was that my stories focused very much on children. If you look at the other speakers, they focused on their life stories; and often, on great tragedies that happened in their lives. There were quite a few stories about cancer and divorce. On their own, those stories can be quite compelling. The problem is that when you hear them back to back, they become less compelling.
“In addition to standing out with story choice, I tried to stand out thematically. I tried to think of things that I had not heard before. I invented the word and concept “Brainlifting” which I thought would capture people’s attention. For my final speech, I understood that you hear the question ‘What if…’ all the time, but I had never heard anyone refer to it as the two most important words in the English language. I thought that might be thought provoking.”
“Last, I tried to stand out with physicality that tied meaningfully to my metaphor linking physical exercise to mental exercise – Brainlifting. I ran around the stage and did jumping jacks. I was aware it was going to be a very big stage and you want to try to use all of it. Though I think it worked, I do sometimes wonder how authentic it was. Non-Toastmasters look at these contests and say ‘These people are ridiculous – running around, falling down, and doing things no normal speaker would do.’”
“If you do something unusual, it needs to tie very closely to your core theme. Perhaps the jumping jacks did not tie closely enough to my core theme of creativity. Darren LaCroix did it best when he fell over, got up, and pointed out that even when you fall down, you have still taken a step in the right direction. That was brilliant!”
#3 Add Humor Incrementally
“Humor is essential in any speech. Most of the funny things in my speeches were things that my children said. After I won the Division contest, I was talking to my 5-yerar-old son who had been going through a phase all children experience trying to grasp the concept of death. Out of nowhere, he said ‘Daddy… don’t worry… when you die you go to Jupiter where there is all the chocolate you can eat!’ At that moment, I knew I needed to put that into my speech.
Humor is very incremental. Let me give you another example. I did a speech in my club where I talk about why most work environments are not conducive to creativity. Even the business casual clothes you wear are a uniform. Though people told me that I should always wear a suit in a speech contest, it seemed hypocritical to wear a suit with that topic. After the speech, someone walked up to me and suggested, ‘Why don’t you get to that point in your speech and cast off your jacket and tie.’ I thought that would be great. A little later on, it struck me that I could add the line “Fellow Toastmasters, I could go on” just after the tie came off. Then there is this double meaning that I would strip down to wearing nothing as I made the final points in my speech. I got the biggest laugh every time I delivered it.”
“There are different types of humor, and I am always on the lookout for something that might be funny. If I find something funny, then that is a good start – something that I can then build on.”
Bonus Tip: Link speech content to stage location
The semifinal and final were the first time that I ever really thought about my movement on stage in detail and doing different stories in different places. Darren LaCroix and Ed Tate gave me this great tip the day before. Write one word associated with each part of your speech on a separate piece of paper. Place them around the floor of your hotel room. Then, practice walking to the bits of paper and give the speech in the right order. Also, practice giving your speech starting at any point. Normally, when I practice I begin at the beginning. So the beginning gets practiced much more than the middle and the end. I got to the point where I could step on any piece of paper and deliver my speech from that point.
Try It Out!
I leave you with the final words of encouragement that Stuart shared with me:
“I only joined Toastmasters last year. Literally, from the club contest on up, each level was new and eye opening to me. It is a gift to be able to communicate with people and I still am finding out about it. I am fascinated by it really. For me, it is such a learning experience. If I complete again, I may not even make it past the club contest since we have such great speakers in Providence Toastmasters Club. Still, it is just a fantastic process to be a part of and I encourage everyone to try.”