“I WILL NEVER GIVE A SPEECH AGAIN!”
That may sound drastic. I promise you, it isn’t.
Let me explain. In 2015, I lost the District 84 Toastmasters International Speech Contest in Orlando.
I understand. This does not seem important to you. But it was important to me. I learned some important lessons from this loss.
My speech involved a story of myself as a 7-year-old boy, learning about, recognizing my faults, and working to change, to be better. My message line was, “Clean the inside first.” I built upon three short, interconnected stories to make my points. I used my message line often. I tied the points together at the conclusion.
I did include audience interaction. There were 19 statements or questions when I referred to “you” or “your” (the audience).
The evening of the District contest, I was confident. I came up to the stage and started strong. I felt the emotions I was trying to present.
My first indication of a problem came with my first humor line, less than two minutes into the speech. In all other contests, I drew a good laugh. This time, there was barely a chuckle. The audience was looking at me – I had the eye contact. Were they listening? The next two humor lines had the same response (or decidedly lack of response). Although I was delivering my lines well, I wasn’t connecting the way I did in the other contests and practices.
My energy started draining. I was still committed to my presentation and my message. I did make a couple minor mistakes, but nothing significant.
I finished strong. I left to polite applause. I left hoping that the judges would think more highly of my presentation than the audience seemed to feel.
I didn’t win. I didn’t even get a trophy. I was a not-prominent part of the backdrop of the picture as the winner triumphantly held up his trophy and soaked in the applause of the audience.
That was tough. I had to understand what happened. Some of my first observations:
- The contest was after a long (45-minute) program, followed by a one-hour break for a full dinner. The other contests did not have any other major activities on their agendas.
- My speech was about myself as a child. All other speakers talked about their experiences and lessons as adults.
- I spent more time on the stories than on the lessons (points); at the end of my three stories, I summarized the lessons quickly (“at 7 years old, I learned (this)”). In the conclusion, I tied all the points all back to the main message.
- I was proud of my speech, and inspired by my message. In retrospect, I was not passionate about it. It would not be a message I would bring up in other circumstances.
So what happened? The audience response was definitely more reserved than in other contests. Certainly, I didn’t connect with the audience.
I have taken time to reflect on my loss. I have asked other Toastmasters friends for their thoughts.
I think I know now.
I violated two of my basic public speaking principles. I ignored two critical pieces of advice that I tell everyone. I did that because I received so much positive response in the earlier contests.
First: I was not passionate about my message. Whether I accepted or liked it was not important. What mattered was that it did not ignite an outburst in my heart. It was not a message that I would enthusiastically discuss with anyone, at any time.
Second: My speech was a seven-minute “mini-play.” Yes, I had audience participation (nineteen times). Overall, it was still a short play. I spent too much time telling the stories and too little time talking about the lessons, and how the lessons related to the audience.
I have decided that “I WILL NEVER GIVE A SPEECH AGAIN.” That was my main mistake.
I will always “have a conversation.” If I had a conversation with the audience, I would have spent more time discussing what I thought and felt and asking them what they thought and felt. I would have spent more time with the audience instead of trying to entertain them.
This was a hard, painful lesson for me to learn. It is an important one to share with you.
Fred Haley is a certified Coach, Teacher and Speaker for the John Maxwell Program, and owner of ToastMentor, a communications training firm. He conducts public workshops and mentors business professionals to improve their presentations. Fred has published several books on public speaking. Follow Fred on Twitter @ToastMentor. Learn more on his website, ToastMentor.com.