The pressure’s off

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.

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5 Responses to The pressure’s off

  1. modestypress says:

    There you go. As long as you are not trying (after you prepared as if you were trying) you are not nervous and you did well. If it really mattered, then you would “Choke.”

    This fits in with a book I mentioned by New York Times writer called Clutch. You are clutch without knowing it. Forget I told you this.

  2. Karen O says:

    I think it’s brave of you to have joined Toastmasters & willingly make speeches, especially considering how introverted you are.

    I smiled at your not being sure if Kyra is smarter than a pigeon. We say about our Heidi that she isn’t too bright but she has lots of heart. 🙂

    But sometimes I think she’s smarter than she usually lets on.

  3. jon evans says:

    Modesty, I have to tell you, having been married to her for twenty+ years, that Pauline never chokes. She may get sick as a dog afterwards for upwards of a day, and have intestinal fortitude problems the day or two leading up to whatever it is; but when whatever it is happens — she is solid as a rock. It took a while for the male ego to get used to, but I kind of like it now. 😉

    • modestypress says:

      Jon,

      I do indeed believe you. My wife, very introverted, who hates to appear in public, is much the same way. Many years ago, we were involved in a very spectacular trial. It took three weeks (which is very long in the trial business), was as spectacular as a Perry Mason trial except for real. It involved our efforts (successful) to bring an end to an ongoing saga something like a “scam” but not exactly and something like a “cult” but not exactly that had cost quite a few idealistic and naive “new age” type people over a million dollars over a 20 year period. You have to take my word for it (or not); the story would take at least four hours to tell.

      Anyway, at one point, while my wife was on the stand (an experience she loathed) testifying for our side, our lawyer (a quiet and modest geek who turned out to be quite brilliant) got way too clever for his own good and asked my wife a question she was completely unprepared for.

      For about one minute, my wife looked like a deer in the headlights, and then her (very intelligent) brain figured out what was going on, and came up with a perfectly appropriate and effective answer. Our lawyer, realizing he had blown it, and I (realizing my wife’s shock and distress) sighed with relief.

      The jury must have picked up what was going on as well. After three weeks of a complex trial, involving hundreds of pages of obscure legal real estate issues), the took about one day to rule 90% in our favor. It was appealed to the Oregon State Supreme Court who upheld the ruling entirely.

      This was about 25 years ago. After a bit of research, I am fairly comfortable that we stopped the quasi-cult/quasi-scam in its tracks.

      It also taught me that taking on “causes” (no matter how virtuous, justified, and righteous, as I still believe this law suit qualifies as such) is very dangerous and damaging to the “Don Quixotes” who take them on.

  4. modestypress says:

    By the way, Pauline and Jon, I am reading a very interesting book. If it catches Pauline’s interest, I would love to get her reaction and evaluation. The book is title Real Wealth of Nations. The author is named Riane Eisler.

    I have long considered both the extreme of “rightest” capitalist “libertarianism” (such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) and other variations thereof) and the extremes of “leftist” Marxist, socialist, anarchist (and variations thereof) as intellectually and empirically bankrupt.

    Eisler’s book, which I am still reading, is an effort to define a “Caring Economics” (part of her subtitle). Although I am not a religious believer, I think her effort is compatible with my ethical nihilism (as I now call my “spiritual belief”) and your evangelical Christianity. I would love to get your take and/or Pauline’s take.

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