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 four of the Speech Contest Champions Interview Series!
Today’s featured champion is Melissa Randall of Baking with Melissa. Melissa is a celebrity baker and entertainer, the founder of an in-home baking party entertainment company, and an award-winning public speaker. In 2013, she won first place in her district’s Tall Tales speech contest with her story “The Day I Joined the Circus.”
If you’re interested in learning how Melissa prepares for a speech contest, exudes confidence while on stage, and transformed into a courageous butterfly, then this interview is for you.
1. Can you tell us about yourself and your line of work?
My name is Melissa Randall. I was born on Vacation in Natchez, MS. Both of my parents were in the US AIR FORCE and we moved every two years or less for my entire childhood! I went to college at Northwestern State University in Natchez, Mississippi! After working at theme parks, cruise ships, and the circus, I currently reside in Los Angeles, CA and I am the owner and creator of an in-home baking party entertainment company for kids and teens in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. I bring all of the dishes, ingredients, and the FUN to your location and keep your party guests fully engaged for the duration of the party!
For more information: www.bakingwithmelissa.com
2. Take us back to your first speech contest. Why did you enter it and what happened?
For several years, my Toastmasters mentor, the late Peter Bunce, and the members in my club kept encouraging me to enter, but I never thought I was “good enough” to enter a contest! Eventually, a speech came to me that seemed “Contest Worthy,” and I decided to be brave and go for it which actually ended up being a great thing for me to do.
My first speech contest was a Tall Tales contest and with my speech “The Day I Joined the Circus,” I ended up winning first place in my club, the area, the division, and the district. Every win seemed to release some old misunderstandings about myself and I noticed that I became braver and braver. As I went from being a scared caterpillar staying safe and sound in my little cocoon...I soon turned into a butterfly!
My mentor, Peter Bunce, told me “Every single win takes away a lifetime of pain” and it felt so true to me. Everything changed for me after entering my first contest! He also said “I'm certain that now you are much more like the kind of Melissa Randall you've always wanted to be; that's what has won my applause! You've come a long way; there is still far to go on this journey. I continually encourage you and our other members to make the most of it and achieve ‘the indirect revelation of your true self’ through public speaking.” He always had a way with words and making you believe in your own possibilities. I miss him.
3. Why should someone participate in a speech contest? Why shouldn’t someone participate in a speech contest?
If you are afraid to enter a speech contest, you def. should try it at least once. For me, it showed me how committed I am to the things that I really love. It got me out of my comfort zone and opened me up in a new way to grow. I can't think of any reasons why someone should not participate in a speech contest at least once! It's a fun tool for growth!
4. What tips do you use to select a speech topic that will be relevant to a diverse audience?
All three of the speeches that I competed with all just came to me as a clear knowing...I never set out to create those speeches....the idea of the speech just came to me and I listened and effortlessly wrote the speeches.
5. Take us through your speech writing process. How do you usually create a speech?
Most of my speeches come to me as I am looking over the criteria for the speech or the rules for the speech. It usually starts off with an idea and a real story and then I go from there following whatever guidelines are listed in the speech I am giving!
6. What are the most important components of a memorable speech (content-wise and delivery wise)?
For me, the speeches that are the most impactful are the ones where people are telling you vulnerable or real stories about themselves. The more honest you are while speaking, the more people are drawn into your story because it is likely that they can relate on some level! We are all human and have human stories...it's what makes us all beautiful and relatable. As for the delivery, the more polished and articulate you are, the better! Vocal variety and body language are equally important components of a memorable speech!
7. How do you rehearse and how often do you rehearse before a speech contest?
Before a speech contest, I rehearse out loud every single day for at least an hour a day (using a timer app) for the duration of the four contests. I take the speech contest process seriously because anything can happen while you are on stage and every second counts. I have seen people be eliminated for going one second over the allotted time...and so I make sure that does not happen for me... and I know my speech so well that if I were to get off track that I have a small buffer in my timing to allow for that and or holding for laughter longer than expected.
I also contact Toastmasters clubs around my district and ask if I can be a guest speaker at their club to get more feedback outside of my own club. I am constantly tweaking my speeches. The original speech I give at my club level is usually different than the one I end up giving at the district level. I try to make sure I am growing/evolving as a speaker as I move along in the process.
8. What tips do you use to stay calm, composed, and confident while delivering a speech?
I am always nervous before a contest...ALWAYS! Especially in the moments right before my name is called. I just keep breathing deeply, ask someone next to me to hold my hand (for grounding), and make sure I am hydrated. After I say the first sentence, everything calms down and all of the work I have been doing prior pays off. The nervous feeling never goes away...I guess if it does, you are ready to move on to something bigger than giving speeches in front of live audiences.
9. How do you usually command a room and connect with your audience?
Before I walk out onto the stage, I take a deep breath and feel gratitude for the opportunity to express myself in this way. As I walk onto the stage, I look out into the audience...take a deep breath again, ground myself, connect with the audience by making eye contact or maybe with a smile, and then I begin speaking. Feeling connected to the audience before you begin speaking is important so that you feel calm and you get your audience ready to go on the journey with you.
10. Tell us about some of the lessons you have learned from competing in speech contests.
You can never predict anything at a speech contest! Things rarely go exactly as you planned! And being brave enough to tell your story to a room full of strangers is one of the most healing things you can do for your personal growth...win or no win...it's always a WIN! Just know that someone in the room NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR STORY! Your voice is important!
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 think one of the best things that I loved about Toastmasters in the beginning was having a grammarian keep track of all of the filler words and lip smacks and etc.! I learned a lot about speaking through that tool alone. Most people have no idea how many times they use filler phrases when they aren't sure what they are going to say until it is brought to their attention! I appreciated having that information from the very beginning of my Toastmasters experience. I do not recall anyone giving me a “worst communication tip.” It's always been super positive and informative.
12. What tools do you recommend using to prepare for a speech contest?
I always use a timer app to practice with; I did my speeches in front of anyone that would let me; I practiced every day! When I was competing in the International Speech Contest, I hired a speech coach! I think if you are committed to yourself, you are rewarded in the end.
13. Where can we find you and link up with you?
You can find me on:
- Instagram: @bakingwithmelissa or @Immelissarandall
- Facebook: @bakingwithmelissa
- Twitter: @bakewithmelissa
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/imglassie?feature=mhee
- Website: www.bakingwithmelissa.com
Watch Melissa Randall’s Winning Speeches
Over to You
Are you planning to compete in a speech contest? If so, which of Melissa’s tips do you plan to use to prepare for it? Share your answers with us in the comments below!