What should you do when you recognize a lack of quality, structure, and execution in a particular setting, and get caught in the fallout because of it?
I recently competed in the second level of six at a Toastmasters International speech contest. A restructuring of typical protocol placed my event near the end of the day, which allowed me to watch most of the contest before giving my speech.
Deeply disappointed describes well my reaction to the lack of quality in the competition speeches. One unfortunate contestant actually used a power point in a strictly timed 5-7 minute presentation. This wasn’t a TED talk situation where power point is frequently used, but perhaps part of the problem is that she thought it was.
Almost from the get-go, her slides wouldn’t advance. She looked at the person in the audience who helped set her up and said, “It’s not working”.
In a contest situation, you can’t simply call on tech support and expect delivery. You’re timed. You have to get on with it.
The poor woman tried to get on with it, but it was easy to recognize her unpreparedness. It would be my guess she had relied too heavily on the content of her slides, and not the content which should have been in her head and heart. It appeared that without her slides, she couldn’t remember what she wanted to say. A tragedy for her.
I wondered, “Where is her mentor who should have told her not to use a power point in a competition? Isn’t there anyone in the club she’s representing who could have advised her?”
Her opponent was only slightly more prepared. No clear message, and no clear purpose in his content. I learned afterward he has been part of Toastmasters for 16 years. Obviously he’s not using the Toastmasters program to its fullest, since he announced his last educational award was from a program which hasn’t been used since 2007.
I wondered, “Where have his mentors been for 12 years? Why hasn’t he been encouraged to move forward into a new, better structured, program?”
Then it was my turn to give my speech. I have competed before. In 2015 I made it to the semi-finals (level 5) of the world championship of public speaking. That had been an emotionally draining summer, but I learned so much more about crafting and delivering a winning speech than I’d ever expected to. Today I teach young people 5 days a week how to do what I learned.
My presentation was excellent (even if simply compared to the others). It was actually structured professionally, and delivered like a champ. I’m sure I changed the energy in the entire room, as the audience witnessed for the first time that evening an actual competition speech.
My one opponent was a man I’d see compete before. He has a strong, natural stage presence, and having worked as a pastor, was confident in speaking. However, his delivery was lacking in deliberate word use and a clear message. I guessed he may have simply threw some thoughts onto paper the day before the contest.
Imagine my surprise when I placed second to him (my opponent). I was disappointed in my loss, as anyone would be. I was even more disappointed in the lack of quality from other contestants AND the judges. Were they not aware of the criteria they were assigned to judge?
How was I the only contestant to actually meet the contest criteria, and come in second?
My greatest disappointment was knowing a few of my young students were there to witness the entire competition. I had considered the opportunity for them to see a contest as a powerful, impactful teaching moment. Yet, what they saw was a competition in which the bar was set so low, it was a waste of time (a three hour waste of time)
I’m saddened to report that within 5 years since I previously competed, the quality of contestants and judges have steadily sank. I’m not alone in that thinking. Many others in my district have voiced a sense of dismay and disappointment in their own competition losses, which were not deserved.
Had I not been competing the other night, and saw what I saw, I would still be just as disappointed in the outcome.
I believe it will take purposeful, persistent, and powerful leadership to bring a sense of championship-desiring speakers and judges back into the Toastmaster district. If I can be a part of the oration revolution, I will be.