*I should note if you want a more detailed description of my lessons from the WCPS please watch this video:
It’s been 4 years since I made the semi-finals and had the honor to compete in the World Championships of Public Speaking (WCPS). It is one of my more significant accomplishments as a speaker and definitely the greatest accomplishment I have achieved as member of Toastmasters International. After the contest I decided to focus more on keynoting and seminars but there are 5 key lessons I took away from the process that I think all speakers should know.
1) Commit to the Process.
Give the speech à Get Feedback à Analyze Feedback à Make adjustments à Give the improved speech (and repeat the process).
That’s the process I used as I geared up for the semi-finals. For six months I committed to it, testing my material in front of not just Toastmaster clubs but community organizations, work colleagues, and pretty much anybody I could sway into listening to me including a very apathetic cat. The end result was not only a very polished speech I could use on stage but I learned the value of this process. I love to write and test out my speeches but there is a big difference between performing in front of a mirror and performing in front of a live crowd who gives you all sorts of feedback. These days, when I have an idea for a keynote I don’t wait to get a paid speaking engagement to test it out. I find test audiences to give me the feedback I need to make it better.
2) Feel the crowd. The Toastmasters International Speech Contest is a prepared speech contest. Most competitors work tirelessly to get their speech tight and within time limits. In many ways it reminds me of rehearsal back when I was involved in theatre. That’s why I surprised myself when with 1 minute of time left I started improving a few lines based on audience reaction. This included inserting a stronger call to action on the spot. They were the best parts of the speech and since then I have taken on a more conversational and audience participatory style to many of my talks. The audience will give you beautiful moments and I was confident enough to take what was in front of me instead of sticking to the script.
3) Be vulnerable. Telling a story is one thing, opening yourself up to the audience is another. When you are telling a story on stage you are often reliving it. Reliving poignant and sometimes emotional moments can be tough. You never know how an audience is going to react to your struggles or even your triumph. Being vulnerable on stage is scary but it is necessary. You have to vulnerable to be authentic and you have to be authentic to connect with the audience.
4) Find a balance. One week before the Semi-finals I gave a talk on membership recruitment to a local Rotary Club. It had nothing to do with my competition speech. There were no timers and no fear of making a big mistake. It was just me and some people talking about membership recruitment. After that talk I went and grabbed an ice cream and watched the river at a local park. It was amazing. Not only was I more relaxed but I found that break from my competition speech actually reignited some of my creativity too.
There comes a time when you have to step away from work and re-center yourself. As a speaker there are moments where it is beneficial to step away from one project and focus on something else.
5) Live your message. My speech was about the importance of the time we spend with family. For much of the speech I talk about how my professional aspirations robbed me of great moments with my family and friends. I vowed not to make that mistake again. I did not make the finals but had the opportunity to watch the top 10 in the world duke it out for title the next day. I also had the chance to take my wife and 3 month old son to the Cincinnati Zoo. I could not do both at once. I went to the zoo and don’t regret it at all. The memories were priceless and I I discovered the importance of consistently living my message.The World Championships of Public Speaking is one of the best vehicles for improving your speaking craft. I did not win the grand prize but what I learned in the process was 10x more valuable than any trophy. It made me a better speaker and more importantly, a better person.
*Paul Artale is a keynote speaker, presentation coach and leadership trainer. For more information on Paul please visit: