By Craig Senior, DTM
Sometimes people ask why I compete in speech contests. They wonder what I get out of competing “against” others. They wonder why I continue after winning seven District titles. They suggest that I stop competing to “gives others a chance.”
Speech contests provide a great opportunity to combat some of the greatest challenges in speaking. First, in preparing a speech for the contest, we craft the greatest speech we can. I usually do not entirely script speeches. I’ve learned to trust creativity and intuition to arrive at the right time when participating with audiences in creating presentations. Audiences love to participate in creating your presentation on-the-fly.
Writing a scripted speech risks losing that spontaneity in favour of getting the most meaningful sequence of powerful words. To work that risk, I write for speaking instead of writing to read. I’ll add sentence fragments like single-word sentences. On paper, it can look like nonsense, but when it is spoken with emphasis, it works. At certain points in the text, I’ll imagine different ways the audience can respond and be ready to allow myself to go with them.
At District and higher levels, we often see train track speeches that begin, have one direction, and continue in that direction to the end, no matter what happens. For me, that style can be tiresome, so I feel a little like Toller Cranston trying to change a culture.
I get nothing from competing against others and everything from competing with others to bring out the best in all. I’ll often provide editorial feedback and coaching to competitors or even lend my props. My friend J.A. Gamache and I started sharing our texts before the District contest and giving each other our best feedback. We still have to get on stage and deliver a moment of magic.
After winning eight District titles, I continue because I am not yet finished developing my craft. What some call my natural gift, I call a developed skill and growing ability to create moments of what Lee Glickstein calls relational presence. Knowing that I stutter, seems to inspire others to do the same.
I also get a real charge out of looking into an audience of 300-400 and really enjoying the moment. I know I can do this in front of any audience, but the contest seems to take the element of risk and raise the precipice even higher. With the stakes so high, the feeling I get is that much higher.
Stepping aside to give others a chance to compete would dilute the purpose of the contest: to provide an opportunity for proficient speakers to demonstrate their development and serve as a model of encouragement and inspiration for all. I have no idea when I enter a contest where I will place. I can be beaten and have been beaten… more often than I would like (smile). Whoever wins has done on that day what was required to earn the scores of the judges. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes it’s someone else. It’s that simple.
I love competing with others. I encourage EVERYONE to enter the speech contests and receive the benefit of that participation. Let’s raise the bar… together.