The day of the Division E Contest had arrived. I practiced the speech what seemed like hundreds of times. I followed the advice of the person I asked to be my coach for the rest of the rounds of the contest season; Lillie. She told me to visualize the audience’s reactions to every part of the speech. This is a tactic I’ve used since the 2008 contest season, because I feel it helps me build confidence and it also forces me to be honest with my speech. There have been times where I had to ask myself, “Would the audience really react like that?”
After about three weeks of preparing for the Division E contest I was ready. There were two other speakers competing, but I realized that I had three adversaries in this contest. The third for me was the ghosts of the 2007 Division A contest. That was the contest in which I did great, except for one thing. I went over time by two seconds. I timed myself to make sure I would end at around the six minute and thirty second mark.
Although the speech itself had been a formidable advisory in the past, I practiced it in front of several groups and talked about it to a few friends. After spending so much time with it, I finally tamed this bucking bronco of a speech. I now bought into the message of my speech and I was happy to spread it. The immediate problem was, there were two other competitors who believed in their messages and where happy to spread them.
I pulled the number one slot again. I liked the number one slot. It fit me like a glove. The contest chair called my name and gave the speech title and I walked confidently to the front of the room. I stood for a moment and looked into the eyes of the audience and I suddenly realized I was very comfortable. I felt I belonged there, then I opened my mouth and a confident and clear speech came out exactly as I planned. I was finished with my speech and sat down. I felt like I had done very well. Then I realized what competition I really had when the next two speakers spoke.
The next speaker was a cancer survivor who had walked a hundred miles on the Appalachian Trail. It was a highly inspirational story which made me worry. I could see the judges voting for his speech because of the whole guilt factor, never mind the fact that it was well done and well prepared. But in the end I relearned an important lesson about the Division contest. The judges at that level are looking for more than just a good story or even substance. They’re looking for effectiveness, body language, vocal variety, passion, connectivity, authenticity, etcetera. Not that substance and story are not important; in fact, substance and story are what is most important in any speech, however without proper clarity they don’t mean anything.
At the end of the speech contest the announcement had been made that I had won. The reason I won was because the second place speaker was not careful with his body language. He had poor eye contact and at one point turned his back on the audience. With actions like that, it’s difficult to stay engaged.
I was, now, going to the 2008 District 38 International Speech contest. I felt good and, like before the Division E contest, I had a worm fuzzy feeling.