Some days suck. We’ve prepared our speech, we’re ready to go, but for some reason our mind and body start to go all wacky.
We feel physically weak. All the negative “what-ifs” start flickering about. These are the days we silently wish would never come.
This happened to me on the day of the Toastmasters club speech contest for the Toastmasters International Speech Contest—the starting point in an attempt to capture the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.
The job of a competitor is to deliver a 5-7 minute "inspirational" speech, and then battle through several contests in order to reach the final dance. Thirty thousand enter overall; only one can win.
I'll level with you. I didn't want to enter the contest. Not even a little bit. The reason I entered was because my friend Suzanne said it was the one of the best growth experiences she had ever experienced. She would know since she entered it the year before.
And so my story begins...
I decided to use a speech that was already very familiar to me, having given it twice before, so why would I worry about forgetting? Well, I worried alright! I can’t put my finger on why, since it was basically like any other speech I’ve delivered in the club, yet there I was fighting against the public speaking demons.
All the negative scenarios were playing, I felt physically drained and I kept having to clear my mental cache again and again in order to sit still in my chair. Excuses were beginning to form such as, “It’s not mandatory, and plus, you just went on vacation last week and didn’t get to practice as much as you’d have liked. You can pull out of this one. No big deal, Matt. I won't tell anybody hehehe.”
Other thoughts that came to me were identical to thoughts I hadn’t encountered since the very first time I had to speak in front of an audience. Things like “Why are you doing this? What’s the point of putting yourself through this emotional trauma? You don’t have to do this buddy, there are more pleasant ways of dying, ya know?"
The survival system was out in full force. I admit, those were some very enticing thoughts.
On that night I wanted to quit—wave the white flag of surrender. But as nervous as I was, I had felt it all before. So, that's when I realized that it wasn’t as impossible as my fear was trying to convince me of.
I think on these days we gain a tremendous amount of growth, that is, if we endure.
In our club contest there were only three total speakers, and I had drawn the third speaking slot. I guess I was pleased with that since I got a little extra time before being executed I had to speak. Still, I can’t say that it helped very much because it just meant more time for the same thoughts to assault me.
The one thing that I finally committed to, though, was that I was going to get up there and do it no matter what. Stumble, forget, or flat out bomb, I made the choice to do it. Not forced. I chose. It’s an important distinction because we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to. When it comes to self-improvement stuff, it’s so easy to avoid things that stretch our comfort zones.
And when my name was called, I went. I was nervous in the beginning, more than normal which was the theme of the night; however, I got through my speech as hoped.
The other two speakers gave powerful speeches. To be honest, I didn’t think about actually winning, well, except for in the unfortunate event that I did win...I’d have to move on and give another speech!!!
My priority was to get through it and gain the experience.
The experience? Check. I got something else, too.
Like we did in school as children, when we’d look anywhere but at the teacher when he/she scanned the room for a victim to answer a question, it was usually us that got picked.
Likewise, I didn't expect nor want to win. But somehow I did.
Next week I'll detail the second contest. SPOILER ALERT: It was was PAINFUL! Stay tuned.
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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.