D25 Spring Conference Contests

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It is the afternoon after the district conference and I find myself, as on many other occasions, covering the District speech contests. In these contests we have people who spent a lot of time and energy preparing and winning at club, area, and division level competing for a trip to the International Convention and a chance at the title World Championship of Public Speaking.
The winner is not necessarily the best speaker but the one who can put together a number of stories, ideas, and metaphors to bring the audience to see something familiar anew. The speakers help, teach, or offer some way to make everyone in the room feel they have shared in that special experience on the stage.
This year’s winners included one sharing the rewards of a journey to find justice, another who related the experience of hard choices with no good alternatives, and the first place winner, who built her speech on empathy, using shoes as both a lateral device and a metaphor.
As for me, I have taken picture at district conferences since 1995, most of them as the official photographer. I have seen many very good speeches and the standard of excellence has steadily improved through the years.  

Friday night at the conference focuses on that tightrope of the table topics contest. While the contest ends at the district conference and there is not the same ‘prep’ as the International Speech contest, I think this contest is the best ‘toastmaster skills’ test. Contestants are given a topic and must speak impromptu on it. In those two minutes each must be relaxed, smooth, on topic, and offer that one insight that stands out.

The winner often presents a special twist that, combined with their technique, carries their response from unique to novel. We all feel a touch of humanity, seeing several from our number stand before the whole district offering a response to a topic presented on the stage.

In both these contests, while winning is always the most fun, it is the growth the competition offers to the speakers and to us as the audience that is most important. We are all part of a journey of growth where these contests serve as guideposts.

by Mark Novak