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Imagine if you could learn from communication experts on how to master the art of public speaking through speech contests. Every Thursday, I invite speech champions who have crushed this challenge to share their stories, from competing in their first speech contest to becoming a prominent speaker who can captivate and motivate a diverse audience. If you want to excel in speech contests and become a better communicator, then keep reading to learn how to craft a memorable speech, command a room, and connect with your audience.
Welcome to episode six of the Speech Contest Champions Interview Series!
Today’s featured champion is Jenny Locklin of Creative Message Media. Jenny is a comedian, the owner of a company that offers all things comedy, and an award-winning speaker. In 2011, she won first place in her district’s Humorous Speech Contest with her speech “Big News from Toastmasters International” and in 2016, she won first place in the Humorous Speech Contest again with her speech “Boastmasters.”
If you’re interested in learning how Toastmasters changed Jenny’s life, some of the tricks and tools she uses to craft a memorable speech, and the comedic equation she uses to create humorous speeches, then this interview is for you.
1. Can you tell us about yourself and your line of work?
I’m the owner and creator of “It’s a Crumby Life.” We sell bread crumbs—white, wheat, sourdough, and soon-to-be marble rye! Nowadays, people aren’t willing to eat a full slice of bread. Bread crumbs…they aren’t just for ducks! At this point, you probably think I’m ducking crazy! And I kinda am. I help people add a level of fun and humor to their message, whether that message is a speech, a video, a training, or a marketing piece. And I learned all of these skills through being a member of Toastmasters!
I originally joined Toastmasters in order to feel more comfortable as a teacher talking to my students’ parents at my school’s parent-teacher conferences. However, I stayed in Toastmasters well past leaving teaching because my Dad, Joel Weldon, was our club mentor and he is amazing. At the age of 78, he is still attending Toastmasters after 50 years! He is a professional Hall of Fame speaker and his career was born from joining Toastmasters so many decades ago. I’ve been a member of our Chats Toastmasters club for 12 years. Toastmasters inspired me to try everything scary and rewarding in life…I changed careers, I started creating videos, I started working with my Dad as a speech coach, and I even started standup comedy all because of what I learned in Toastmasters. If you aren’t already a member of Toastmasters, you should be!
2. Take us back to your first speech contest. Why did you enter it and what happened?
I entered because I was terrified to do so. Have you ever been so terrified and you convinced yourself you weren’t “ready?” I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You don’t get ready to go to the next level. You go to the next level to get ready!” And that’s exactly what a contest does for you. It pushes you where you don’t want to go and once you commit, you’re so glad you did.
Feel free to adopt my mantra, “You’ve already won! You’ve already Won!” You’ve already won once you decide to compete. It doesn’t even matter if you win. The single act of just going for it and putting in the effort and being willing to feel scared and uncomfortable will always lead to something great! Every single time! Even if you don’t win, there will be some positive by-products that you will experience because you chose to do something out of your comfort zone. And once you shift your thinking and remind yourself that you’ve already won just by going for it, the pressure is off and you can enjoy the ups and downs. As we’ve all been told, imperfect action is better than perfect inaction!
I ended up winning the Toastmasters International Humorous Speech contest that year and it was one of the best memories I have! I felt so alive and I wanted to do it again! I later on competed in the 2016 Toastmasters International Humorous Speech contest and won that competition as well. It’s heartbreaking to me that Toastmasters no longer has the Humorous Speech contest. It’s one of the worst decisions they made in my humble opinion.
(Note from the editor: Toastmasters International does still have the Humorous Speech Contest in general. Each District gets to decide which contests will be held each year, though. It’s mandatory to have the International Speech Contest every year. However, it’s optional to have other contest types such as Humorous, Table Topics, Tall Tales, etc.)
3. Why should someone participate in a speech contest? Why shouldn’t someone participate in a speech contest?
The only reason you shouldn’t compete is if you know for a fact you will be out of town for the final competition or unable to make it to the final competition. That is the first thing you want to check: am I able to attend the final level of competition? Once you’ve confirmed that, write it in ink on your calendar as if it’s already happened. And then get to work!
4. What tips do you use to select a speech topic that will be relevant to a diverse audience?
The most important question to ask yourself before any preparation is, “Who is your audience?” That is what determines WHAT you speak about and WHAT your message should be about. It’s not about you the speaker, it’s about the audience and what do they need to hear, what do they need to be doing, thinking, or feeling? In the case of the Toastmasters contest speech, I knew that my topic had to be related to Toastmasters. That way, everyone in the room could relate and connect with the topic. I truly believe that one of the reasons I won both years is because I focused on a topic that was relevant to everyone in the room which was a parody on Toastmasters. If you can think of a common “enemy” or pain that everyone in the room experiences regardless of their age, gender, and career, you’ve got a much greater chance at connecting and winning!
5. Take us through your speech writing process. How do you usually create a speech?
I am usually inspired to take something that frustrates me and then I take that and put it on steroids. The truth isn’t funny enough. Think about all the comedians and how they create comedy. They take real-life situations and then they exaggerate and stretch the truth in order to make it even funnier. So if you see something that annoys you or frustrates you or causes you pain, it’s most likely something that other people have also been annoyed, frustrated, or pained by. We, humans, are much more alike than different!
This equation might be helpful to you: Pain + Time = Comedy! That equation is what comedians use to write material. You can do the same thing. It doesn’t have to be really painful. It could be something embarrassing that happened to you when you were younger like getting dumped at the Prom. At the time, it was probably pretty painful, but over time, it’s now worth laughing about. Think of your firsts and your failures. Maybe the first speech you gave. There were probably some painful moments in that. Or your first kiss, your first job, the first time you were in prison. Ya know, all things we can relate to.
I’ll never forget the first time I tried standup comedy. I was backstage and I was so nervous. I was the only woman surrounded by 20-year-old dudes. The guy before started jumping up and down. He told me, “you’ve got to get out your nervous energy!” Oh, what a great idea that is! So I started jumping up and down, but I’m a middle-aged MOTHER. And at that point, pee started to leak down my pants. And just then, I heard the Emcee of the show say, “Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for…Jeanette Leftum!” Who?! So not only are my pants pee soaked but my name is now butchered. I told myself, “Hey, if Jeanette Leftum doesn’t kill, it’s not my fault!” Jenny Locklin is going home to wash her pants!
6. What are the most important components of a memorable speech (content-wise and delivery wise)?
STORIES! Stories are a great way to connect with your audience. We rarely remember facts and figures but we always remember a story. I’ll never forget my friend Jennifer Carroll’s speech about her husband who had recently died at a young age. I cried my eyes out during the sad heartbreaking moments when he was dying and right when the audience couldn’t take any more sadness and heartache, she hit us with huge amounts of humor and we laughed. And we didn’t just giggle, we belly laughed and it was the greatest release of tension. It was that contrast in emotions that made it so beautiful! Crying and laughing have the exact same benefits…they both release endorphins, they both create a strong connection between two or more people, and they both are a sign of strength not weakness. So I guess the most memorable speech, in my opinion, is a lot of crying and a lot of laughing so much so you don’t know if you’re laughing until you’re crying or crying until you’re laughing!
7. How do you rehearse and how often do you rehearse before a speech contest?
Going for a walk is one of the best ways to practice your speech. You can get exercise AND brainstorm speech ideas that eventually become contest material. And at that point, you can rehearse your speech. It’s amazing how time flies when you are walking and in that speaking zone. And when someone asks you how long your speech is, you can tell them, it’s about 3/4 of a mile long! Driving in the car is another great time to rehearse. Speak at other clubs or even practice your stories on friends and family as you are catching up. Just be sure not to commit the storytelling crime. Never ever say, “this is a really funny story” or “a funny thing happened to me!” Just tell them the story without forecasting.
8. What tips do you use to stay calm, composed, and confident while delivering a speech?
Be prepared. Focus on the audience. It’s not about you, it’s about the audience and what the message, ideas, humor, tips, etc. can do for them. Focus on your audience and get yourself out of the way. When you aren’t prepared or you don’t know your audience, you’re focused on yourself and you feel very self-conscious. When you are prepared and you know your message is going to help the audience because you did your homework and you know EXACTLY who is sitting in those seats, you don’t even think about yourself!
Other tactics for staying calm…practice yoga, remind yourself that “you already won,” be grateful for all the people in the audience, and even the people at home that are watching your kid or supporting you in some way in order for you to be able to get on that stage. Remind yourself…this is not open-heart surgery, military operations. This is just comedy or in the case of speech contests, just speaking. Drink lots of room temperature water but don’t jump up and down afterward!
9. How do you usually command a room and connect with your audience?
Confidence kills! The very first thing people connect with is your voice. You MUST take over the room with your voice. Hold the mic up close to your mouth and let that audience know you are in control. I’m barely five feet tall and if I can take over the room, any of you can take over the room! It’s not about your size, it’s about your confidence. That confidence comes from being PREPARED. It also comes from courage. You gain confidence from being courageous. Every time you choose 20 seconds of courage regardless of the outcome, you gain confidence! Smile! Smile! Smile! And of course, one of the best ways to connect with your audience is to make them laugh.
10. Tell us about some of the lessons you have learned from competing in speech contests.
Not only have I experienced this, but other people that I know who have competed, have mentioned this and that is…one of the greatest by-products of competing is the support you gain from your fellow Toastmasters. I suppose it’s similar to when someone is ill and it’s a difficult time for them, however, they are so blown away by the amount of love shown to them through their friends and family. It’s as if everyone rallies together to support that person until they are back on their feet. It’s the same when you compete in a contest. You might not be ill, well, actually yes, you might feel ill from nerves but the point is, people rally together and want the best for you. You will feel so loved and their belief in you will help you to put your best effort forward. It also creates a ripple effect. You have no idea who you might be inspiring to do the same. If you can do it, then maybe I can do it!
11. What’s the best communication tip someone has given you? What’s the worst communication tip someone has given you (or someone else)?
I read somewhere that the key to successful communication is to mirror the other person’s body language. So if they lean in, you lean in. If they get excited telling you a story, you should look excited. It totally works! Now I slouch on the couch and adjust myself and my husband totally understands me!
Another great easy doable tip is something I learned from my Dad. Every time you use the word “I”, “me,” or “mine” you create a disconnect and every time you use the words “you,” “your,” or “you’ll”, you connect with your audience. YOU can be an even better communicator when you use the word you. As opposed to, “I love this tip and I use it all the time and I want to share it!” This is a great tip that YOU can use in YOUR own speaking in order for YOU to be even more successful! Notice another word I inserted—the word “Even.” You’ll be an even better speaker! You can get in even better shape. You’ll make even more money. If I were to just say you’ll be a better speaker or you’ll get in better shape or you’ll earn more money, it almost gives the message or impression that I don’t think you are a good speaker or in good shape or have enough money. It’s a little four-letter word that makes a big difference whether you are speaking or writing an email or letter!
12. What tools do you recommend using to prepare for a speech contest?
Videotape! Videotape every speech you give or every chance you get. It’s painful to watch ourselves. We are so critical over our voice and what we look like but you need to know what you look like and what you sound like. Are you pacing? Where did you get the biggest laughs? Where did the audience disengage? All those things will be visible when you videotape yourself. And you can just use your smartphone to record—no fancy video camera needed! And just think, if you deliver a great speech and you have proof of it, you can share it with your friends, family, and prospective clients who are interested in hiring you!
Feedback cards are also SO helpful! But only if they are anonymous and simple to fill out. I try to use my 4 x 6 feedback cards every time I speak. It is a card stock paper that only has three questions:
- On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), what would you rate this presentation?
- What was the most valuable idea?
- What could have been improved?
Your audience will tell you exactly what you should continue doing and what needs to be improved. I’ve learned more about what my audience wants and does not want by having those cards filled out! And you can too!
- Website: http://www.creativemessagemedia.com
- LinkedIn: Jenny Locklin
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ChatsToastmasters/videos
- Schedule a complimentary 15-minute call: https://calendly.com/jennylocklin/15min
Watch Jenny Locklin’s Winning Speeches
Over to You
Are you planning to compete in a speech contest? If so, which of Jenny’s tips do you plan to use to prepare for it? Share your answers with us in the comments below!