We all want to win. Yet what defines the success of a presentation or speech? It could be the approving nod from a manager or colleague, applause from a large room listening to your talk, or the thrill of receiving high scores for a conference presentation or educational session.
In the context of business conferences, there is no competition per se – although the number of attendees at a session, and their evaluation scores, often determine whether a speaker will be asked back the following year. In the case of pitching a VC firm for funding or proposing an idea for a project to management, there are limited resources in play and not every request can be granted, which also sets up a competitive situation.
That type of pressure can make even the normally calm and collected speaker nervous.
You can learn to handle high-pressure speaking situations to give yourself an edge. One way to do so is to put yourself into competitive situations on a regular basis. Toastmasters clubs organize contests twice a year, with different types of contests including prepared speeches of 5-7 minutes in length, and impromptu speeches of 1-2 minutes in which you respond to a question that is given to you during the contest. The winners of an individual club contest then compete against winners from other clubs, with up to four levels of competition in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley geographic area.
Preparing for a speech contest can put you into high gear. Many competitors practice by visiting other clubs to get more diverse feedback and gain experience presenting to unfamiliar audiences. Putting yourself into unfamiliar situations will also help you become more confident and able to handle the adrenaline of knowing that your speech is being scored, both on content and delivery. You will also see other speakers and be able to learn from their techniques. Finally, we often learn more quickly when we challenge ourselves to prepare for a performance.
Ultimately, just stepping up to compete makes you a winner, and prepares you to put yourself out there in your professional life,
To see speech contests first hand, consider visiting the District 4 Toastmasters Spring Conference: http://www.d4tm.org/spring2012/