And now we’ve arrived at the District contest. Judgement Day!
This is the last contest before going to the the big dance—the Toastmasters International Convention. That’s where the semi-finals and the finals go down.
No pressure :/
The preparation leading up to this level was intense. Apart from practicing my speech daily, whether at home or in my car, I also went to six separate clubs to practice and get feedback. A lot of fine-tuning went into the speech’s content and delivery.
I even had my own Rocky routine. When I’d workout in the mornings, I’d give my speech mentally. I’d actually go through the entire thing in my mind (word for word) while visualizing an audience. That is one of the most difficult tasks I've ever done. Try it!
The week leading up to the contest was particularly busy.
Monday I went to an improv workshop for stage time. Tuesday I took on multiple speaking roles at my Toastmasters club. Wednesday I practiced on my own. Thursday night I gave my speech to a new Toastmasters club. And on Friday morning at 7AM, the day before the contest, I gave my speech to yet another Toastmasters club.
Saturday afternoon it was go time.
On the morning of the contest, my head wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I felt indifferent. Neither nervous nor focused. I tried to get more focused by using the notorious Celtic music (same music I used for the last contest), which helped but not entirely.
This time around I was able to commit even before I left my house. I was going to get up there and do my best no matter what.
When I arrived to the contest, I was moderately controlled. Still not in that elusive zone, but better than dying inside.
After eating a small meal and talking with friends, we were called back to the contestant briefing. This was about thirty minutes before the contest began. At that point it started getting “real.”
I met the other contestants and as it turned out, they were more experienced than me. Of course, it was nothing new considering this was my first ever speech contest. And talking with them gave me the impression that they were taking this serious. In a competitive, focused sort of way. It was a contest after all, right?
During the briefing we did the ole “pull a number out of a hat” game to figure out the speaking order. This is the one place you didn't want to win first place. It didn’t go so well for me...
This was the first contest where I would have to go first and it required a mental adjustment. I was glad to get that experience, it just would have been better with less at stake. No worries, it was done, no do-overs.
There was another problem that followed me all the way up to this contest. It was whether or not we were going to have to use a microphone. With the bigger room and larger audience, could I be heard without it? That was the trillion dollar question.
It was a big deal because I’d never used one nor practiced with one, so you can imagine why it was an issue. Would it be too close to my mouth, and would excessive breathing be annoying? Would I be too loud? Would it be weird hearing my voice amplified? What if that metallic teeth-shattering screech were to happen? By then it would be too late to apologize.
However, as the first speaker out of five, I was able to dictate what would be used, or not. I guess I caught a break.
If the first speaker used it, there would be pressure for the others to use it also. Think about it. The judges might hear one speaker as loud, energetic, and clear due to the benefits of the microphone, but if anyone neglected to use the mic after that, the judges' expectations might be jacked up.
The room itself was about the same length as the previous Division contest, so I knew I could fill the room with enough volume. And dammit I went for it…
Interestingly enough, the two speakers that went after me had already picked out the mic they were going to use and even tested it before the contest. After I went they must have changed their tune, because they ended up speaking without it.
One of them later told me that since they were in the back and had heard me just fine, they were comfortable going without the mic.
Let’s take a step back, though.
All contestants were called to the stage for introductions, then four were asked to leave. I was asked to stay. Last week I joked about the the sad sap who had to stay behind (being first speaker will do that!), this time I was the sad sap.
By that time, I was ready to rock. No resistance. Sure, my “excitement” was peaking as it should have been, but I had control. I even did a little bit of stretching to burn some of that anxiety.
And then I was introduced!
All of my senses were heightened like Spiderman and I felt everything. My thoughts were clear, almost as if my consciousness was floating freely in the background as my mechanical body continued to deliver the speech without me.
It’s difficult to explain in words but I was fully saturated in the moment.
I did my best.
There were some noticeable flaws. First off, I went too fast. And second, I lost my focus and took an unnecessary pause at one point during my speech. What threw me off is that the audience laughed at a spot that never got any before. It caused me to pause longer for the laughter to die down, which made me lose my place for just a moment. I kept my cool, continued on with my speech, and finished up on my terms.
Now, I want to point something out to you. Because this was a contest, I memorized my speech word for word. However, under no other circumstance would I recommend this. [I go deep into this in my book because it caused my worst fear to happen!]
In the case of a contest, since you have to deliver the speech so many times, there’s really no way around memorizing it.
Other than that, I performed as well as I could have hoped. LIke I said, I did my best.
Unfortunately, one’s “best” doesn’t mean THE best.
I didn’t even make the top three. No worries. My prize was the experience gained, and I got plenty during this journey.
The crowd was over hundred souls deep. Not bad for a guy who just a few months prior was nervously wandering back and forth in front of a crowd of less than fifteen.
I’ll take it.
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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.
Great story, Matt, and congrats on getting all the way to the Big D level! I’m so glad you go so much from the experience, and appreciate you sharing it with us!
(Sorry for my absence; the last couple of months have been swamped.)
Happy holidays to you and your family!