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The 2005 Toastmasters International speech contest season is underway. In the fall I really enjoyed competing in the humorous speech contest, so I was eager to go for it again. Last night I won first place in my club contest (by default since I was the only competitor), so on March 5 I’ll progress to the area contest at the Luxor Hotel here in Vegas. The contest levels go like this: club -> area -> division -> district -> regional -> international. So the winners of the 5 clubs in my area will go to the area contest, then the winners of the 5 area contests in my division go to the division contest, and so on, all the way up to the international level, where 9 finalists will compete.
What I get most from participating in these contests isn’t in the competition but in the honing of my skills. After giving my speech last night, I received a tremendous amount of feedback from all the members of my club. It’s similar to a mastermind group. They’re able to point out hidden strengths I didn’t know I had as well as weaknesses I was oblivious to. This is an area where I’m very eager to improve, so I’m happy to get as much feedback as possible, and I get far more feedback for a contest speech because now I’ll be representing my club. The same goes for the other levels of the contest — the farther you go, the more feedback you get from everyone, and the more you grow. Competing in contests is the fast track to improving as a speaker.
Since there are no cash prizes in this speech contest, you compete for honor. So this kind of contest is only going to attract competitors who value that. It’s hard work to write a speech, practice it, polish it, and then go back to the drawing board and do yet another rewrite after the latest round of feedback. Just to prepare and practice my 5-7 minute club contest speech was a good 20 hours of work, and I’m sure it will be at least another 20-40 hours before the area contest. Consequently, people who are merely interested in external rewards won’t bother to enter such a contest — there aren’t any external rewards to make it worth the effort. But if you want to meet other like-minded people who are intrinsically motivated, then participating in contests of honor is a great way to do it. This is where I pay the price and invest the blood and sweat, so a decade from now when I’m speaking up on a stage somewhere, people can say what a natural talent I must have been born with and what an overnight success I was.