Tonight was the Division D contests held at Toastmasters in Unity in Mount Laurel. It was a cold rainy evening. Richard and I drove up together.
This was my first time competing at a division contest. I was nervous.
Toastmasters is a good organization. I knew many of the folks in the room from previous clubs, events, and conferences. Toastmasters is definitely family. I was impressed that Rich, Phil, and Keith came to the event from Boardwalk. That was very nice.
When I got into barbecuing several years ago, I recall sitting myself down and setting up parameters for that hobby. Namely, I told myself I was not going to compete so I could concentrate on having fun. It has worked out well. Toastmasters has been a similar endeavor. I have not competed until this year. I have read enough about the experience to at least tell myself the correct approach. I am now doubling down on that.
Toastmasters is not like football. When one competes in football, you’ll scout out the other team and make a plan on how to attack their weaknesses and defend against their strengths. Toastmasters is not like that. The others in the competition mean nothing to the competitor. The competition is with myself, not the others. If I know you are going to use a triad, do I defend that? Ha! The point is to deliver my best speech. At that, it’s out of my hands.
The evaluation contest was up first. Hev Saing was the model speaker. He was a challenge for me as he has a heavy Cambodian accent. I struggle with Asian accents. Nevertheless, he delivered a funny speech. I put together a good evaluation. I placed third out of five.
I understand where this comes from. Bernard won. He and I had similar evaluations. I used notes; he has that pleasing Australian/South African accent. Kimo Thomas-Dennis placed second. She had a fine evaluation. I did not hear the other two as I was sequestered.
For the International Speech Contest, I delivered Mr. Roach’s Garden again. I had worked on the speech some since last week. It was improved. I was happy with my delivery. I stumbled on the third part of the joke at the beginning. I stammered and lost the word “indecisive” when speaking of Hamlet later. Both were minor. I am pleased with my delivery and really pleased with the speech as a whole.
Sitting there, I felt confident. Sure, I’m biased. 🙂
Admittedly, I was a little disappointed with placing third in this competition as well. In the end, I delivered the speech I wanted to deliver and I think I delivered the best that I have to date.
This is me. It was not judged to be good enough to move on. If I want to move on, I will need to change my approach. While I think it was the best crafted speech of the evening, my takeaway from the contest is that there is not enough for the audience. Specifically, I think it’s too intense. After the initial joke, there are several minutes of intense storytelling and then the end. There is no outlet for the audience. No joke. No place to sigh. No steam value release.
These are skills I am aware I need to work on.
Going forward from here, the two areas I am going to work on are humor and audience response (as in having the audience repeat lines from the speech).
It’s been a fun ride. One of the recent books I read talked about hitting the stage 12-feet tall and bulletproof. That’s how I approached this evening. I felt good. I performed well. Now it’s time to take the next step.
I will say, I have taken some comfort in reading John Kinde’s So You Lost a Toastmasters Speech Contest? 🙂
I don’t usually write out my speeches; I did for this one.
Have you ever grown a plant? Have you ever killed a plant?
When a plant is ready to emerge, it needs the right environmental conditions: nutrients in the soil, sun in the sky, and water available.
Absent those conditions, the plant will wither and die, fading into the background. If the conditions are met, the plant will emerge, grow, and ultimately blossom.
Mr. Contest Chair, fellow Toastmasters, and honored guests.
I struggled to emerge as a young man.
I was an average boy from an average family who did average things. Trust me, we were boring. How boring? I’ll tell you how boring. On Saturday nights we’d spend the evening looking up words in the dictionary.
Sundays we watched the laundry dry.
And other days we looked for rust on Dad’s Buick.
By the time I entered high school, I knew a lot of words, but I also knew my place: in the back of the room near the wall with my mouth closed.
From this vantage point, I observed that those who thrived within this ecosystem had one common trait: Each had Mr. Roach as his English teacher.
They treated him as their muse. Mr. Roach this, they proclaimed. Mr. Roach that, they exalted.
As for me, I didn’t have Mr. Roach until my senior year. It did not begin well at all. I remember exactly what he wrote on my first progress report: “It appears Bobby has extended summer well into the academic year.”
Mr. Roach was tall. He had shaggy hair. His books were worn and dog-eared. He loved Shakespeare. Specifically, he loved Hamlet. Hamlet was Shakespeare’s longest play. Every day, for the next four months, we examined every “forsooth” and “where art thou” the bard wrote.
All the while, Mr. Roach proclaimed Hamlet this, and Hamlet that.
We met in a small classroom with large windows that looked out onto a large lawn that sloped down to a pond. We sat at a large oval oak table. As for me, I sat in the back of the room, near the wall, and kept my mouth closed.
It was a mid-week Indian summer day near the end of our unit. Mr. Roach prattled on once again about Hamlet this or perhaps it was Hamlet that. Who knows after all these years?
The sun glistened off the blonde hair of the girl sitting to my right.
I felt myself peel away from the wallpaper, skooch up in my chair, and lean forward. For the first time in my life I blurted out.
Hamlet was a twit!
All my classmates looked at me with their mouths agaped. As if to say, “You’re not one of us. You don’t get to say that.”
Then, in unison, their heads swiveled to their muse. Their steely eyes demanded, “You’re not going to let him get away with that, are you?”
There was no anger in Mr. Roach’s demeanor. And I remember exactly what he said. “All right, Bobby. Why do you think that?”
I was taken aback. There was no accusatory “What are you thinking?” question that would have nailed me to this wall still. But he didn’t ask “What?”, he asked “Why?” Any teacher will tell you that when you ask a student “Why?” you engage him. “Why?” invites you to the conversation.
“Why?” Hamlet was so indecisive in avenging his father’s death. You place him on a pedestal. I find him pathetic. Shakespeare finds him tragic. That’s “Why?”
Mr. Roach could have easily slapped me down for my insolence. Instead he fed me. He saw a student emerging in his classroom and he took care to feed me. When you feed, you lead. Hungry for a place in the conversation, Mr. Roach fed me by giving me the room to speak.
Whether it is in a formal classroom like Mr. Roach and I shared or a business with a colleague, at home with your children, or here at Toastmasters, leaders feed their plants. Leaders are gardeners who encourage growth within the environment. They provide nourishment so the plants grow.
Leaders don’t rip the plant from the wall, drag him across the floor, like the proverbial horse, and then force his head into the trough and make him drink.
Leaders seed their soil. They nurture their plants. They cultivate their garden.
Mr. Roach’s gardening tips remain with me. I have the question “Why?” posted on the wall in the front of the classroom. It is directly in my view from the area I lead discussions. It is the reminder, daily, to cultivate my classroom.
Few can state Master Gardeners by name; but all recognize their flowers.
Tend to your gardens, fellow Toastmasters.
May your plants emerge, grow, and ultimately blossom!
When you feed, you lead.