“The Americans have babies because they love to have big families.
The Chinese have babies because they want their children to take over their business one day.
Singaporeans have babies … because of baby bonus. ”
That is the opening line of my humorous speech that helped me won my first ever Champion trophy in the annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest at NTU Toastmasters Club.
From there on, even though I have changed my opening line several times, my speech about ‘Boosting Singapore’s Birth Rate’ has brought me on a fairytale, one which I never would have imagined – to compete at the District Humorous Contest.
Background: Toastmasters is a non-profit organization that promotes leadership and public speaking. There are about 200 over clubs in Singapore, grouped into Areas (4-5 clubs in 1 Area) and Divisions (4-6 Areas in 1 Division), all under a District.
In the Humorous & Evaluation Speech contest held every year, champion at the Club level will progress to compete with other club champions in the Area level. The champion of the Area will then compete with other Area champions at the Division Level. All the Division champions will then compete at the District level – the final round of contest. In District 80, there are 7 divisions – 6 divisions from Singapore, and 1 division from Thailand.
After you read the background info, you know why I say it’s a fairytale for me.
For the past 3 years I’m in NTU Toastmasters, I competed in every contest available. Every year, there will be two main competition – The International Speech & Table Topics, and The Humorous Speech & Evaluation. However, in every competition I took part in, I never came in 1st. The best I did was a 2nd place in my Club in one of the contests.
But this year, though serving as Club President of my Club, I thought that this is gonna be my last chance to compete in my club. So it’s probably time to get serious, and hopefully win something in this club! So the rest is history.
The Humorous competition started in late August, and just concluded in mid-Nov. So this past 2~3 months have been a journey for me. Though I didn’t come out top at my final destination, I have picked up 8 precious gems along the way. Just like my previous posts, I always like to share all my learning experiences here.
P.S. these gems helped me all the way to win at the Club, Area and Division contest level only. But if you want to win at the District level, you have to find other gems 🙂
There’s no ranking of the Gems. I believe they are all very precious.
Gem 1. Mindset
As you’ve read, I can say this is the first ever time I’m serious in a contest. In previous contests, my reasons for competing was more of ‘test my humor’, ‘gain experience’, or just simply ‘we need some competitors to get the contest going…’.
This contest, I’m out to win. So there’s a mindset change.
So, with just a shift in mindset, your motivation to compete change. When I compete to ‘gain experience’ last time, I crafted my speech a day before contest day, rehearse it a few hours, and then compete. Because all I want is the feeling of competing.
But this time, I compete to win, I crafted my speech 2 weeks before contest. I rehearsed it and tested out the jokes with a few friends. I practiced it once at a chapter meeting, before I delivered it at my Club contest.
After I won at my Club, I didn’t aim to reach District level. But I just aim to win again and again at each level, which will eventually bring me there.
Your mindset determine your thoughts, which determine your actions, which determine your results. Shift your mindset. Everything will change.
Gem 2. Preparation
Preparation is definitely one of the gems. I once read that there’s a speaker who will rehearse his contest speech over 100 times before going on stage to compete. He’s definitely a very serious competitor.
In Toastmasters, the regular preparation speakers do for contests, is to visit other clubs to deliver their contest speech, receive feedback, improve their speech, then deliver it again and again until they have a competent speech.
That’s what I do too. I visit a few clubs to deliver my speech before the contest at every level. I also make a point to rehearse my speech at most once a day. As the stress level goes up nearer to District contest date, I rehearsed my speech almost every hour, even when I’m revising at McDonald’s for my exams.
To sufficiently prepare myself for the District contest, I booked speaking slots at 3 different toastmasters clubs to deliver my contest speech, to 3 different audiences in a week.
Gem 3. Test Test Test.
This is especially for a humorous speech. Humour is subjective. Not everyone will laugh at the same jokes. So testing out the jokes in your speech is important. This have to do with your audience too.
Before I deliver my final speech at the District Contest, I have already deliver my speech to different audience. To recall, my speech content is about ‘Boosting Singapore’s Birth Rate’, so it appeals best to Singaporeans, probably around my age, who are at the ‘productive age’.
When I deliver it to an audience of Singaporeans, but at an average age of 50, there’s no loud laughter. The audience vibrate, smile, and only laugh with their mouth closed. I thought something is wrong with my speech, but then I realised maybe my speech message is not very relevant to them, or probably that’s how matured audience laugh.
When I delivered it to an audience of International students (from German, USA, Vietnam, Russians…etc). No laughter. Some Indians and Chinese laughed, as there are some parts which mentioned them. Others are like “WTF is he trying to say?”
The most responsive audience I have, is my church friends. I have to thank my church pastor for allowing me to deliver my speech before the service. Mostly are Singaporeans, around my age or working adults. And they also know me.
From what I learn in all these ‘tests’, audience play an important in crafting your humorous speech. And of course, it’s even better to know what age group, or any other demographics your judges are, because they are the ones who grade you.
Gem 4. Thick Skin
My definition of ‘thick skin’ means your skin has to be thick enough to accept harsh criticisms from your audience or mentor, but not too thick until no feedback gets into you.
During my preparation phase, for every speech I delivered, I always ask for feedback. And I always tell the evaluators, just tell me everything, I will listen. Only by doing this, I will improve my speech content or delivery.
But there is also once I was so bogged down by the feedbacks, that I don’t think I’m capable to compete. The evaluator commented that I lack energy, my jokes doesn’t have impact, and the whole speech is quite plain. At that point, I was thinking, “I’m competing in 3 days’ time… so what am I supposed to do now?”
I went back to cool down, seal back my thick skin, and think of what I can do better to really compete again. That brings me back to my next point…
Gem 5. Dare to change
This is not easy. As i told you I tested out my speech with different audiences, there are some jokes which really can’t hit with any audience. But these are the jokes your friends laugh when you tell them. Keep it, or Kill it?
I took a dare to delete a big part of my speech 3 days before my contest, because the humor points are stale, and no matter how well I delivered, I just get a few laughs. I removed it. Then I use the extra 40 seconds, which the previous part took up, to use as pauses for audience to laugh.
As said, it’s really not easy, especially you have 99% confirmed your whole speech, then to have someone telling you it is not good enough, and advising you to change it.
But we can always change for the better.
6. Get a Mentor
At my club contest stage, I didn’t have a mentor to guide me. But once I won it, I approached my ex-Area Governor, William Tang, Distinguished Toastmaster, for advice and consultation for my speech. Based on his experience as a contest judge, he gave me some valuable advice on how to make a good humorous speech great.
I’m sure anyone who won competitions has mentors to guide them along. It’s important because there are some blind spots we can’t see in ourselves.
One problem I have in speaking, even though I have done quite a number of speeches, is my diction of words. That means I can’t pronounce some words properly and clearly. And it can get worse when I’m nervous or speaking fast.
If you ask me if have this problem, I would say ‘last time’. But little did I know, I still have diction problems with some words. It becomes very clear when I hear my own recording.
There are many experienced speakers in Toastmasters. Look for them. Most of them are willing to help you to succeed.
Gem 7. Don’t let your head swell.
That refers to our EGO. This happens when we keep winning contest. When our heads swell too big, we can’t take in any advice.
I felt I’m on top of the world when I won my Club contest for the first time. Who Wouldn’t?
But William came and cool me down. “Hey, you still have the Area Contest. Your speech has a lot to improve!”
No one wants to hear negative things about their speech, especially their speech just won them a trophy! But William warned me that many speakers didn’t go far because their EGO drag them down. So he burst my ego, and I get back to work on my speech.
Thankfully for him bursting my ego, if not I would have stopped at my Club level.
Gem 8. Seek Education, Not Validation.
This is the first ever public speaking tip I received. It was from Eric Feng, a now-famous Public Speaking Coach. I attended one of his workshops (before he became famous) back in 2010 when I just joined Toastmasters under a year.
In whatever speech we give, look for areas where you can improve on, instead of just receiving ‘ego-boosting’ comments from people, like ‘Wow, I love your speech!’ , ‘Your speech was awesome’, ‘Your speech was dammmmm funny’ …etc
Though we don’t want to reject these compliments, it is important we get useful feedback from people so we know how to improve our next speech.
I’m glad I receive lots of education on improving my humorous speech these 2 months. I have comments like these…
“You speak too fast at this part, and I can’t catch the funny part you’re trying to make.”
“When you say this, try to pause first, then continue, then the punchline would be stronger.”
“Your closing is a bit weak. Need to end off some impact.”
So if you’re competing, or want to improve your speeches, seek education first. Them telling you “Hey, your speech is awesome”, doesn’t help much, unless they are paying you for it. 🙂
Above are the 8 gems I have picked up on my fairytale journey in District 80 Humorous Contest 2012. And I’m really happy to share them with you. I would even be happier if you use it to win some contests. And if you do win the District contest, please come back and share with me your gems too.
My Gratitude To…
My fairytale wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many people.
My ardent supporters at the District 80 Humorous Speech contest day.
Some people say if you can get many of your friends and supporters to a contest, and get them to Laugh Our Loud at your speech, you have higher chance of winning. I don’t have so many, but a handful of you is enough to get me to do my best that day.
My NTU Toastmasters Club
Thank you so much for sending loads of supporters to cheer us contestants at Area and Division contest. Though you guys can’t be there at the District level ($$$), you’ve morally supported me!
I’m the first person in NTU TMC’s history to represent at the District level. Now, please break this record, and send someone to WIN at the District Level!
My mentor, William (and his son, Williamson).
Thanks for the advice and support you’ve given me at every stage of the contest. With your generous sharing, you spill your secrets all over, and dirtied (pun intended) my plain and clean speech.
Pst Darren & Angela, & LifeUtd for your endless support.
For that golden opportunity to deliver my humorous speech that day. Hope I didn’t hurt your ribs too much. Thank God for all that I have. HE bring me to places I never imagine..
My boss (or bro) Kenneth Kwan.
You bring me to places to watch you and awesome speakers speak, and that’s where I try to learn as much as I can, and apply in my own speaking. You can’t buy this, even with MasterCard! Priceless!
Though they didn’t watch me speak live, they followed my contests by being surprised why I keep bringing trophies home.
And my girlfriend!
She supports me at every stage of the Contest, after I won at my Club. She’s my motivation for speeches. Because in every speech I make, she’ll be in it, even in my District Humorous Speech. Hahaha~~
Final Thoughts on the District Contest…
If you like, below is my contest speech recorded unofficially. Apologies for the blurry image and muffled voice, after 5:25min. Tune up your volume then.
I can say I have done my best, as I managed to crack up the whole audience a few times, whom I only know a handful of. Now, I have seen how the humorous winners speak, and I can say they truly deserve their trophies. I will work hard to reach their LOL standards!
I will also get back to work on my weaker areas. Speak slower for clearer diction, pronunciation of words, and Many More!, as the biggest room in the world, is the Room for Improvement!
“Contests are like chocolates. Once you pop, you can’t stop!” I’ll be back again in the next speech contest!
So my fairytale has ended.
TIME TO WAKE UP! Back to Books! 1 week to exams, what you think?