District 39

Where Leaders Are Made

Where Leaders Are Made

Colin McKechnieDistrict 39 speech contest winner shares his advice on stress management, travel to Malaysia, and how to maintain healthy Toastmasters clubs.

Colin McKechnie will represent District 39 at the International Speech Contest on August 21 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  He has been a Toastmaster for more than 20 years and is currently a member of two clubs in District 39: Manteca Smooth Talkers and Manteca Leadership Club. This will be his first time competing outside of the District but his second time visiting Malaysia. Colin runs a training business out of Turlock, CA, where he teaches stress management, communication skills, and team building.

I had a chance to catch up with Colin to find out how he is preparing to compete against some of the top speakers in the world.

First things first: Why did you join Toastmasters?

I wanted to improve my communication skills, especially impromptu speaking — that’s a skill that will benefit you in any business. I joined two clubs and challenged myself to give an impromptu speech every two weeks. I would ask the audience to provide the title, characters, and scenario, then would work them into a speech on the spot.

Did it work? Have you seen benefits as a result of your involvement in Toastmasters?

Yes. I have gained a few promotions in my career that I would not have achieved without these skills.

What can you tell us about your winning speech from this year’s District Contest?

The speech is titled, “One Day at a Time.” My message is that you are in charge of your own life. When people are in deep trouble, they can learn how to live one day at a time.

That sounds like a very positive message.

The speech has some serious elements, including my experience with being diagnosed with cancer. But I allow the audience to rise back up from those serious moments with humor. I’ve heard some sad speeches that leave the audience feeling down. I don’t think that’s what we should focus on as Toastmasters. We should be inspiring people.

What was the experience like, to win the District Contest?

I had never competed at the District level before. I competed at the Club, Area, and Division level, but just for the fun speeches, like the Humorous Speech Contest and Tall Tales Contest.

I happened to take my blood pressure before the contest, and it was through the roof: 213/105. [140/90 is considered high, according to the American Heart Association.] It was much more intense than just giving a regular speech and I could feel the tension in my body. Part of my job is teaching stress management – I realized I needed to start using some of those techniques!

Can you share some of your tips for stress management?

Here’s a tip: Don’t enter speech contests!

No, but seriously, the key is not to focus on yourself. Instead, focus on the good that your message will bring to others. Also, you tend to take shallower breaths when you get nervous. If you can count to 10 and focus on taking deep breaths, it will help calm your nerves. You can also use your nervous energy in a positive way; let that excitement propel you forward as you run up onto the stage.

How are you preparing for the next level of competition?

One thing I am working on is how to use the entire stage. It is 50 to 70 feet wide, so it takes time to walk from one end to the other. I need to be very conscious of my movement.

At the same time, I want to avoid over-rehearsing my speech to the point that my movements and gestures look staged and unnatural. If you can genuinely relive your story every time you tell it, your body creates natural gestures without even thinking about them.

Do you have any other tips for your fellow Toastmasters?

I am a strong believer that successful clubs have to support their members’ educational objectives, and they also have to be fun. You can’t just achieve objectives and you can’t just have fun. You have to include both elements in order to retain members and attract new ones.

When do you leave for Malaysia?

I leave on August 17. It will be quite a journey. I’ll be returning to Malaysia for the first time in 48 years. At the time, I was serving in the British military, defending the country from infiltrators. I’ve changed a lot since then, and I’m sure Malaysia has, too. No matter what else happens…at least people won’t be shooting at me this time!

Good luck, Colin!

You can reach Colin via his website www.colinspeaks.com.