Spa Speakers

How to write a contest-winning speech in 6 easy steps

Fiona Clayton at Spa Speakers

Fiona Clayton, Club President 2016-2017

On Sat 13 May 2017, I watched nine Toastmasters deliver their practised and perfected speeches in the national finals in Manchester – the winner of which would be going through to Vancouver to represent District 71, which includes UK and Ireland. I listened attentively, I watched carefully and I wrote profusely to bring their secrets back to Spa Speakers.

I am going to cover my six key ingredients for a contest winning speech. But first, a caveat – this doesn’t mean that every speech we create in Toastmasters should adhere to these guidelines. But what I saw and heard at the conference is that a contest winning speech tends to be made up of these 6 components.

Begin well

The winning speech began with “Picture This – i’m standing in front of 300 students”.

Another started “put your hand up if you are a good looking person”.

“Aren’t children amazing” was how another got our attention.

Every speech began with a strong statement, delivered confidently, that intrigued or amused and made us eager to hear more.

Involve the audience with a question

From “what legacies have the words of others left with you?” to
“did you ever find yourself on the wrong road and had to turn back?”

Every one of the nine speeches included at least one rhetorical question that engaged the audience and made us think or laugh.

Make your audience laugh

There is nothing like laughter to warm an audience to you, we all love to be amused.
One of the Irish contestants told us about his experiences as a monk and recalled “for dinner there were two choices, take it or leave it”.
The voluptuous woman who delivered the winning speech told us about the day her corset gradually came undone with the words “everything both literally and physically went pear shaped”.

You see, you’re laughing, and you haven’t even heard the whole speech.

Include emotional variety

One particularly effective strategy that almost all of the speakers employed was to vary the emotional tone of the speech. Some started with something that made us laugh but skilfully transitioned into a poignant story. Others switched between funny and moving throughout the speech. And what does this do for an audience? It keeps our attention, it makes us feel – and we remember feelings more than words – and gives a speech emotional colour.

For example: a big guy with a booming voice made us laugh by holding up a tub of butter, a DVD and a bra and asked what these 3 objects had in common, revealing that they were all items he had found in his oven – because his darling wife has dementia.

The funny story about the corset led into “I learnt that everything has a breaking point” and the story beautifully unfolded from there.

Tell a personal story

This is the ingredient that was present in every one of the nine speeches.
Every speaker talked about something that had affected their life, usually a transformational story, but they then made that story relevant to their audience through a call to action, a moral lesson or by directly relating it to Toastmasters.

And linking to that is…..

Have an inspiring message

A contest winning speech delivers a strong message. From ‘Don’t give up on your dream’ to ‘its ok, everyone doubts themselves at times’ – all nine speeches contained one clear, inspiring message.


Blended together, these six ingredients can create a powerful speech but of course to have impact need to be mixed with the skills we learn on our Competent Communicator journey such as a clear structure, confident delivery, vocal variety, eye contact and physicality.

I hope that’s been a helpful, if whistle-stop, guide to what I saw and heard at the International Speech contest. Whether you’re hoping to enter a competition or just add some flavour to your next speech, how might you be able to use something that you’ve heard tonight to take your speaking to the next level?

Final Thoughts

I want to leave you with this. As I sat there listening to those nine fantastic speeches it occurred to me what great skill and potential we have in this club and for that we should all be very proud. Whatever your goal, I encourage you to take a step onto the next rung of your speaking ladder and to use the incredible support within this club to help you get there.

Fiona Clayton
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