Toastmasters is where leaders are truly made. This is so evident as we see the growth in numbers in membership, service in leadership and the wins & recognition. Having attained full district status at the 2020 Toastmasters International Convention, toastmasters in District 114 can now participate globally in the World Championship of Public Speaking. It took dedication, commitment, sacrifice, mentorship, service and support by every Toastmaster to achieve this goal. 

Speech contests, an annual event in the Toastmasters calendar is a thrilling event that starts right from club level, moves upwards to the International level. Some members find it scary, others would want to do it all over again and those who are daring, they participate in all contest types to find their way past the Division in aspiration to reach the District scene. 

The 2020 Toastmasters International Virtual Convention recorded our first-ever wins for District 114 beating over thousands of Toastmasters across the world. Taking 1st place and 2nd place respectively, Carolyne Gathuru and Carol Wako Nderi championed as winners of 2020 Toastmasters International Video Contest. 

Below are some congratulatory messages from Toastmasters celebrating not only the wins but also the salute as Toastmasters representing District 114. 

To Carolyne Gathuru: A heartfelt, and extended congratulations, on winning the coveted title of Toastmaster International Video Contest Winner, 2020. Your performance left everyone with goosebumps. Continue to surpass your limits.

To Carol Nderi: No one could dispute your talent and dedication to your craft. Congratulations, on attaining second place in the Accredited Speaker programme and Video speech contest. We are indebted to your charisma, consistency and courage 

We spoke to both winners to learn from their experiences, got some tips on contests and take-away as future aspirants of Toastmasters aiming for International wins. 

Interviewer: Where and how did you start preparing for the Video Speech contest?

Carol Nderi: Our Vice President Education, then (who is now Area Director-Area 10) Dr. Stanley Aruyaru was looking for contestants to participate in the contests and he asked me if I was interested, so I signed up. By then, I was the Vice President Public Relations (VP-PR) and I worked with the Club President James Macharia and Dr. Aruyaru to source for good equipment and a professional videographer to record the video contest. 

Carolyne Gathuru: Our Club’s Video Speech contest was held on 29th January 2020. To get ready, I had put down the outline framework for the speech with the main points, then laid in the supporting materials to emphasize the points. I then shared it with my mentors to make comments and check if the written speech was effectively bringing out the main message. After my completion, I whittled it down to about 850 words which is round about the threshold for a 5-7min speech putting emphasis on body language, vocal variety and also measured pacing as advised/required.

Interviewer: How did you craft a memorable story that swept the audience away and remained etched in the judges’ minds?

Carol Nderi: I had been planning to give a speech on global warming and climate change, not necessarily for the contest but as one of my prepared speeches. During my tenure in the mainstream journalism, I had covered a story on the state of the once mighty Ewaso Nyiro which is now in a pitiable state, due to the dwindling water levels. A river that serves the northern corridor and is relied on heavily by the pastoralist communities. The sorry state of the river now is a strong indicator of the changes that have been brought about by global warming. This as well as other changes that are evident even in Nyeri where I stay, erratic rainfall patterns that have left farmers confused, considering Nyeri is one of Kenya’s food baskets. The late Nobel laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai was also a daughter of Nyeri, an environmental campaigner and a global icon. 

Carolyne Gathuru: The idea came from my colleagues while at a professional body event – The Institute of Customer Experience – who are also Toastmasters. We were at our annual Christmas lunch and there was an ongoing conversation about Teachers that had had a memorable impact in our lives. My colleagues had interesting stories about teachers who had inspired them, encouraged them, uplifted them, supported them and made an indelible mark in their lives. When it got to my turn, I could not for the life of me recall any high impact teacher in tandem with the vein of their shared stories. However, the impact story of my biology teacher had come to the fore. When I shared this story, one colleague said – “That message needs a speech Carol. You need to package that story into a speech” and all the rest unanimously agreed. So in January when our Vice President Education coerced and encouraged me to participate, I remembered that Christmas lunch conversation.

Interviewer: What practical tips helped you prepare well for the International video speech contest?  

Carol Nderi: I would mostly say that when giving such a speech, all parameters of a good speech apply. As taught to us in Toastmasters, vocal variety, gestures, use of props, clear audible voice, in depth research of content and sustaining audience’s interest. Being a video speech contest, use of good video and audio equipment is key as well as following guidelines stipulated by Toastmasters Masters International when submitting the video. 

Carolyne Gathuru: Three main things:

  1. Thinking about the legacy programme CC3 objectives – Get to the point, and working backwards from the main point/intended outcome of the speech
  2. Thinking about both the content and the delivery of the speech and how to balance both valid content and effective delivery
  3. Working with a group of mentors. Our Club – The Early Birds Toastmasters Club has a tradition of assembling a group of mentors for contest participants to support and coach them

Interviewer: What are your top 5 do’s and don’ts for contestants on the contest D-day. 

Carol Nderi: Ahead of the contest day,

  1. Identify a topic that is relatable to an audience beyond our local borders. Since you are submitting the video in an international contest, choose a topic that will be identifiable by all spheres of people. 
  2. Do your research really well and check out every available material so that you are well informed of your subject matter. Write it out and rehearse over and over to be sure you are confident. 
  3. Know your speech without referencing any written notes and that your speech is within the 5-7 minutes’ time. 
  4. Don’t rush at the last minute and gamble. 
  5. On the day itself, dress and look the part. Be well rested the night before, you don’t want to look tired in the video. Clear your day’s itinerary if possible or at least keep it manageable, eat well and basically have the verve required.

Carolyne Gathuru:

    1. Mindset is everything – think about the positive outcome that you want and run with those thoughts
    2. Nervousness is normal – do not berate yourself for being nervous. Feel the nerves and do it anyway
    3. Switch off the voice in your head that often speaks up with dis-empowering thoughts, be aware of that voice and hold it captive
  • Assume the stance of a subject matter expert – as the author, you are indeed the subject matter expert of your speech
  • Allow for audience reaction. Build your speech with a 30 second buffer, for you know not where the audience may respond unexpectedly

Interviewer: Standing on the shoulders of giants- share about the giants who mentored you on this journey and what each one’s contribution was. 

Carol Nderi: Our District Director Gladys Muhunyo has been of immense help to me. She came to Kilele Toastmasters, Nyeri (my club) when it was still a new club and helped us wade through the confusion of understanding what Toastmasters is all about. I have personally reached out to her on many other subjects and today, I consider her my mentor, even in my current role as the Club President of Kilele. Our former Area Director Wanjiru Kaburu who also once served as President of Kilele, has held my hand through this journey. She is a go-getter who doesn’t let anything stand in her way and she is always urging me on.

Carolyne Gathuru: Early Birds Toastmasters Club has a gang of wonderful mentors who give of themselves selflessly to support contestants. Each mentor brings their own strengths to the mentorship process. We had numerous meetings and calls to prepare. They gave very candid feedback each time. Brilliant ideas came forth and the night before the contest, 2 mentors came to my house and left at 11pm at night, just to ensure that no ground was left uncovered in the bid to have the speech achieve its intended outcome. God bless the mentors at Early Birds. 

Interviewer: Dealt with “Not winning?’’ On your journey to the International Video Contest, did you encounter defeat? If yes, how did you rise from the ashes of defeat?

Carol Nderi: It is interesting that with this same speech, The Humming Bird, I entered the International Speech contest. I won at the club level, area level and at the division level I emerged 3rd position. Because only 1st and 2nd position winners were proceeding to the district contest, I was on standby incase either positions bowed out of the race. I made peace with that. I however made it to the district contest in the Table Topics category and that was quite a feat for me. My microphone misbehaved on the contest day despite me having tested it prior (virtual contest) and the lesson I learned was that always be ultra-prepared, check and recheck your equipment. Above all else, despite the setbacks, my spirit is still alive and I am still rearing and roaring to go.  

Carolyne Gathuru: The International Video Contest is a one-time contest that is done at Club level and submitted to Toastmasters International and that one went seamlessly. However, being a provisional district (before then), District 114P had the winners from each Club proceed to Area, Divisional and then District Level at the main TEACON 2020 that was online. I had a colorful journey during these transitions. I had to adapt to change when COVID-19 checked in and try to re-figure how to convert a physically engaging speech to have the same impact online. I had to embrace change and upgrade technology; during the Division contest, I had some mal-happening and my webcam got knocked off midway through the speech. In the District Contest, after a moment of wretchedly mulling over sliding into 2nd place, after the tie for first place was resolved by the tie breaker judge’s vote I realized that it is not about the destination, it is really about the journey. And that focusing on the outcome and not on the experiences is tantamount to short changing one’s self. We should ask ourselves – what have I learnt in the journey as a contestant and what impact have I had on self and others? And that in itself is a much bigger win than any ranking a contest may throw forth. There’s never defeat in the gift that being a Toastmaster gives us. Defeat does not have a seat at this table. Just lessons and more great lessons that we need to run with and create the change in this world that we want to see.

Any message of advice to Toastmasters in East Africa?

Carolyne Gathuru: My message to all fellow Toastmasters in East Africa is that we have great messages for this world and that we should give to the world what we are called upon to. If we do not rise to the occasion and deliver our speeches with greatness we will be robbing the world of the richness it deserves.  With attainment of full district status as District 114, we all need to prepare our messages, embrace mentor

ship, rally a formidable team around us, focus on the journey, enjoy the experiences, be ready to run with change, and then take on the world! One speech at a time, one leadership project at a time, and most definitely one contest at a time! The world is waiting for each one of us! Let’s do this!