The 2008 District 38 International Speech Contest – Part II

It’s funny what happens in your mind while you’re waiting your turn to speak in a high pressure situation.  You sit there and constantly make sure your speech is still somewhere in your head.  The minute you can’t think of the first words of your speech, you immediately assume you forgot the whole thing.  Then the panic sets in.  “I forgot my speech! It was here a minute ago.  Where did I put it?  Maybe the guy sitting next to me stole it!”

All of these thoughts went through my head and I actually had to calm myself down.  I had to work to get myself to relax and think of the first words of my speech.  They slowly materialized as the second speaker gave his speech.  I decided to write down the first paragraph of my speech.  That way, if I “forgot” my speech again, all I had to do is look at my words.  I don’t think it actually helped me remember my speech, but it did sooth my nerves a little.

The third speaker took the stage and I was back to normal again.  Well … sort of.  I knew my speech and I knew I was next.  I was still more nervous than I had ever been, but my confidence was slowly building.  When the third speaker finished, I walked to the front of the room.  I must have looked nervous, because the sergeant-at-arms told me I needed to calm down.  He fitted me with the mic and I was ready to go.  I stood at the bottom of the steps at the end of the stage waiting to be introduced.

The judges finished grading the previous speech and the Toastmaster stepped up to the microphone and introduced me.  I walked up the steps and onto the stage.  I took my spot and looked out into the audience.  I saw all eyes on me.  That is normally the moment many people would fall apart, but as I looked out onto the audience, I saw the faces of friends.  I suddenly felt at home.

I started my speech and I got reactions like I had never gotten before.  There where lines in the speech which I never considered funny and I never got a laugh from, but with an audience of about one-hundred-fifty people, who were well warmed up with three other excellent speeches they were ready to laugh at almost anything.

While I practiced, I concentrated on timing.  I realized how well my practice paid off when the last word tumbled off my tongue the light turned red.  One of my mentors would have told me, “You saw the light turn red.  That means you spoke too long.”  But, I was happy with the finish because that is exactly how I practiced it.

I turned the floor back over to the toastmaster and I noticed something incredible.  I saw tears in the Toastmaster’s eyes.  As I walked back to my seat I looked around and saw tears in a lot of eyes.  I realized the extent of the impact on the audience was far greater than I ever expected.  When I sat down, the gentleman next to me leaned in and said, “You won.”

I sat through the next two speeches, but I have to admit, I didn’t really hear them.  I was nervous again, but for a different reason.  I wanted to know if I had actually won.  The end of the contest came and the chief judge announced the winners.

Third place …

… was not me.  Second place …

… was not me.

The first place winner was announced and …

I heard my name!  I won the District 38 International Speech Contest!

I took a speech which, only five months before, I considered to be less than stellar.  I gave the speech to several audiences and took the advice of my mentors and I was able to turn the speech into a powerful experience with a powerful message.  That goes to show you, sometimes the audience sees things in your work that you just can’t see.  I came to the end of a long road, or so I thought.  My next stop was the Region VII contest to be held in Washington D.C.  As it turned out, the road was a lot longer than I thought … and a lot bumpier, too.

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