Three Ways to Lose and Still Win

I have returned from Las Vegas. I competed in the semifinal competition of The World Championship of Public Speaking on Thursday, August 13th at Caesars Palace. I lost, but still won.

One hundred thirty countries were represented by 96 competitors in 10 semifinals. Speeches are five to seven minutes in length, and are essentially a seven minute secular sermon. The speaker’s message should be persuasive, inspiring, and infused with an element of humor.

I was in semifinal #10 with nine other competitors – all men. Speaking order is drawn at random, and I selected a three of diamonds from a standard card deck. This put me in the third of ten speaking positions.

In the weeks leading up to the competition, I have crafted, practiced and presented speeches to audiences of all sizes. I had the ominous task of having two speeches ready in case I moved on to the final contest. Rules require a completely different speech from the one presented in the semifinal.

The speech that helped me win a place at the semifinal was titled “Happily, Even After” and was about my experience with childhood abuse and how love and forgiveness helped me heal from it. I was encouraged to not continue competing with this speech because it lacked enough humor. (A tough subject to make fun of), therefore I have spent several weeks reworking THAT speech, and writing others as possible replacements.

The emotional and mental aspect of my journey has been all-consuming. Thus, the reason for few blog posts during this period of time since mid-May. All my writing and creativity has been spent on speeches. I have worked on speeches titled:

  • BUMPS
  • Create Your Happiness
  • It Could Be Worse
  • To Save a Life
  • Attitude Changes mood
  • Be an Action Hero

On August 3rd – ten days before the semifinal, I gave two speeches to an audience at The Microsoft Store at Bellevue Square Mall. The feedback I received was not very positive, and I came away from that event feeling confused and sad. I started over. In an attempt to concentrate on authenticity and elements that my two speeches didn’t seem to have, I wrote new speeches and reworked other speeches.

Lee Amatangelo and Rich Hopkins have coached me at different points during the process, and they were probably thinking I’d lost my mind heading into the final stretch. Maybe I had. Changes were happening daily, and I was feeling less and less prepared. Ryan Avery’s book was used as reference to add needed winning elements to my speeches.

I mentally walked through both of my speeches during my flight to Las Vegas. Because of last minute changes, I did not have any opportunity to present either speech to an audience before the contest. That was scary. I decided to focus on a speech titled, THAT HURT! for the semifinal.

The smoke and dry air in Las Vegas wreaked havoc on my voice and throat, so I tried to keep conversation minimal. I spent the first evening in Vegas practicing and preparing for the next day. In fact, I used the iron in my hotel room to press the suit I would wear for the contest. Yet, the first time I placed the iron on my black slacks, a white substance came off the iron onto my slacks. UGH! They were not going to be wearable the next day despite the hotels promise to have them dry cleaned for me. My wardrobe malfunction could have thrown me off – and in fact, forced me to wear an alternate outfit instead of the power suit I wanted to.

At 8:00am on Thursday, August 13th, I met for a briefing with all 96 contestants in the semifinal. I met the contest chair, and the other contestants in my contest. They were all men. We drew for speaking order, and had fun getting a group picture.

Pictured from left are: Emmanuel Fadahunsi (front), Martin Moreau (back), Michael Carr (front), Joe Grondin (back), Me, Michael Williams II (back), DeAndre Carter (front), Brian Olds (back), Naoki Tamura (Front) and Nelson Ortega (back).

All of us 10 semifinalists gathered again at 11:00 for a short practice on the stage. We were mic’ed, and were given three minutes to practice our blocking and gestures to ensure the mic was placed in the appropriate place. We were shown the timing device that would alert us at certain times during our speeches. We practiced entering and exiting the stage during our interviews.

I came away from the practice with my rivals feeling a desire for every one of them to win. They were my brothers at that point, and I only wanted them to do their best and win a spot in the final. One of them did.

The semifinal contest began at 7:30pm, and being the third speaker, I was on stage almost immediately it seemed. I gave a good speech. I lived by the rule that Lance Miller preaches – it’s not about perfection, it’s about connection. I believe I connected with my audience, and came away feeling confident in my performance even though there were minor mistakes. I actually had fun on stage – the nerves worked to my advantage and gave me an edge I hoped it would.

But alas, my name was not announced in the final three. I was disappointed for myself, but happy for the three that placed.

  • 3rd Place: Nelson Ortega
  • 2nd Place: Noaki Tamura
  • 1st Place: Joe Grondin

My disappointment was not because I didn’t win, but more about feeling I’d let my husband down. You see, I have served Toastmasters International since 2007 in leadership positions that have kept me from focusing on my business as much as I should have. I convinced myself that the leadership training I was getting would make me a better speaker, and that when I was finally eligible to compete, I would win big and my business would be catapulted forward, and it would finally prove worth all the sacrifice. THAT’s why I was disappointed. ALL the plans I had worked for felt like a waste of time, and I’d let my husband down.

I felt like a BIG flamingo was crushing my plans.

Yes, I’ve had an experience that few people have. Out of the 30,000 + Toastmasters that started competing in February, I had won a position in the top 100 Toastmaster competitors. I was proud of that accomplishment, and I know many people would have gladly taken my place. I was also confident that THIS WAS MY YEAR. When it didn’t materialize, my thoughts turned negative. I was starting over in my business, and I was overwhelmed.

In the days that have followed, I realize the blessing that I’ve had. I see the growth I’ve gained as a speaker. I have taken feedback and used it to improve my abilities. I have spoken in front of hundreds of people, and they have heard a message that only I have to give. I am grateful for my journey. And I am grateful my journey can continue.

Here are three ways you can lose and still win:

  1. Identify the ways the losing experience has caused personal growth. In what ways can you now help others?
  2. Identify the people who helped you along the way and feel gratitude.
  3. Identify what you’ll do differently when the opportunity arises again, then make it happen.

I have so many of you to thank for your support. The funds raised through my GoFundMe account were used to the penny to pay the fees and costs associated with this competition. My hair goddess, Lesley Gregory at 5th Avenue Salon in Issaquah cut and colored my hair AT NO CHARGE to support my contest. I am so touched by her generosity and support.

KATY OLSON didn’t let me pay her to house sit while Arny and I were away. That was a wonderful gift.

Every one of you who offered positive and helpful feedback have also been helpful. Lee and Rich, my coaches, were essential pieces of the puzzle. Arny, my husband, gave his undying support, and allowed me time to think and create as I needed to.

THANK YOU ALL for being part of my fabulous journey. Every kind word will be remembered. I jumped into the deep end, and stayed afloat. Contest season will come up again in the Spring. I will try again, beginning at a higher level than before. I already have some speeches written!

Now…back to work.