“It’s a picture perfect evening for our first place winner, Stevie King”
That is how I heard the announcement Saturday night as I became the 2009 District 14 International Speech Champion. When I started this contest I had what I thought was a stretch goal to simply reach the district finals. Prior to this contest I had never advanced past the area contest. I always thought I could do well in one of these contests but really never had the opportunity to really go for it.
The weekend began on Friday night with the table topics (off the cuff) speaking contest. I drew number five in our speaking order out of ten. I really like table topics and it was going to be fun to simply compete with these talented people. I was also the only person that was speaking in both contests so I thought it would be a slight advantage to have a test run prior to my big speech on Saturday.
The question Saturday was “You have two ears and one mouth, which do you use more?”.
As I heard the question my mind started racing. ..
- Should I try to be funny?
- Should I pull out my cellphone?
- Should I work both sides of the question?
- Should I go over the top?
It really seemed like I was standing there thinking for an hour before I started, even though it was probably 10 seconds. I decided to go with the fact that I talk more than I listen because I have a six year old. In my two minutes of speaking I talked about how I have to repeat myself and how hard it must be for a child to have to constantly be given instructions and directions. I finished the speech by bringing it around to the times when he does listen and the times that we do communicate well. I was able to craft compelling content, work the audience, use a lot of gestures (including sticking my fingers in my ears), and pull the audience into our story. It wasn’t perfect and when I sat down I felt like I could have structured it better, but I was proud.
As I listened to the five that came after me, I really felt that I did a better job than they did but obviously I didn’t have a vote. The other contestants were super smooth and had great humour (it resembled a humorous contest because everyone was rolling in the floor). In the end I got second place behind a toastmaster with 30 years of toastmasters time and several years of preaching and professional speaking, not bad I thought. I felt even better when I had several people mention to me afterwards that they thought that I should have won. The biggest thing that I got from Friday was being able to see the room set up and really feeling like I belonged there. I got home Friday night and made a couple of changes to my speech based on my observations.
Saturday was a blast! First of all it was my son Seaver’s sixth birthday. I had asked him earlier in the week what he wanted to do special and he said that he wanted to go golfing. We had a great time on the course and I shot an all time low score of 83! We then met my wife for lunch and then headed home. I knew I was prepared and had a good speech and didn’t practice it once that entire Saturday.
Upon arriving for number selection on Saturday night people were very congratulatory and complimentary. One of our club officers even mentioned that she had heard that I was the one to watch. Although flattering, it didn’t really change my nerves or demeanor, I just had to focus on the job at hand and execute.
One of the things that I learned in preparing for the contest was to really enjoy it. I am so glad that I made a point to do so. My fellow competitors were amazing. We laughed and joked and really enjoyed our time in sound check and the time leading up to the contest. They were such great people.
I drew the third position for this night. In hindsight I am glad I got to get it done in the first half of the competition so I could sit and really enjoy the other speeches. You can read the text of my speech here. I couldn’t have performed it any better. My timing was good, there were a lot more laughs than I anticipated, and I could even see some tears from people in the audience. At the end of my speech I asked the crowd to rise and allow me to take a photo of them. The applause was great and I knew I had done the best I could.
My competition did not lie down. They were excellent. There were two professional speakers in the contest, several members with years of toastmasters contest experience, and several naturally gifted presenters. They wove stories of heroism, life lessons, personal achievement, and self reflection. It was truly an honor just to be included in this bunch. It is even a bigger honor to have won this contest and to represent all those great people at the next level.
Now the work really starts. Between now and June 27 I have to create, write, and perfect a new speech. One of the things I really learned from this process is the pieces that are required to win in a toastmasters contest. The speech must be funny, moving, four dimensional, heart felt, creative, memorable, and truly original. This speech started as a eulogy for my mother and it has ended up being a commencement address for me to the world. I can’t wait to see what happens with the next one!