My relatively disappointing preparation for the Region VII contest was followed up by pulling the worst possible position in the speaking order you can get at a high level Toastmasters Speech Competition; speaker number 1. You can get away with the number one spot in many of the lower levels because there are usually less contestants and the difference in the talent of each speaker is a little more pronounced. At the international and regional levels, and to a point the district level, the competition is a lot tighter. The contestant who speaks first tends to give what ends up being the model speech for the whole competition. The judges consciously or subconsciously compare all of the other speeches to the first one and by the end, whether it’s fair or not, the judges tend to find a better speech.
Another thing the first speaker has to work with is an audience that hasn’t been warmed up yet. Many times the business before the contest leaves the audience a little flat. As the first speaker, I had to warm the audience up and find a way to get them excited enough to convince the judges that I was the best speaker and I had to do that with a speech I wasn’t very confident in.
The whole atmosphere of the contest was one that I found very powerful. These where some of the best speakers on the east coast I had an opportunity to listen to and, whether it was justified or not, I was very honored to be counted among them. The trip from Reading, PA to Washington D.C. was definitely worth-while just to see the contest. It almost didn’t matter that when the night was over, I received the very unsurprising news that I had not placed in the contest. In fact, by my own calculations, I believe I came in dead last.
Anyway, as soon as the 2008 Region VII conference was over, thoughts of the next year filled my head. I had a couple of ideas for speeches and, of course, my region contest speech was already written. Little did I know that the disasters in my life where not quite finished yet and things would not quite work out the way I expected them to.