The 2021 International Speech Contest season is starting, mostly virtually, and Toastmasters around the world are getting ready for it with every passing hour. This could be the best time ever for you to find your voice and connect to an audience in a big way. The fundamentals of delivering a great narrative haven’t changed, it’s just a matter of adjusting to a few quirks of the electronic medium.
How do you win a virtual speech contest? We interviewed an expert. Meet our District 49 Member of the Month for January, Toastmaster Laura Reid. Laura is a storytelling coach and presenter who guides people and companies to tell the story that defines them. She doesn’t just teach it, she's a multiple time winner and runner-up in online District 49 speech contests. She did some of it while stranded in Indonesia apart from her family for four months.
Be a Director, Take Charge
When you prepare to give a speech destined to be judged from behind a screen, think of the project like a movie. Simple technical details can make it shine or crash.
Do Lights Right!
Laura stresses that good lighting will keep attention on you as you deliver your message and help you present your most flattering self. Bad lighting could contribute to video that struggles to show you off or a confused visual tone. Consider buying an inexpensive lighting setup to help you sparkle. If that’s impractical, scrounge for what you have. Ransack your home for lamps or flashlights, or find the space that consistently has the best natural light and plant yourself there.
Master the Mic!
The same care should go for sound. We’ve all experienced presenters so quiet you could hardly hear them, or with fidelity so low they were hard to understand, or who had some bug in their audio setup that grated on the audience. Again, Laura says invest in a modest upgrade if you can. Test everything. Isolate what you can control and become the master of it.
Set the Set!
Your environment will tell a story; don’t let it distract from your story. Laura and a number of other winning speakers put up nondescript curtains as a backdrop to keep focus on them and invite the feeling of a stage.
The wardrobe department will need a director’s eye as well. Laura told us that outfits that work in a stadium speech environment may not translate well when the perspective of the audience is only feet away. Some patterns can look jittery or harsh on camera. Accessories like bangles, necklaces, or large earrings may distract from an otherwise crisp look, and can make more sound than you’d expect.
Once you’ve done your diligence as director, it’s time to step into the role of actor. Don’t treat your speech like you’re speaking from your home, treat your time as a role on a grand stage. Stand, don’t sit. Even if you’re framed so the audience can’t see the difference, you’ll know it. Everything from your attitude to your voice will be affected. There’s a reason star singers and voice actors aren’t seated when they’re working in the recording booth.
Once you think you have the details set, record your speech and play it back for yourself. Now it’s time for you to become the director again and give some guidance on your performance. Critiquing your own footage can feel uncomfortable at first for a lot of people, even for a pro like Laura Reid, but you’re robbing yourself of vital feedback if you don’t. It’s hard to intuitively judge, for instance, how far from the camera to stand or how close to the lens to get when you want to accentuate a point. You can see almost exactly how your talk will look to the judges before you give it, a privilege you usually wouldn't have in a traditional speech contest.