Speech Contest Cheat book

Speech contests are one of the most crucial parts of a toastmaster’s journey. I joined the contest twice since I came to China and gained a lot of insights into the process of speech preparation, delivery, revision, and improvement. In this post, I am going to share my experiences while bifurcating each of the judging criteria’s which are used by the contest judges. Why use the judging criteria? Because we need to understand the requirements before we try to fulfill them. We need to understand the gaps between our current performance and the one expected by judges. For doing so, we need to do a lot of trials. I like the Chinese proverb that says, “玉不琢、不成器” i.e. A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials.

1) Speech Development

Let’s start with the one with maximum weightage. Speech development includes structure, organization and supporting material. If you want to learn how to structure, organize and support your speech, follow your manuals. My cheat book tip is to choose a topic that you are most familiar with. The more familiar you are with the topic, the better your speech development will be. If you feel like your life does not have enough interesting events to write a speech about, think again and include every single thing that happens with you or that you observer during a day. We can make at least 10 different observations during our daily commute.

2) Effectiveness

This includes the achievement of purpose, interest, and reception. All these points boil down to the fact that you have to entertain the audience, you have to grab their attention and make them remember your speech. You can do this using voice modulation and body language. My cheat book tip is to use reiteration and reassurance. If you borrowed money from someone and told him only once that you will return it. On the other hand, if you reiterated your promise several times and kept reassuring the person that you will definitely return it on time you can create a sense of trust. Same goes with the audience who needs to trust you. So don’t forget to reassure them and repeat the things you want them to remember.

3) Speech Value

This includes ideas, logic and original thought. My cheat book tip for this section is to first finalize the stories you are planning to share and than link them together with a proper transition. Your transitions should be logical and feel natural. This requires a bit of creative writing for which you can refer to online tutorials of screenplay writing. It will help you understand how to transition using sentence that maintain the original thought.

4) Physical

This includes appearance, body language and speaking area. The first time I attended the contest in India, I did not wear a tie. After the contest, one of the experienced toasmasters told me that I should have worn the tie and use my best appearance on stage. My cheat book tip for this section is to always wear formals unless your speech topic requires a specific attire/costume.

5) Voice

This includes flexibility and volume. My cheat book tip for this section is to practice the speech in front of mirror and exaggerate every emotion that you have. Using your emotions is the best way to produce a natural yet flexible voice.

6) Manner

This includes directness, assurance and enthusiasm. My tip for this section is to select a topic that is close to your heart. If you truly believe in the idea that you are sharing, your enthusiasm will naturally be more. If you don’t feel the connect with your topic, try watching more videos, reading more articles, learning more facts about it to bring it closer to your heart. We get interested in things that we read about, that we talk about and that we like sharing with others. If you can read and talk about your topic without getting bored, that means it’s the right topic for you.

7) Appropriatenes

This includes purpose and audience. My tip for this section is to study your audience. Not just in the way suggested by the manuals, but also by any other means possible. Connect with fellow toastmasters using social networks like wechat. Instead of rote learning your speech, go and say hi to the members of your audience. Try to learn more about them, their profession and their hobbies. These connections will help you a lot while you are delivering the speech on stage.

8) Correctness

This includes grammar, pronunciation and word selection. My tip for this section is to only use the words that you can describe with confidence. It doesn’t meant that you should not include any difficult or complex words at all. It means that you should be able to describe those words in your own manner. For instance the word misunderstanding can be remember by creating a funny backdrop story like misunderstanding -> “Miss under standing” -> “The lady is standing downstairs” -> “The lady is standing downstairs since her heels are so hight that she can’t climb the stairs. You are unable to understand why can’t she simply remove the heels? “
By making such funny stories, you can remember even the most difficult words and can even explain them if required. (in your own funny way).

If you wish to read more of such articles, don’t forget to follow me on LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/kushalashok

The Ice Breaker – Kushal Ashok


I participated in the 2019 Toastmasters International Speech Contest for District 88 and delivered the following speech:

Dhishoom! Bhishoom! Dhishoom! [Punching and in the air]

Don’t worry, I was just breaking the ice between us. What, you can’t see any ice? That’s because I already broke it. But I didn’t know how to break the ice when I was in school. And so I didn’t have any friends. Until my mother told me a secret. A secret that would define my life.

Miss contest chair, fellow Toastmasters and guests, have you ever had trouble in starting a conversation with someone, have you ever had trouble breaking the ice?

I had a lot of trouble once when I saw a girl, a girl so beautiful that she took my breath away. As she walked towards me in a stunning white dress, the wind started blowing, maple leaves… flying in the air, a song started playing, “You are my fire, the one desire.” I wanted to talk to her so bad, I kept thinking of ideas to start a conversation. In Bollywood movies, the hero sings a song, but you just witnessed how bad I am at singing. In real life, the boy plays the guitar, but I don’t even know how to hold a guitar. In college, boys would just walk up to the girl and say, “Hey, how you doing?” But even the thought of saying hi to her was terrifying. I was truly and utterly terrified. Every time I tried to talk to her, my mouth went dry. Every time I tried to get her attention, my heart started beating so fast [slap the chest], pumping out of my chest. Every time she looked at me, I would start looking here and there. Even though we were in the same room, there was a huge wall of ice between us. I had a weird feeling in my stomach. 

Then I remembered the secret my mother told me, I gathered up the courage, looked at her, and I smiled. For a split second, there was no response. In my head, I was screaming, “Oh My God.” But then the corners of her mouth began to rise, it turned into a beautiful smile. Yes! She was smiling back at me.

The ice wall between us suddenly shattered into a million pieces, and we started dating. But 3 years later, I had to tell her, “Sorry, I can’t be your boyfriend anymore.” So we got… married. Yes, I am her husband now.

What happens once you become a husband, you need… more money. So I went to the senior senior manager (boss boss boss) but I couldn’t talk to him. I was so nervous that my knees started knocking and my hands became sweaty. I used that sweat to clean my face.

Then I remembered the secret my mother told me, I looked at him and smiled. The corners of his mouth began to rise, and guess what happened… no, we didn’t get married. He smiled back and the ice wall between us shattered into a million pieces. It gave me the opportunity to ask him, Boss, Boss, Boss, can you please send me on-site to another country, where I can make more money. At the end of that conversation he said, “OK, you can go to China.” I came out of the meeting room, my friend Chandragopala was waiting for me there. 

[Shaking his head] “Are you stupid? Why are you going to China? They don’t understand you, you don’t understand them, you can’t eat half the food on their menu, how will you survive?”

I packed my bags and traveled 4000km [long walk] … have patience, it’s 4000. When I reached the airport, I got into a taxi. But I couldn’t understand the driver, he couldn’t understand me. For a few seconds, we just looked at each other. Then I remembered the secret my mother told me, I smiled and the corners of his mouth began to rise. The ice wall between us shattered into a million pieces, and we started talking using body language. We even became friends on Wechat.

Today, it has been more than 3 years since I came to China. I broke the ice of inexperience and learned to use chopsticks. I broke the ice of my habits and learned to drink hot water. Hot water is good for your health. I broke the ice of ignorance and started to learn Mandarin. “Weishengjian Zai Naar?” “Where is the toilet?”

Learning something new like Mandarin can be hard. Building new relationships with people you don’t know can be a real challenge. You should all remember the secret my mother told… you don’t need to use force to break the ice, sometimes all you need is eye contact and an honest smile. An honest smile can break down the ice wall and open many doors for you.

Let’s break it together and make it shatter into a million pieces.

Miss Contest Chair.

Q&A after Toastmasters Workshop – Your Body Speaks

Your Body Speaks

In December 2012, I walked into a room full of people where I was asked to speak for 2 minutes on a topic which was revealed after calling me to the front. I wasn’t sure what to say but everyone seemed friendly so I started sharing my thoughts candidly. I could see them smiling and nodding as I spoke. When I finished speaking, the host shook my hand and everyone clapped in appreciation. I felt a strong sense of achievement and was more confident than before. A few days later on 1st January 2013 I joined Toastmasters International. From Vice President Public Relations to an Area Director, from a table topic speech to runner up of District 88’s 2018 International Speech Contest, from a club’s new member to a Distinguished Toastmaster, I have learned a lot from this organization over the years.


1. Why did you choose this topic – Your Body Speaks?

Well, I did not choose this topic. I had delivered a similar workshop at another club when I was pursuing the DTM award, and I believe the members and guests liked it enough to recommend this workshop again in a different setting. I did use the slides from last time, but I performed more research and made it more interactive this time. I hope I get invited to do this again soon.

2. Do you practice what you preach? Are you using the tips that you shared in the workshop?

Absolutely, I have always had a keen interest in acting and Toastmasters International gives me a lot of opportunities to practice those skills. Everyone has a story to tell, but only few of those stories get our attention or remain with us for a long time. I strongly believe that body language is a very important aspect of public speaking. Even if you are standing behind a lectern.

3. What would you like your audience to remember after your workshop?

I wish they could remember all of it but even I had to refer to my presentation slides while delivering the workshop 😀 .  The reason I made the workshop more interactive was for the audience to engage and experience it themselves. So to answer your question, I guess it doesn’t matter if they remember to use a gesture at a particular time or not, it doesn’t matter if they move across the stage at a particular pace or not. What matters is that they enjoy telling their story so much, that they forget everything else and use their whole body to express. That should be most convincing and legitimate use of their body language.

4. Would you like to recommend any book or reading material on your topic?

I would recommend a book written by my mentor and an accredited speaker Margaret Hope, which is called: “You’re Speaking – But Are You Connecting?” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0968397301/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_F2w-BbW1Z19WT

Interview after becoming DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster)

1) Looking back now, what were the most amazing moments that you had at Toastmasters?
I have had amazing moments at Toastmasters right from the first month. I’d like to share two of them with you:
a) When I joined the club as a member, I was requested to serve as the Vice President of Public Relations right away. So my first week of Toastmasters was all about creating online profiles for our club. I used all of my social media marketing skills on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. I even created a website using FreeToasthost and started inviting our members to join the club network on each of these platforms. All the club members really appreciated my efforts and it gave me a chance to connect with each of them on a personal level. As we worked together as a team, we were able to accomplish a lot. It was an amazing time as I got to share my first few months at Toastmasters with the most enthusiastic members of the club, the executive committee.
b) The second amazing thing I’d like share would be the phone call I received one night from the Division Director in India. Before that call, I was only aware of the roles and responsibilities of a club officer. But then, I was told that I have been nominated by the District Director for Area Director’s post. I was not sure what has happened, as it took me some time to connect the dots. It turned out that the District Director had visited our club during one of the Area Level Contests, and I was the contest chair on that day. The stage control that I exhibited on that day and the short meeting I had with the District Director, made her nominate me for the next cycle. I took the opportunity and it changed my perspective towards Toastmasters. I met a lot of passionate people who were using their skills even outside of Toastmasters to make the world a better place.


2) How did you plan your goals at Toastmasters, was it always your plan to become a DTM?
DTM was not one of my goals until I achieved Advanced Leader Bronze. When I was working on the ALB submission form, I saw the blank columns against the projects related to DTM and I decided to fill them up soon. It’s always good to have a proper plan in Toastmasters. In fact, planning is one of the important skills we learn here. So I always try to complete one or the other project when I attend any of the Toastmasters meetings. Getting all the check marks on your manuals is a great feeling and we should never shy away from following them.

3) What does a DTM mean to you?
A synonym for distinguished is “well known” and that’s what it means to me. After going through all the projects and meetings and serving as a District Officer, you are bound to be well known and this title helps people identify you. It means that I have good experience of Toastmasters and can help fellow members by sharing my experience. It also means that I have got a chance to meet some of the most amazing Toastmasters while completing all the projects that are designed for this journey.

4) As the first DTM in XHTMC and 2nd DTM in Division H, what suggestion would you give to those who want to become a DTM?
I would suggest performing a good research whenever you set a goal. I have always double checked the rules and guidelines either at the website or by emailing membership@toastmasters.org directly. Since Toastmasters is such a big organization, it’s easy to get confused or misunderstand the rules which might have been translated or reinterpreted. I joined Toastmasters at a corporate club and we used to communicate via emails. It taught me the importance of being professional, especially when it comes to things like rules. So I would urge the fellow members to always stay updated and only rely on the single source of truth: http://toastmasters.org

5) With great power, comes great responsibilities. What is your plan for the coming future?
There are a lot of projects in the journey of a DTM which requires us to help fellow members. In fact, one of the requirements that I recently fulfilled for submission of my ACG award was to Coach a new member with his or her first three speeches. So helping fellow members have always been a priority and it would stay as it is, while I plan my future projects.

6) Would you like to be a club officer again?
I have served as a club officer 4 times and I understand the kind of responsibilities that come along with it. Since I have been moving from one city to another, serving as an officer has not been possible recently. But I would definitely serve as an officer when I have a concrete 6 months plan. I want to make sure that I am able to meet all the expectations, not just from the members but the ones I have from myself as an officer.

7) Would you be joining the Pathways program?
I already have! I am pursuing a path called “effective coaching” and I can see the difference Pathways is making in our lives. The online content makes it easy to get the required information and training while providing us with a tailor designed path to follow.

8) What does your family think about your Toastmasters journey?
My parents have always been supportive and I remember explaining the importance of Toastmasters to them. My wife has been very understanding and is always the first audience for all of my speeches. She even helps me by taking notes and suggesting changes.

9) You secured the second place at District 88 International Speech Contest held in Harbin this year. What would like to share about that?
Participating in contests can be scary since you will be judged by a panel of judges. Also, because of the expectations from fellow club members. In fact, my final speech was about conquering this fear itself. I would suggest to all Toastmasters, that they make sure they participate in the contests, irrespective of their level of preparation. You can watch the interview taken after the contest as well as the Division level speech at http://blog.kushalashok.com/2018/05/18/runner-up-district-88-toastmasters-international-speech-contest/

10) What would you like to say to Hi-Tech Club officers and members?
I would like to thank all the members and club officers of Xi’an Hi-tech toastmasters club for helping me get 4 awards in the last 8 months. These have been the most progressive 8 months of my Toastmasters journey. It would not have been possible without the support that I got and the friendly environment maintained during and after the club meetings.


Tips for a Prepared Speech at Toastmasters

Sharing a few tips for prepared speeches at Toastmasters. This video was part of the project called “Instructing on the Internet” from “Communicating on Video” Manual.
[vid site=”youku” id=”XMzY3NzI0MzQyMA==”]

Developers Podcasting at Apple’s WWDC 2018

We just recorded a podcast at WWDC by making an appointment at the Apple App Store labs. I invited two other developers who were also attending the conference for the first time. We talked about the following topics:

  1. Experience at WWDC
  2. Parental Control
  3. Car Play
  4. Grouped notifications
  5. Siri Shortcuts
  6. Design at Apple
  7. Memojis
  8. Dark Mode

Following is a photograph from the podcast recording room. We will try to finish the editing and publish it soon.


Runner Up – District 88 – Toastmasters International Speech Contest

I am writing this post to share my journey of 2018 Toastmasters International Speech Contest which started in Xi’an on 11th March and ended for me in Harbin on 13th May, when I got the 2nd place at District Level Contest.

The club contest was announced in advance but I simply didn’t have time to write a speech. I kept procrastinating and, the day of the contest arrived. I woke up at 5am and started writing the speech. After finalizing the main points I rehearsed for a few times and went to attend the contest.

I was lucky enough to get second place at club level contest, since I was not very confident about my delivery. I wanted to make sure that I write my speech in advance when it came to the Area Level Contest. So I wrote it one day in advance. One day before the contest, I got a few suggestions from my buddies Kent and Carol and finalized the content. I delivered the speech called “It’s like a dance”. The speech was about communication, and I included a few examples from my life in China which made the audience laugh. I got a lot of appreciation from the audience and secured the first place.

My Club President Madison and I were securing the 1st as well as 2nd position for each of the contests till now. She helped me book the train tickets for Taiyuan where the Division Contest was to be held. This time I finalized my speech even sooner, 2 days before the contest.

The contest chair had created a WeChat group for all the participants and wanted us to share the speech title 4 days in Advance. I had to tell her that I do not know the title of my speech yet. I used this situation as an example during my speech later. You can watch the video shot during the Division H Contest Below (China Only):

[vid site=”youku” id=”XMzYwOTE5NDk2OA==”]

As you could observe, the audience response at Division Level Contest was fantastic and it helped my speech delivery a lot. Once again I had secured the 1st place.

After a few weeks when I delivered the same speech at my club, I was unprepared and exhausted. I delivered the speech while forgetting some parts here and there. Though the audience still liked it, I was simply not satisfied with my delivery. I made it my goal to not forget the speech at District Level Contest. So I practiced my speech around 35 times. To confirm that I am ready, I started using a trick called “Speed-Up”. I shot the following video after the contest for demonstrating this trick:

[vid site=”youku” id=”XMzYxMzI4OTEyNA==”]

It was a fierce competition at the district level. The best speakers from 8 divisions were competing for their ticket to the Semi-finals. Beautiful stories were shared, from throwing the skates to playing the violin, all performances were action-packed.

All in all, I had a great time in the past few months and learned a lot during the process. I hope I can participate in the future contests as well.


Traveling Experiences

“Exploring lands and technologies.”

Born and brought up in New Delhi, I am now living in Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. I love traveling, meeting new people and organizing different kinds of events. Following are few of my travel experiences from:


I have covered almost all of the North India and a few places in the South as well. I have been traveling since I was in high-school. So you can imagine what happened when I started getting salary; almost every other weekend, I found a new place to visit by myself. I have been to many beautiful towns in Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Haryana and Punjab.
I have completed treks to Kedarnath temple and Hemkund Sahib back-to-back in just 4 days. Around 60km of difficult hiking.


The fairytale kingdom where gross national happiness is considered more important than the GDP. The serene valleys of Paro can take your breath away. Bhutan is a country where people are so kindhearted and helpful that they will win your heart within few minutes. For instance, our taxi driver was so righteous that he gave us a huge discount at the end of our trip because some of the attractions on our agenda got closed. Another surprising fact about Bhutan is that there are no traffic lights in the whole country. In fact, people are so relaxed and carefree that they would happily wait for each other. Go figure!


I have spent one week in Thailand where I made some friends via Toastmasters community who helped me visit places like famous shopping malls in Bangkok. One of them recommended a travel agent who then booked a perfect tour for me which included lots of water sports in Pattaya.


I had my first HostelWorld experience in Kuala Lumpur where I met many fellow travelers. The dorms were a perfect place to meet new people who were interesting enough to make travel plans with. This allowed us to talk about our home countries and travel experiences as we explored KL together.


I met a group of friends who already had their week planned. I traveled with them to a few spots and clicked lots of photographs. From the famous peak tram to the secluded Ding Ding rides, we enjoyed almost all different tastes of Hong Kong.


I have explored Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Wuzhen, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dongji Islands, Taiyuan, and now I’m in Xi’an. Each of these places were unique in their own way. The sunset and sunrise looked beautiful from Dongji islands. I am still exploring and would love to visit more places in future.