Winning Contests and the Dark Side of Toastmasters

Imagine the tens of thousands of people in Toronto that compete every year for the chance to grace the stage at District toastmasters competition. Unfortunately, of those tens of thousands only 6 will compete and only a small handful will ever win.

Now imagine a person who consistently wins those contests year after year after year. That’s Michael Orrett. And with that experience and expertise, my ears were wide open when he shared in detail his top tactics for achieving public speaking success.

Michael Orrett Headshot

(If you prefer these tips in video format, please click this link)

Become Outcome Independent

Michael believes that one of the biggest reasons for his success in competition is that he couldn’t care less if he wins or loses. He didn’t join toastmasters to win contests, he joined to improve his speaking. When you make that mental shift to the fact that every opportunity on stage is an opportunity to take new risks and to learn your weaknesses and gaps, you’ll start to make huge leaps in your abilities.

As a long time competitor, Michael’s seen hundreds of people take the stage. Most of which have tied their identities to their success or failure in competition. That philosophy will be devastating when your name is pulled first and you crumble under the pressure of needing to start off with a bang, or destroy you mentality for the entire hour leading up to your speech if you’re pulled for last.

Instead, focus on why you started speaking in the first place and make sure that evrytime you hit the stage you’re expanding your horizons and creating awareness of where you can improve moving forward.

Michael’s Top Tips for Humour

With dozens of humour contest wins under his belt, I took Micheal’s tips on joke telling seriously. Here’s a handful of his most actionable insights:

  • Tell jokes with attitude. If you look at the worlds best comedians, even their body language expresses humour. Jim Carrey, Michael’s favourite comedian, doesn’t even need to open his mouth to be funny. He demonstrates attitude through every fiber of his being. A big vulnerability Michael see’s with new speakers is that they deliver and tell jokes with the same tonal patterns they would in regular speech. Add another dimension to your tool belt and start weaving attitude into your joke telling today.
  • Test how many ways you can tell the same joke. A two sentence joke has hundreds of different variations. Where do you pause, emphasize specific words, move your hands or body can all vary and will have an impact on the delivery. Michael suggests testing at least 6 different variations and seeing which one comes out the best.
  • Don’t step on your own jokes. Getting laughter is tough, don’t step on your own jokes by talking through that laughter when you get it. Allow the laughter to ride like a wave and only begin speaking again as it dies down. Otherwise, the joke doesn’t get the same impact and everything you say during the laughter will get lost through the distraction.

*Bonus tip* Remember that laughter multiplies. If you get a few chuckles in a small room of 10 people. The same joke will make an audience of 100 people howl!

Speech Preparation as a Beginner vs Pro

As a beginner, Michael urges us to get away from paper. He doesn’t care if you have to memorize the entire speech word for word, there’s nothing that shouts I’m not prepared like holding paper in your hand. In addition, it is an inhibitor for us to express ourselves through our body language including hands and movement.

As we progress, consider more fluidity in your presentations. Michael writes only 50% of his speeches today and then begins his rehearsal. From there, he finds that the speech begins to naturally write itself.

Next, focus on ideas and not memorization. Develop a clear idea, theme or argument and the secondary or tertiary points you’ll use to support those ideas. But from there, give yourself the space and freedom to be fluid. Meaning, if someone’s wearing a funny shirt, or said something inappropriate before the meeting started or the DJ was playing the wrong music, you have the opportunity to weave the relevant moments of the event into the presentation. This show’s the audience that you’re aware and paying attention and that you have the ability to think on your feet rather than regurgitate a message like a preprogrammed robot.

Finally, Michael and I both agree that fitness should be ever-present in our journey of communication excellence. Not only does he believe that he’s calmer, more clear headed and generally happier because a dedication to fitness, Michael uses it as a tool for preparation.

I remember in October of 2017 during the lead up to the Speaker Slam Grand Slam, Michael was posting montage videos on FB of his workouts calling me out asking if I was ready for the event. He would do push ups, stair climbs and sprints and than rehearse his lines out of breath.

“Rehearsing out of breath,” Michael says, “is a way of mimicking the emotions of nervousness you’ll feel on stage. If you can deliver your speech after a set of sprints, you’re ready to rock the house.”

I couldn’t be more grateful for Michaels friendship and guidance, as he says, he’s just keeping it a buck! (keeping it real with attitude ;)).

Do this.

  • When you’re about to take the stage, remember why you started and forget about winning.
  • See how many ways you can tell the same joke. Strive for at least 6
  • Remove notes from your presentations at all costs. Don’t allow yourself to be underprepared!

Audio timeline:

  • 00: intro and who is Michael Orrett

  • 1:40 death by violin story

  • 3:30 good vs the best of the best speakers

  • 7:00 tip for authenticity

  • 10:00 tips for humour

  • 11:25 take away for joke telling

  • 12:10 don’t step on your jokes

  • 16:00 how he prepares.

  • 18:45 preparation for beginner speakers

  • 20:40 exercise and speaking prep

  • 24:00 dark side of Toastmasters

Till next time  stay on offence. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “you cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change your direction.”

Jonathan Andrews

Out.

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