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Calgarian heading to 2023 Toastmasters International Speech Contest Semifinals

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Calgarian Molly Hamilton is making her way to her second international speech competition in as many years hopeful she can beat her 2022 eighth-place finish.

"I practice every day," said Hamilton. "So this competition started like seven months ago, it's a long process and then again, if you're practicing every day, you get better and better."

The Toastmasters International Speech contest started in 1938 and involves more than 33,000 participants from 143 countries making it the world's largest oratory contest.

Hamilton's club is called MVP Toastmasters in district 42, and she says there are many steps to conquer before making it to the world stage.

"I started out in the club. Then you go to the area, which is a few clubs. Then you go to the division, which is maybe 100 clubs. Then you go to the district, which is more clubs," she said. "Then you go to the region, which it takes in various states in the United States plus some provinces in Canada. Then you go to the semifinals which is now the world (level), and then the finals is also the world."

Hamilton says the inspiration for her speech for the world competition came from a moment in her kitchen when she was watching the activity at her bird feeders. She says one bird flew into the glass railing surrounding her deck, and seemed stunned it couldn't figure out how to get on the other side of the glass.

"I saw (the bird's) struggle with this barrier in front of him, and he sticks his beak up against it, and he's flapping like crazy going back and forth and back and forth," said Hamilton. "But he had no success in getting through, and then finally, he just kind of went, 'Well, I give up.'"

After a few hours, Hamilton says the bird figured out a solution and flew away, but a speech was already in the works in her mind.

"I thought, how many times do we feel like we have to say 'I give up' because we've got this invisible barrier in front of us that stopping us from going through it?" she said. "That was a lesson for me. Watching him, thinking, 'How often are we all just inches away from success, but then we just give up?'"

Hamilton's husband Shawn is also a Toastmaster and says the couple joined a club in 2019 to meet people in a new community.

He says they've made many friends since then, but Molly has taken it to another level.

He has competed within their club, but says he has a hard time winning.

"My chances of getting above second place are pretty slim with (Molly) competing against me," he jokes. "I do it for a lot of fun, a social life and improving my speaking skills.

"It's been a tremendous experience."

Shawn supports Molly and helps by being a sounding board when she practices her speech.

"I have listened to her speech many, many, many times. I can't even count the number of times," he said. "She does ask me for some ideas, and I'll and I give her what I think, but it's also reciprocal – when I work on my speeches, she helps me out."

Hamilton has also connected with a number of past world champions and other competitors who placed within the top three at worlds for some guidance and fine-tuning of her speech.

Alexandre Matte lives in Sudbury, Ont. and finished second place in last year's Toastmaster world event.

Matte says the two connect via Zoom and he's not changing her presentation so much as making sure it fits all the requirements for the five-to-seven minute speech in front of the judges.

"I was just looking at first. How this is structured?" he said. "Are all the necessary elements there and are you preparing? Are you presenting good? Are the characters represented at the beginning? Is there a clear conflict? How is the conflict going to increase throughout the story? And then of course, how is it going to be resolved? And once it's resolved, what have you learned from that experience that you are sharing with us?"

Matte says judges are looking for hand gestures, facial expressions and how a competitor uses the stage without making it look too rehearsed.

"How do you make it look natural so that it sounds almost like a conversation when you're on stage," said Matte.

"That's one step where many speakers or the contestants in the speech contest sometimes get flustered, because they're so concentrated on what they're doing, they're forgetting to just live and tell the story, just like they're talking to us normally."

Both Hamilton and her husband are heading to the competition in Nassau, Bahamas for the semifinals, which take place on Aug. 17.

"Right now, I'm in the top 28, hopefully (I'll finish) in the top eight like I was last year. First place would be nice," she said. "But the reality is, I've already won. The support that I have received from my club has been phenomenal. I have won already with the friendships and the support that I've been able to experience with that, and if I get higher (than last year's finish), that's the icing on the cake."

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