The 2007 Area 13 International Speech Contest was about to begin. I pulled the second speaking spot and Lillie pulled the last spot. The first speaker told an interesting story about a neighbor who had a huge effect on him as a child and told how that same neighbor later lost his life in Viet Nam.
Then it was my turn. I walked to the front of the room and shook the Contest chair’s hand and then began to speak. I started the speech with a story about a boy named Tom who everyone thought of as stupid. I then connected Tom’s story to my own life. I talked about my own struggles with dyslexia and then discussed how I was able to reach for my dreams despite my learning disability. After I told everyone how I had never given up and succeeded at what I wanted to do, I revisited Tom and his life story and told the audience that Tom grew up to be Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
The audience seemed slightly stunned after I reveled who Tom was and that was the reaction I was looking for. I properly turned the floor over to the contest chair… sat down and immediately asked myself, “Did I do the best I could?” I thought for a moment and answered, “Yes.”
The third speaker took the floor and then it was Lillie’s turn. She told an uplifting story about the neighborhood in which she grew up. Life was tough. Everyone was poor and barley had enough to survive, but her neighbors stuck together like family and help each other through even the toughest times.
At the end of the speech contest, the contest chair took the stage to announce the winners. First, the second place winners were announced. I expected to be the second place winner, since Lillie’s speech was very conversational and effortless. It was as though she was having a pleasant conversation with the audience in front of her and I wasn’t sure how conversational I sounded.
I heard the second place name and was stunned. The name I heard wasn’t mine. It was Lillie. So, I waited with hope to hear the first place winner’s name. The first place winner was … Michael Donlan.
I felt great. I had won against someone who had so much more experience than me. After some time I began to realize why I had won and why she lost. I won, because my speech was very personal. I left myself exposed by allowing the audience to see my weaknesses. They saw my struggles and most of them identified with them. A story is a very powerful thing and teaches us far better than quoting names, dates, facts, and figures.
A second reason why I won was the lesson I was trying to teach was clear. I clearly showed that there is always hope.
I feel Lillie didn’t win, because, although she had a very powerful story, her lesson was not entirely clear. I think the judges picked up on that and decided my speech was more effective.
I was excited about my great accomplishment and it was time to get ready for the 2007 Division A International Speech Contest. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was on my way to learn the most expensive lesson so far.