Every year Toastmasters International hosts a “world championship” public speaking competition. This is the cream of the crop…from all over the world. This is a BIG DEAL. One of the finalists this year is from Iowa…that hasn’t happened in more than 50 years. And I know him!

He was in Cedar Rapids Monday night. He wanted to give his speech to anyone who would listen and offer feedback. I actually have yoga Monday nights, so I wasn’t planning to go…but at the very last minute I decided “how often do you get the opportunity to hear an International speech competitor?” Plus I thought it would be nice to go and show my support. So instead of driving to yoga, I drove to Cedar Rapids.

And I’m really glad I did!

I think in the grand scheme of things I got more out of this event than I would’ve gotten out of my yoga practice.

I’ve never had any interest in competing in Toastmasters. I go to Toastmasters to improve myself as a public speaker and to gain confidence talking to people in general. (I’ve also met a lot of really interesting people through Toastmasters…)

I always thought that in order to win a Toastmasters competition, one had to be a PERFORMER. I am not, nor will I ever be, a performer. I can get up in front of a group and speak…but I don’t perform.

After listening to Jack the other night, I’m not so sure it is about performing. I think it’s about being REAL…connecting with your audience…having something unique to say and then saying it well, all the while giving your audience something to take back and apply to their own lives. While I know all of his gestures and movements were blocked out ahead of time, I didn’t see a PERFORMANCE. I saw a guy from Iowa who had something to say, something that was personally relevant to me…and he said it well.

I came to these conclusions after hearing Jack give four different speeches. I thought his first one was good. Very good. He connected with me…he had a message…he held my interest…he delivered it well (I studied what he did with his hands and the movements he made because this is what I struggle with as a speaker…what to do with my hands). It was…about what I expected.

We critiqued it and then he said he wasn’t sure this was the speech he wanted to give at the competition. So then he gave two more speeches (speeches that won various competitions on the way to this one). I didn’t like either of them as well. I thought they were both a little on the preachy side…and it was almost as though he was trying too hard.

Don’t get me wrong…they were GOOD speeches. All three of them were VERY good speeches. Obviously they were…he wouldn’t be where he is they weren’t fabulous speeches. But they were also speeches that any top-notch speaker could have given. In fact, they were so polished I found myself wondering if the stories were told were even true…or if they were just there because they’re the kind of stories that win competitions?

Then he said he’d written one more speech (I think he said this was #13 or 14)…he didn’t have it blocked out yet, but he wanted to try it. The really interesting thing was he wasn’t sure about this one…but this was the one that really blew me away! This one had heart…soul…passion…I don’t know what you’d call it…but as I sat there I thought, “Ah…THIS is Jack. The REAL Jack.” And yet at the same time, it also had elements of surprise. I knew exactly where the previous three speeches were going…I knew exactly how the stories would play out…I knew what the message was. This one kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering what was coming next. It was a speech that only Jack could have given. (And I told him so…) I think that’s why it’s a winner.

This is what I need to do when I go into schools, libraries, bookstores to do my thing. All of the above. People who come to hear authors speak probably hear LOTS of authors…and many of us probably say a lot of the same things. What do *I* (or any of you?) have to offer that’s DIFFERENT?

What we have is ourselves.

If you’re not a performer, it’s okay. In fact, if you’re not a performer, it’s probably best NOT to try and perform. Your attempt will probably fall flat.

Instead, you have to reach inside yourself and find that unique…SOMETHING, whatever it is, and give it to your audience so that they may not only see you, but also see themselves. We’ve all got something like that…the trick is finding it and using it to the best of our abilities.

That’s what I learned from Jack on Monday night.

Jack has bought several of my books and asked me to sign them…so I took my agenda Monday night and asked him to sign it for me. Who knows? Maybe that little scrap of paper will be worth something someday?

Find yourself…in Toastmasters

3 thoughts on “Find yourself…in Toastmasters

  • July 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Very interesting! Make me want to join Toastmasters (but I have enough going on and live in a rural area). Still, what you said really rang true. I’ve learned with my own talks that I can’t be a performer like Bruce Coville or Patricia Polloco. But I can be sincere and share the personal stories that I’ve learned are entertaining and educational, too. When I first started speaking, I was terrified and had to write out everything in a planned speech. Now I can talk from a simple list of topics, and usually I don’t follow that, listening with my intuition to the audience.

    I’ve also learned that for writers it’s important to share some of your book, to inspire curiosity and make the audience want to go out and buy the book to find out next.

    Good luck with your speaking and writing — LJS

    • July 29, 2009 at 9:03 pm

      Much as I love hearing Bruce Coville speak (or watching him perform?), it’s also a little depressing to hear him…because I know I will never perform like that. (I’ve never heard Patricia Polloco…) But I think you’re right: be sincere and tell the stories only you can tell. (Just like we do as writers, right?) Bruce IS a performer…you and I are not. That’s okay.

      BTW, when I started speaking, I did the same thing you did…I had every word written out and I had the entire speech in front of me. But one day I decided to throw away the speech and just chat with my audience…I was there to talk about what I know/love most…why should I need a speech for that? Well, guess what? I found I spoke more eloquently without the speech…and I was also a lot less nervous! It’s all in how you look at it…would you rather get up and talk about what you know/love or would you rather “give a speech?”


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