A few weeks ago I reported that I had won – by default – a Toastmasters area speech contest. This meant that I would represent my area at the upcoming division contest in May. While I hardly expected to win at the division level, I took the advice from our area governor to practice my speech at area clubs this month.
Normally, I would have given my speech first at my own club, in order to win the privilege of representing the club at the area contest. As it happened, I was one of only two members who had given the requisite six speeches to qualify for contests above the club level, and Kyle was unavailable the day of the area contest. (So I had “won” that by default also.)
So I offered to fill an empty slot in last week’s agenda by practicing my speech, “Are you smarter than a pigeon?” (This is about the Monty Hall Problem, which I also did a post on some time ago.) And I got myself on the agenda for today’s meeting at another club in the area. The idea was supposed to be that listeners would give me feedback to help me improve my speech so that I would do even better at the upcoming competition.
Then I got a surprising email, when our club processed membership renewals for the year. “Welcome to Toastmasters!” It went on to talk about the new member’s kit I would be receiving. New member?!
Most of our club’s members have been in the group a year or less, including all its officers. I don’t know who should have notified me that my dues were due last fall, but it turns out that at some point a deadline came and went and I ceased to be a member in good standing. I was reinstated this month, but the effective date was five days after the area contest in which I had competed.
I had read the rules, and I knew that meant I was disqualified. The area governor checked into the status of my eligibility anyway, but I figured I knew what the answer would be. I went ahead and “practiced” my speech last Wednesday for the club, and was gratified to have my speech voted the best of the day.
For most of a year I had felt intimidated by all these salespeople in the club (most of whom were required to join as part of their training), who seem so comfortable working a crowd. Last month I gave a sixth speech in order to qualify for the area competition, on the only topic I could think of on short notice, “What am I doing here?” (an introvert who works in IT among a bunch of outgoing sales professionals). Somehow I found myself not only holding their interest but making them laugh. Wow, I can do this!
Today I got the official notice that no, I am not eligible to compete at the division level because I was not qualified to compete at the area level. As I was on the agenda as guest speaker at the club meeting today, I went ahead and gave the speech. Knowing that this wasn’t practice for competition, purely practice for practice’s sake, I was pretty relaxed. After all, it was my third time giving the speech.
I don’t know what the evaluator would have said if I hadn’t mentioned the disqualification issue as we chatted before the meeting started. Perhaps he would have had some constructive criticism. As it was, he said he could tell how much I had practiced since the area competition (where he had been the emcee), as I did much better today.
Let’s see… I did give the speech once last week at my club. And I ran through it, at a rather reduced volume, while walking my dog that evening. Her response was rather lackluster – she had the nerve to interrupt it by stopping to poop. (I have to admit that I’m really not sure whether she is smarter than a pigeon.) So I don’t know that practice accounts for much improvement.
More likely, it was because the pressure’s off. I was giving the speech for the fun of it. I thought I’d do well, but I didn’t have to. And since I’d didn’t have to, I did.