It was December 2007 and the 2008 International Speech Contest Season was rapidly approaching. I was committed to competing. I am, as a friend of mine recently observed, a cereal competitor. However, I had one major problem. I didn’t have a speech I was happy with. The previous April, I decided I had plenty of time to come up with a speech and here it was, December and eight months of writers block left me … well … speechless.
I guess that’s not entirely true. I had written two speeches in the weaning weeks of 2007, but they both had their problems. The first speech entitled “Dig Three More Feet” was a speech I really liked, however it used two stories which did not involve me. I liked the power and energy of the speech, but the simple fact was, without the personal connection, it was unlikely that the audience would remember my point, which was, “We tend to give up when we’re on the threshold of success.”
The second speech was entitled “Wings and Chains” and it dealt with a couple of incidences which surrounded a very painful moment in my early life. The speech was very personal and came from deep within my heart, but I didn’t think I captured the true essence of what my message was. To make a long story short, I wasn’t entirely sure I believed my own message, which was “Forgiveness sets you free.”
I spoke to a fellow Toastmaster and a well-respected mentor of mine about my dilemma. She brought up two points. The first was one I had already mentioned above. Without a personal connection “Dig Three More Feet” may sound great and may make it past the Area contest, but in the Division Contest the judges are looking for more substance. The second point she brought up was, if I was using two stories I’ve heard from others, that may draw into question the contest’s originality requirements.
I loved one speech and didn’t like the other, but the fact was, the decision appeared to be made for me. I would go with “Wings and Chains.” Since I felt the speech was so weak, I decided on a strategy for the 2008 International Speech Contest season. I would ride this speech as far as I could and simply use this contest season as a learning opportunity. I would use the lessons learned this year to build up to next year. The only question was, how far would I get? My bet was, I’d be out by the end of the Area 13 contest.