This time last year, I preparing for the annual international speech contest that Toastmasters International arrange each year. I had competed the previous year and had reached the Area Contest where I came third, this year I was hoping to do that little bit better, but I never dreamed that I would end up speaking in front of 250 people from all over London and giving a speech about my stammer.
Finding the right speech topic is often the most difficult part of the whole process. Toastmasters allows you to speak about any subject, but for a successful competition speech the speech needs to be motivational and inspirational to the audience. I have a young daughter and she often provides the inspiration for my speeches. When I began planning my speech, my daughter had recently started to learn to swim. Unfortunately, things were not going to plan and she cried and cried when she got in the pool. However, in adversity, she suddenly took a deep breath and began to do as her teacher was telling her to do and with arm bands began to swim across the pool. Here was my inspiration. I just needed to craft a speech around the topic of overcoming demons, for my daughter it was swimming.
The first speech that I gave in the competition is the Club Contest, where you compete against fellow club members. The competition was fierce, and the standard was exceptional. I gave my speech in two parts one about my daughter and the second part was about giving a speech and the feelings that people have when they give a speech; how scary giving a speech, standing on a stage all alone, with everyone sitting and watching you. The speech went down well, and the audience empathised with the speech. I won the contest and was on to the next round, the Area Contest.
However, I did not have long to bask in the glory of winning the Club Contest, because after the contest, I received feedback on the speech from a very experienced Toastmaster. He said to me that my speech was good, but it needed to be so much better if I wanted to go any further in the contest. He advised me that what I really needed to do was to try to come up with a time that I had struggled to over come something and that ultimately, I succeeded. This would allow a greater audience to empathise and be inspired by the speech and with any luck I should do well at the Area Contest.
Almost immediately, I went home, back to my keyboard and I began working on the speech again. I could not rest upon my laurels as I wanted to do as well as I possibly good. This was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity to go far – who knows, I may end up in the final in Washington DC representing my country. I could but dream.
So I came up with a speech, keeping my daughter’s swimming experience but also interspersing it with my own struggles with my speech. I have struggled with a stammer for most of my life, the worst time was when I first started work and had to answer the telephone, these were terrible times, but ultimately with the support of friends and just putting myself out there I have managed to gain confidence that has limited the times that I stammer.
The speech was written, but now I needed to practice it. There was a club meeting between the two contests and I was able to give my speech before the club. I was confident before the speech. I gave it. But people did not like it as much as they had before. What had gone wrong. I must say that I was devastated. The Area Contest was a week away, I had friends coming to support me. But the speech was no good. Back to the drawing board. I worked through the speech, line by line. Word by Word, making it flow better. Making it funnier. Making it better.
The day of the Area Contest. A room of about 75 people. Friends there to support me. People from Kings Speakers supporting me. The competition was great. I went last. Nerves jangling. Away I went. People laughed. People looked engaged. People looked as if they enjoyed it. I came third at the contest the year before, could I do better? The speeches had finished, the judges had considered their results and now it was time for the announcement. In third place was ……. (not me). In second place……. (not me – ah well – I’m sure I have not won). In first place was ……. Graeme Bass. Oh my I’ve won. I’m in to the next round of the contest! The Division B contest.
The Contest was held at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden. An audience of 250 people. Competing against the best speakers in West London. Oh my. This was nerve wracking. The fellow competitors were amazing. The hall was enormous, yet we did not have any microphones. We had to rely upon the power of our voice. I had bene practicing in a church hall, which helped immensely. There were six competitors and I went fifth. I gave the best I could. What a feeling everyone laughed. I wish I could have stayed on that stage forever. Sadly, the competition was too strong for me and I did not win. But what an amazing experience.
The speech contest last year was a great example of the Toastmasters’ experience. Thesupport that I received from Kings Speakers and other members of the Toastmasters’ community was incredible and that sums up the people who are members of this great club and organisation.