Going the Distance

This was an impromptu motivational speech that I gave today for Verizon’s corporate Toastmasters club, the Ashburn Professional Speakers. My talk was featured near the end of their Club Contest, during that brief interval in which the Chief Judge and the ballot counters were out of the room tallying the judging results.

I had the opportunity to participate in the 2012 Toastmasters Spring Contest. I won at the Club level, and advanced to the Area level.

Then I competed in the Area contest, and was soundly defeated.

(This is where I do my best hangdog look, as if I’m totally crushed at having been defeated…which elicits a nice laugh from the audience.)

I was beaten by David Kirstin, from Raytheon’s U2 Can Speak Toastmasters Club.

It’s OK, though. It was my first time in any sort of public speaking competition. I didn’t really expect to win. I just wanted to accomplish two things. First, I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in public. Second, I wanted to give the best speech I was capable of.

You’ve all seen the movie Rocky, right? That’s all I wanted. I didn’t expect to win. I just wanted to go the distance.

What I really got out of the contest was much, much more. You see, I discovered that I was competitive.

Yes, I was beaten. And quite legitimately, I might add. David was the eventual Division winner as well, before ultimately losing in the District finals. Even though I lost, I did get a second place trophy, which was nice.

If public speaking were a hill, then David was certainly further up that hill than I was. But what I found interesting was that I could see what he was doing that was better than what I was doing. I could see a path up the hill to where he was.

By watching speakers who were better than me, I could see things I needed to work on. For example, I noticed that David used the floor better than I did. He also maintained better eye contact with the audience. When I was speaking, I tended to look down when I was thinking about key transitions in my talk, thereby breaking my audience connection.

Because I’d been involved in the contest process, and was curious, I went ahead and attended the Division Contest and, later, saw the finals at the District 29 Spring Conference. It was a true learning experience for me, picking up speaking tips by watching speakers who were better than me.

So, this year, I encourage all of you to take advantage of the Toastmasters Fall Contest season. You’re off to a great start today with your own Club Contest. If you won today at the Club level, take your best shot and see how far you can go.

I’d also encourage all of you to attend the upcoming Area Contest on September 22nd. It’s followed by the Division Contest on October 7th and the District 29 Fall Conference on November 9 – 10. You’d be surprised how much you can learn just by watching some of the best speakers in our organization.

Thank you.

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