Its the annual Toastmasters International Speech Contest, and Im one of the contestants. I can hardly believe Im among the best speakers in District 40, which includes all of Ohio and parts of other states. Ive won the contest held at my club level, the area level, and the division level. Everyone else this day has done the same. Each time Ive delivered my speech, Ive tweaked it a bit, taking out a sentence here, adding a word there, adjusting my gestures, and concentrating on all the coaching I had received over the past months.
The most valuable coaching came from my high school best friend, Lynda. 2 weeks ago, I had visited her at her snowbird home in Florida, and one of the highlights of my visit was performing the speech for her. Lynda listened and watched and took notes, not as a long time friend, but as a former speech coach. She corrected some of my gestures, making them more effective, and boosted my confidence by approving of everything else. Now the moment had come when The hours of preparation would be put to the test. Normally, Im not nervous when speaking in front of a crowd, but on this day, I have much to worry about. Im to speak on a stage with a lapel mike, which might or might not work. I had walked the stage to get a feel of how much room I had to move around in before falling off the edge. I had been advised that the room was divided with a large empty space in the middle, so I shouldnt speak to the space directly in front of me, because there would be nobody sitting there. How much of my speech was directed straight in front of me? And what if I get a coughing attack right before I go on?
Finally, its my turn, and theres a bit of a scramble to weave my way through the crowded tables and chairs, get the microphone attached to my belt and the front of my dress and then get up to the stage as the master of ceremonies is announcing my name and the name of my speech even before Ive reached the stage. A few seconds later, the stage is mine. My voice shakes. Whats the matter with me? I love public speaking. Stop it, I tell myself. Relax and enjoy this. Theyre listening. They even laugh where I expect them to and in some places where I didnt expect them to. I think they like this. Look to the right side of the room. Look at the left. Now its over, and I hear my friends from my club cheering. Theres lots of applause, not just polite clapping, but hearty applause. I smile. I did it. If I win, Ill go on to the semi-finals where the competition will really be steep. Do I really want to put myself through that? Of course I do.
After the 8th contestant has left the stage, the judges huddle and Talley their ballots. The contestants weigh their speeches against the others. Mine is better than at least 1, Im sure, maybe 2, but Ive got the winner picked, and its not me. Now its time for the presentation of the trophies. The third place winner is announced. Its not me. Then the second place winner is announced. Its me. I feel a mix of disappointment, pleasure and relief, in that order. It takes a long time for me to make my way again through the crowded dining room, and my fellow toastmasters are applauding and some say Congratulations as I pass by. Second place will not take me to the semi-finals or get me paying speaking jobs, but at least I was better than 6 other speakers. Should I try again next year for first place? The theme of my speech is to rediscover your passion and go for the prize. Should I take my own advice? Did I inspire myself to try again for the prize? You bet.