[This was originally given as a speech at “Emergence 2014 – A District 82 Toastmasters Initiative”. The context was to motivate more new members to take part in Toastmasters Contests. I thank all my friends whose names I have referred in this speech. They have played a significant role in my Toastmasters life. With due respect to them, their names have been referred.]
Kindly raise your hands if your answer is a yes to any one of the following questions.
- Are you one of those contestants who participated for the first time just because your contest chair had pushed you?
- Are you one of those contestants who participated for the first time with a small thought in your mind that said, “Anyway there are star speakers in my club. For sure I will not win. But let me just attempt”
February 2013, 2 weeks after I joined the club, a guy walks up on stage and says – “I am the contest chair for this season. Please give your nominations”. Murali please give your nomination. Ok ok Murali agreed. Next Tabrez, Pradeep. One by one he started pushing people into the well and finally it was my turn.
“Haannnn… Our new member. Gautam. How great it would be to participate in a Table topics contest in just two weeks after joining the club?”
“Brilliant.. he said the words “table topics”. That’s the spirit. I will write your name”
Ladies and gentlemen if your answer was yes to question number 1, even I was someone who was pushed by my contest chair at a very early stage. I am grateful to my contest chair for doing that. Have you heard how eagles start to fly and soar over great altitudes? As in the tradition of their species, an eagle’s nest is located on a high altitude rock surface. The mother eagle pushes her child from the nest and only then the child starts flying. Only then the child eagle would realize the purpose of its wings and start soaring high. Friends, even for an eagle who is the most majestic of all birds, the thrill of soaring begins with the fear of falling. Every successful contestant, from a club level winner to a district champion, from a district champion to a world champion was once pushed by his contest chair. These contest chairs serve like the eagles who push you so that you fly high. So next time your contest chair pushes you, feel happy to receive the push and who knows, the push might even make you a world champion. As a baby contestant, If you have the fear of falling like the baby eagle, just keep calm and push yourself.
Now coming to the second question I asked – “Are you one of those Toastmasters who thought that there are star speakers and you anyway can’t clear the contest as long as they are there”.
Friends, contesting with star speakers is the best boon you can get. All you have to do is take it in the right spirit. We are fortunate to have come across some of the best speakers like our Dear World Champion Toastmaster Dananjaya and World Semi finals runner up Aditya Maheswaran. They became champions because they have been contesting with the best of the best for the last decade. You work hard only when you contest with amazing speakers. As the famous adage says, “We are like rockets, not just because we can fly high, but because we work only when our back is set on fire”. So, next time you have a tough speaker against whom you are supposed to compete, feel good that you have got such an opportunity to learn by contesting against him/her. Just enjoy the spirit of contesting. If the fear of your co contestants pops up, just keep calm and push yourself.
Now that we have discussed about the two questions I had asked, I would like to share with you some suggestions that might help you as a contestant, especially when you are a new contestant. These suggestions worked for me at contests and might work for you as well.
Let your speech and its nuances be one entity
Practice hard and make speaking nuances your habit and not your knowledge. Or at least for the speech that you are giving for your contest, practice it along with the nuances and make them a part of the speech. I once came across a contestant in a club contest. He spoke about two incidents from his life. After the first he started speaking the second, “Ladies and gentlemen, the second incident from my life is an absolute tragedy where I faced many obstacles”. He suddenly walked across the stage and continued “Oh sorry, the second incident of my life is a tragedy where I faced many obstacles”. I asked him at the end, “why did you repeat half your second incident again?”. “Gautam I planned that I should deliver the first incident from the right part of the stage and the second incident standing at the left side of the stage. In between I forgot to change my position”. The reason is he had planned a stage usage which he had not practiced and made a part of his speech. Always make your speech and its nuances as one single entity and when you go on stage, just unlearn all the nuances so that your tragic incidents don’t become comical.
Forget your co contestants during the contest
It so happened in my own case during my first contest season in 2013 when I was just weeks old in Toastmasters. The moment I cleared the club level, my club president then, Toastmaster Murali spent hours with me everyday just to coach me for the area level contest. I went to the area level and saw that everyone was a stranger to me. I never knew or worried about my co contestants and that kept me confident. I came second in the area level table topics, went to my club president Murali and asked, “Who came first.. that girl.. Asha..She spoke well uh”. “Yea Gautam. She was too good. She spoke about fishes in the water tank and it was much inspirational”. “Oh, how many CC projects she has done”. “She is an ACB”. “Whats that”. You first give your CC #1 next week and we can think about ACB later. I never knew past CC. But actually that ignorance was bliss and I realized it in the division contest. In the one month between area and division contests, I had made a lot of friends around and came to know about everyone. I went to the division and the contest master announced the names, “Contestant #1 Asha Verghese. Oh my god Asha!!!ACB!!!. She won in the area contest just by speaking about a small fish. I spoke about a huge Gautam Sharma and still came second. Contestant #2 Alexander Babu. Oh god. District humorous champion. This kept going on and I finally lost that contest. The reason being I was worried more about other contestants than myself. Worrying about the skills of other contestants makes you forget your skills. So next time when you go on stage, forget about your co contestants. Focus on your speech. And remember to keep calm and push yourself.
Have friends to give you an additional push
People say Toastmasters is a mutually supportive organization. But during my District contest Toastmasters became a collectively supportive organization for me. I had many many friends who kept throwing words of motivation every now and then. A very good friend, Akshaya, used to send me a topic every morning and call me in the evening to ask if I practiced it well. A sweet friend and my ever smiling mentor DTM Saro, ensured that I am geared up all the time. The list is too long to mention all the names here. I would definitely not have taken it seriously and practiced if not for these people. Even during the night before the finals at Ovation Goa, I went back to my room after a heavy dinner. People who came there would know how cozy the resort was. The bed and pillow were inviting me to have a sound sleep. Just before hitting the bed I saw my mobile and found at least 20 messages wishing me all the best for the next day. I started feeling so responsible and ended up giving at least 35 table topics practice speeches in my room that night. Thank god, I was alone, else I would have made my room mate the target audience and evaluator. Fellow Toastmasters, this organization has amazing set of people. Even when the results were announced, I had people with me who said “It is ok even if we go late or miss the flight, but I cannot go from here without seeing you grab the trophy”. Be with such people during contests. They not only push you, but motivate you in such a way that you keep calm and push yourself too.
Golden rule – Stay in touch with the art
We all know that practices makes a man perfect. The problem is sometimes, we just know it. Especially with evaluations and table topics contest for which you don’t need to prepare a script, many of us do not practice. What helped me do well is the practice I did everyday by giving one speech per day and the 35 speeches that I practiced overnight. Frankly if you ask me to deliver a table topics speech now I might fumble badly giving you a question of how did this guy become the district champion. The very reason is I was in constant tough with the art of table topics during the contest season and not really in touch with the art these days. During contests, if we practice hard, we will gain the confidence and momentum that will help us to keep calm and push yourself.
Having said all this, ladies and gentlemen, next time when you get a chance to participate in contests, will you nominate. And if you have the fear of contesting, fear of co contestants, fear of embarrassment or any other hesitation, just “KEEP CALM AND PUSH YOURSELF”.