Lessons in Contests

What I love about the art of public speaking is that you can never fully master it. Even if you speak before an audience for every day of your adult life, you are bound to discover new things about  both the speaking experience and yourself. Yesterday, I learned a big lesson about myself at the Division N Toastmaster contest. I learned that I still do get nervous before talking to an audience that I don’t know.

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You see, I was competing amongst members from all  Toastmaster clubs in Jordan, representing my club “New Horizons” in the categories of evaluation and table topics. For the Evaluation category, I had to listen to a demo speaker and I  had to point out  in two to three minutes the aspects of her talk that she did well and the aspects that she needed to improve on.\

The demo speaker’s presentation was amazing, she took us through a journey of color distinction, the use of colors in branding, and the use of expressions in life. After she finished her talk, I got on stage to give my comments.

Although I had done this before, yesterday out of al days I got nervous. At the time I couldn’t explain why but I was up there holding the mic in one hand and my notes in another only to feel the sheet of notes shaking in my hands. The sight of a room full of people, many of whom I don’t know too well gave me a bit of a shock . I was ready to speak but I blanked out.  I felt that suddenly I had nothing useful to say. In my state of nervousness, I found myself short of breath and it  hit me suddenly that my thoughts were not organized. All eyes in that room were on me and I was not doing as well as I had thought I would. But most importantly I feared disappointing the table in the back, i.e. the table  that had my club members on it who were there to support me.  By the time I pulled myself together, I ended up giving an evaluation.

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The result however was a mediocre presentation which event got disqualified for going overtime.. I knew that I didn’t do too well the minute I got off stage, and it was then and there that I decided to do better in the second contest I was in. I decided I had to turn things around in “Table Topics”, the contest where one gets a question that they need to respond to in a mini speech of one to two minutes without prior preparations.

Thankfully I was able to compose myself by the time the Table Topics contest  came to be. I went on stage and by then I was familiar with it.  The people didn’t bother me anymore. I was not too pleased by only having a hand-held mic to work with as opposed to a clip on, but I decided that that was not going to be the issue that will hinder my abilities. With that mindset,  I was able to do what I do best” talk”.  I told myself that I should be fine with talking on the spot  because I have problem in my day to day life with staying quiet.

I was asked what skill do you want to master which you don’t have right now and I thought to myself gosh one skill? There are so many skills I want to master. I decided to go with the approach of being natural and saying the first things that come to my mind. My answer must have been good because I won first place.

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The lessons I learned from this were that one should never be overconfident. One should never assume that stage fright is not an option. Stage fright does hit even to the most experienced speakers. So, it is best that we go to the space , practice, and try actively to calm our nerves.

The second lesson I learned is to be yourself on stage. One should not try to come up with an extra ordinary answer to a normal question. Instead one should go for something simple but something that holds meaning, because  on stage for five to seven minutes at most we are giving the people listening to us a glimpse of who we are. I also learned that one gets nervous when they actually do care about winning and this year I wanted to win for my club. Having a bit of nervousness is good because not being nervous at all means you don’t care and one should never approach public speaking with the  feeling that they don’t care. Even if it is a simple speech you are representing yourself so you should care.

Last night at the contest, I learned to deal with my nervousness and that is always a good thing.

I also learned a lot from the other speakers. After all,  no meeting or gathering with people talking could possibly be useless. From two other speakers I learned that failure is ok as it is a window to new opportunity. Strength and perseverance make one overcome any struggle as said by two women who shared amazing stories about overcoming cancer and breaking the barriers set against women seeking an education respectively. One should do what they love as I learned from one speaker who told us a personal story about how he decided to learn dancing, and  I learned that one should also embrace change from a speaker who gave a practical example why change is good.

One motivational speaker said no worries are insignificant. Everyone’s problem is significant and important to them which was a great take home message to  have , but most importantly I learned that a day of speeches is made even more fun with great company and this is one of the most added values one gets from learning public speaking in a Toastmaster setting.

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