Yesterday I competed in the 2005 Toastmasters International Speech Contest for my area (my area consists of 5 individual clubs). The contest was held at the Luxor Hotel here in Vegas. The pyramid-shaped Luxor has a giant Sphinx in front of it, and the contest was held in a room in the Sphinx’s left paw. I must say this is the first time I’ve ever given a speech inside the paw of a Sphinx. The long rectangular room had typical Luxor faux-Egyptian decor, so it felt like being in a large Pharaohs’ tomb. Vegas is certainly a unique place to do public speaking.
My wife went to the contest with me, so it was nice having her in the audience; plus we turned it into a date by having dinner in the hotel afterwards.
I took home first place in the contest, so two weeks from now, I’ll be competing at the division level, which represents about half of Las Vegas geographically. In the Fall humorous speech contest I made it to the division level previously and took home second place there. In a couple hours I’ll be going to a meeting of Jackpot Speakers, another local Toastmasters club, for some extra coaching on my speech. I can already see several areas where my speech can be improved.
At the contest I was also given the Toastmaster of the Year award from the Area Governor, and I was honored and grateful to be selected for it. Basically this award is given to a member who’s been really active in the organization at the area level — participating in his/her club, serving as an officer, competing in contests, speaking often, encouraging others, etc. It was fun coming home with both a trophy and a plaque.
Last week I also completed my 10th Toastmaster speech and thereby earned my CTM. CTM stands for Competent Toastmaster and is the first educational “rank” that can be earned. So from now on in any Toastmasters stuff my name gets to be listed as Steve Pavlina, CTM. It was a lot of work to earn this, so it feels good to have achieved this goal. Completing the requirements for my CTM was one of my major goals for this quarter.
I’ve been a member of Toastmasters for 9 months now, and I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. It’s the kind of organization where you truly get out of it what you put in. I’ve invested hundreds of hours of work over the past 9 months to become a better speaker, and I’ve definitely seen a lot of improvement. By the time I give my contest speech again at the division level, I’ll probably have invested a total of 60-80 hours on just this one speech, and it’s only 7 minutes long! You have to be pretty committed to devote that kind of time and effort to a speech contest with no prize except glory and honor. The only way you can do this is if you learn to fall in love with the grind, practicing over and over until you get a sore throat and can barely stand up any longer….
I think that’s a real key to success in life — to fall in love with the grind of working hard, hard, hard. While there are techniques that can provide a few shortcuts in personal growth, mostly it comes down to the brute force effort of throwing massive amounts of time and energy at your weaknesses until they eventually succumb, and thereby turn them into strengths. When I was a kid, I absolutely hated speech contests. I dreaded them, I was awful at them, and I’d get terribly nervous just thinking about them. I was easily in the bottom 25% of my class in this area. But throw about 1000 hours at such a weakness, and voila, it becomes a strength. I did the same thing with running. When I took P.E. in high school, I used to always come in second to last in running laps, barely beating the really overweight guy. But about 15 years later I had finished a marathon.
Throw about 1000 hours of hard work at just about any problem, and you’re bound to see some serious results.