Be sure to checkout PART 1 of the contest journey!
The journey continues…
Public speaking in general can be a trying time mentally and physically. A public speaking contest is more grueling.
Just as it was at the club level contest, a place where I’d spoken countless times before, the Area contest cut me no slack; the extra mental pressure I put on myself (thanks to it being a “contest”) didn’t help.
The day of the contest started off bad. I couldn’t even find the address. Google Maps was taking me all over the place, and time was running out. My wife and I were getting a bit frantic and I was thinking, “Seriously!? Today of all days?”
It was frustrating but we did finally arrive, thank goodness. Strangely, I realized that getting lost helped me by taking my focus off the “what-ifs” of the contest. It’s a good example of Napoleon Hill’s famous quote:
After settling in and getting a quick snack, we (the contestants) were briefed on the contest rules—let the games begin!
At this particular contest, it was broken down into three smaller contests, one for each area; hence the name “Area” contest. This meant there was a total of nine speakers set to compete, albeit not in a single contest. So, at the end of the day there would be three separate winners moving on to the next round.
Shortly after being briefed, we drew for speaking order; I drew the third spot again as I did in the previous contest. Bear in mind that since there were three separate contests, that didn’t mean I’d be the VERY last speaker, just the third and final speaker of our area contest. Confusing I know.
Well, here’s the thing, I DID end up being the very last speaker because our area was the last group to compete!
Yes, my fate was sealed. I would have to listen to every...single...speech...before my it was my turn. Can you imagine? I was already defecating my figurative pants, and now it was about to get real.
And as if I needed any more pressure, the room was fitted with a fancy stage and stadium seats for the audience—a setting I’d never experienced—and it was the very first time I spoke outside of my Toastmasters club, which meant 99% of the audience would be full of scary strangers.
Without further ado, the first speaker was called to the stage. Then the next. And the next.
With each passing speech my confidence melted, and the inevitable speech comparisons started playing, theirs to mine. I mean come on! I went up against near-death experiences, emergency heart surgery, and even a murder/suicide. Mine was about a bank fee. How could I compete with that?
One by one they bared their souls through their words, and each word fertilized my self-doubt.
Out of all the speeches that day, mine was by far the least heart wrenching or emotional. Considering it was an inspirational speech contest, I was bracing for a long day.
The entire time I sat hunched over in a puking-my-brains out position. It was hard to sit still knowing my inevitable death awaited me.
It was almost an hour of butterflies. So much internal dialogue, too. Mainly rhetorical questions from my internal critic, “You’re not gonna forget are ya, Matt?” or “You sure your speech is good enough? I mean, did you hear that last one?” Stuff like that.
But no worries. I came to perform and do my best, even if it meant losing. With about a minute left in the eighth speech, right before my turn, my demeanor changed. I committed. It was as if I'd finally said YES to the challenge, because from that moment on, I was in the zone.
I had never felt so much energy (working for me rather than against me). From the beginning of the speech and all the way to the end, I was having fun. I felt a tingling sensation on the surface of my skin, and the adrenaline to match. It’s because of that feeling that I love public speaking.
Now, I didn’t have the “serious” speech. I didn’t make anyone cry or feel the need to call a long lost friend or family member to reconnect with. I learned something, though. Humor is a great equalizer.
I don’t mean to say that I am some sort of a comedian, far from it, but sometimes I say things that make people laugh.
At this contest, I had the crowd laughing. And I won.
The speech had a worthwhile message, sure, to treat people with kindness (especially when you seek their help!), it just wasn’t a “Ra-Ra” type of message with the power to charge people’s emotions. However, the rest of the speakers all had a powerful message of their own, so mine wasn’t much of a standout in that category.
On top of that, everyone in the contest was polished (fundamentally sound). They were game and they’d practiced. I guarantee it. The best analysis I can come up with is that the humor was the top contributor.
Anyhow...it took courage for all speakers to compete, and to share their intimate life stories with strangers.
It was a tremendous experience and if I had to go through it all over again, I'd do it with a smile. I’m grateful to have been a part of it.
Here are 2 takeaways you can use for your next speech:
Get confrontational with the challenge (the speech). Tell yourself, “I’m doing this!” The sooner you commit, the less your nerves will bother you in the lead up to your presentation.
When developing your next speech, use HUMOR. No matter what. Use it. Tweak it. Refine it. Then deliver.
Please share the JOURNEY!
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.