Last night I competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest semi-finals in Orlando, and (drum roll, please) I did not advance to the finals. But that’s okay! Because I think I did really well, and the experience was incredible! The level of competition was strong (which I always welcome, because then I learn more) and I honestly feel that any one of the people in my group could’ve easily won.
The way it worked was thus: Well over 1,000 people attended the Toastmasters International Conference (maybe closer to 1,500, when there are that many people it’s hard to tell). There were 86 speech semi-finalists from all over the world, divided into nine groups of nine or 10 contestants (I was in Group 5). Each group had an assigned 2-hour block of time in which each contestant performed his or her speech (each speech is five to seven minutes long) in front of a live paying audience of hundreds of people. It’s a very controlled environment with assigned seating for contestants and judges, and no audience member allowed in or out of the auditorium while speeches are in progress.
The judging is based on a strict rubric that considers speech content (which is weighed most heavily), delivery, and language. Each judge evaluates each section on a scale of one up to 20, and then the scores are added up after all the speeches have been given. There is a 3rd, 2nd, and 1st place winner in each group, and the the 1st place winners go on to compete this Saturday morning, August 18, at 8:00 a.m. in the world finals. (That hour is a little early for me, but I would’ve done it, of course, if I had to). Since nine groups competed yesterday, there will be nine finalists facing off tomorrow.
Speech Judging is Not for Weenies
As you can see, judging is very subjective, but since we’re talking about an art form, it has to be. I watched a couple of other groups compete, and I have to say in many cases the people I liked best did not win (or if they did, they came in third). That’s not to say the winners weren’t good. Everyone at this level is an excellent speaker, and all who won something deserved their accolades. I’m just glad I wasn’t a judge. In my mind there were no runaway winners, at least not in the speech competition groups I saw.
Now I Can Breathe
On some level, it is a relief to be out of the running at this point. Now I can enjoy the rest of the conference and go to talks to learn. The speakers going on to the finals each have to give a brand new speech that can’t resemble their semi-final speech in any way, so I’m sure they’re all spending the day today honing their skills for tomorrow morning. When you come to The Toastmasters International Conference as a competing speaker you don’t get to do much else but practice your speech and go to rehearsals and preparation meetings up until you speak. Once you’re out of it you’re back down in the civilian ranks, which means you can finally exhale and do what you want.
This year the speeches were available on VOD pay per view, which I didn’t realize until I got here (otherwise I would’ve let you know) so when I get the clip of my speech I’ll be sure to post it.
And finally, the winner in my group (Group 5) was a delightful gentleman from New Jersey named Mario Lewis. He’s 5’5” tall and he did a funny, yet poignant speech about being short called “Size Matters”. I’m happy to report that he definitely deserved to win, and I’ll be rooting for him in the finals tomorrow.
Then right after that I’ll get on a plane, go back to Park City, and resume my life as a grateful mom to my two amazing sons who constantly give me the greatest stories to write and talk about.
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Stacy Dymalski is a stand-up comic who gave up the glamorous life of coach travel, smokey comedy clubs, and heckling drunks for the glamourous life of raising kids (who happen to be bigger hecklers than the drunks). This blog is her new stage.
For more of Stacy’s comedy check out her hilarious book Confessions of a Band Geek Mom available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon.com.