The time between the District 38 and the Region VII International Speech Contests was the hardest of my Toastmasters experience and one of the hardest experiences of my life. The main requirement of the regional contest, at that time, was participants needed to have a new speech. I was trying to prepare for the Region VII contest when I previously had no speech. I had almost two months to prepare. That may sound like a long time, but figure in the facts that I was dealing with a little bit of writers block and I had very little experience with coming up with a world class speech.
Those two facts alone played havoc with writing and practicing, but on top of that, my father-in-law found he had brain cancer and had three months to live. He went down-hill fast and died two weeks before the contest. If that wasn’t enough, three days after my Father-in-law’s funeral, our eight year old Golden Retriever died suddenly. With all of this going on, I had to keep my boss happy as well.
I was under a lot of pressure from directions I never knew existed. I wasn’t sure how things were going to go at the contest, but I was determined to do my best. I went through four speeches until I found something that worked.
What I settled on was a speech that was born out of my contest winning speech. I talked about my dyslexia, only briefly, in my first speech, so I decided to talk about how it affected me and how, with the help of my parents, it actually helped me to grow. I then added in my son’s on battle with dyslexia and how I have helped him. My point was how the family is the most powerful tool we all have to get through hard times.
I shared my speech with some of the most experienced speakers in the district and they tore it apart so I could put it back together again. I also shared it with as many groups as I could. I took into account many different opinions and followed the suggestions I thought would help. My speech changed many times over that two month period.
I was told I needed to give the speech as many times as I could in order to hone a truly great presentation. However, my style is much different than most. Two symptoms of dyslexia are a bad short term memory and the inability to remember certain words at the right times. Because of this, I need to memorize the speeches I need to get exactly right. Looking back, I believe what I should have done is pick clubs within the district which had a good group of experienced speaker and competitors and I should have given my speech once per week and used the week in between to prepare for the next audience. If I had done that, I may have had a better chance of really owning my speech.
Owning my speech was a real problem. Even though the speech was personal and came from the heart, I never truly felt ready for the contest.
Although I had such a tough time preparing for the contest, I met so many new people with so many new ideas. It was an atmosphere where I was learning faster than I ever had before. As a result, during the intense two month build up to the 2008 Region VII Contest I learned more about public speaking than I had in the previous four years. It was then that I realized the true reason every Toastmaster should compete. Competing forces you to learn skills you never would have thought of, other wise.