Fierce competitors. Check. More audience members. Check. Larger venue. Check. More pressure. Absolutely.
It had all the ingredients to send a guy to a psychiatrist.
First, let me take a step back to the early morning. I was feeling the usual anxiety knowing I’d be competing later that day. I expected as much. Luckily, I managed to keep my cool.
As for preparation, I gave one practice run of my speech and timed it. That was it because I didn't want to burn myself out by over-preparing.
Then, I went outside in the backyard to get some fresh air along with my favorite epic Celtic music. Listen here until 4:41. Oh golly, that’s some epicness.
Okay, let's teleport to the contest…
This was the Division contest. My speaking slot this round was fourth out of five total speakers. Not the worst that could have happened. I’d say that going first is the toughest although I was mentally prepared for that before we drew the speaking order.
The difference in this contest as opposed to the last was that there were more familiar faces in the crowd. A couple reasons for this: 1) I had met some new people at the previous contest, and 2) I had also practiced my speech at a couple of Toastmasters clubs—one club just two days prior to the contest.
On top of that, three members from my Toastmasters club showed up, too. And of course, my wonderful wife lady had my back...again. So I had the support. You can’t underestimate the importance of an audience of friends.
With that, the contest started.
All the speakers were called up to the stage and introduced by the Contest Chair. This is a big deal and I’ll explain why. The time spent in front of the audience before your actual speech is important to break the ice. You know that nervous feeling you get right when you start a speech? It’s usually the most ferocious during the opening seconds.
So, by getting in front of the audience before you speak, you are desensitizing yourself to that feeling in a less stressful situation. This way you have something to take back to your seat and visualize, because now you know exactly what it’s going to feel like being in front of that audience.
Once introduced we were sent back to our seats...except the first speaker (bless his soul).
Something new happened to me this time around. At the previous two contests, in the moments before I had to speak, it felt like Death was running my credit report to see if I qualified for cemetery plot. But that was then. This time I felt confident. I felt peace. For the first time in this contest journey, I felt “ready” without having to go through hell first.
Commit or Suffer...
As opposed to the previous contest when I committed just a minute or two before it was my turn to speak, this time I made the commitment at the start of the contest. I talked about what it means to commit in last week’s post. Basically, it gives your mind no way out. Nowhere to run and hide, or worse, worry.
The commitment is something that only becomes “real” once you’re at the venue. This is why I didn’t simply commit weeks prior. It’s like having a deadline. At first, deadlines don’t mean jack, but as the deadline gets closer, you start to feel the pressure. Same concept here.
So again, you want to commit, but at the same time, remember that nervous energy is your friend. It elevates you. Don’t fight it.
An important thing to have when you speak, is control of your thoughts. It’s not easy because that’s usually the first thing to go when nervousness shows up. It’s like herding wild squirrels that were trained by cats. They're goin’ all over the place.
I didn’t do a good job of this in the previous contests, nu-uh. Here, though, a different experience. Surreal almost. My heart was drumming as usual, but I pulled out a couple of tips for calming that down. First, I took some deep breaths which is a mechanical means to calm the human body down. Second, I treated what was happening as a scientist, I just observed it. I made this observation, “Interesting, my body’s survival system is activated.” Just like that, I became captain of my ship again.
I couldn’t have dreamed for a better start. I committed. I had full control of my thoughts. My body was mine, too. When it was time to roll, I was as ready as one could be.
Finally it was time.
During my speech, my mind felt so clear. I was completely in the moment. I wish I could replicate the experience every time I speak. And after the contest came to a close, the judges gave me the biggest trophy. I was pretty stoked.
The main things my speech had were humor, a relatable message and a conversational tone. I try to be myself as much as possible so I don’t have to relearn how to be. I didn’t plan much in the way of stage usage. It was logical and what I’d naturally do.
I had some mini-funny lines that worked better this time around, ones that didn't get laughs in the previous contests. I had learned in the weeks separating this contest from the last, that some lines got laughs if I just gave the audience time to do so. I also let the audience dictate when I paused. If I heard laughter, I put on the brakes. I didn't know exactly how long the speech was, but this speech felt like it lasted the longest.
The other speakers went up there and nailed it; you can tell they put in the time to prepare. They had strong messages and their deliveries were laced with the fundamentals. With that being said, I felt the lack of humor was a factor. It's an educated guess is all. I wasn't one of the judges and I didn't get to see their notes, so I can't say for sure. It is what it is.
The Not So Good...
The not so good was that I fumbled some words. I just repeated them without apologies and kept on rolling.
Another thing that didn't go as planned (technically wasn't right or wrong) was when I was in-story re-enacting a phone call. My intention was to look straight back to the wall while talking on the phone. However, somehow I caught the eyes of an audience member. I noticed right away and shifted my eyes back to the wall. No biggy.
I was also smiling at times that probably should have been straight faced. Whatever. There’s worse things than smiling.
Coming To A Close...
I was happy with the performance. Even if I hadn't won, my goal was to get through as best I could. Nothing more, nothing less.
Usually there’s an inspirational message I take with me on speaking days, on this contest it was this: Life’s just a game. Be free.
Then I got home and let the adrenaline cool-down commence. 'Twas a good day.
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About this guy...
Howdy! My name is Matt Kramer and I used to suffer excruciating death when speaking in front of a group, now I LOVE it. Overcoming this fear has changed my life and it can change yours, too. My focus is to help you overcome the fear of public speaking so you can build the confidence to go after what you want in life.