Sunday, November 29, 2015

Midway Comeuppance

I hesitated before sharing this video of my speech from the recent Toastmasters conference and Humorous Speech Contest I attended; I don't feel I am at my best in it, and I often find it hard to watch myself on video.

On the other hand though, I did enjoy competing, there isn't a whole lot I would change about the content, and I managed to get third place in a field of 12 really good speeches. This may also be the only way my Mum gets to see the speech (Hi Mum!), so I am throwing caution to the winds and posting it here.

Before viewing, I do hope you will let me provide a bit of context, however.

Like all Toastmasters events, the Humorous Speech Contest contains a degree of formality and regulation, especially when it comes to timing and judging. Your speech is expected to be 5-7 minutes in length, with entrants facing disqualification if their speech is shorter than 4:30 (which I have yet to see be a problem for anyone!) or longer than 7:30 (something I have been known to struggle with).

In our club at work we use coloured cards to signal timing to the speakers: green at 5:00, yellow at 6:00 and red at 7:00, but at the District level, a professional looking desktop light tower about 18" in height served that purpose, and they demonstrated it to us during the sound check. I don't need to tell you, it all felt very professional, but this did very little to calm my nerves!

Making people laugh is key to a successful humorous speech (duh), but laughter alone is not sufficient. You are expected to present a structured speech with an opening, body, and conclusion, not just a monologue. The judges' ballots break the evaluation down into content (55%), delivery (30%) and language (15%).

I am generally comfortable presenting, but the intensity of the competition made me a lot more nervous than I was anticipating, Being chosen first to speak out of twelve competitors made things a little more awkward, and it didn't help my disposition any that the otherwise excellent Toastmaster (emcee), struggled with the title of my speech, "Midway Comeuppance", despite having gone over it with me successfully at the sound check.

As I walked up to shake Don's hand, I spoke up to gently correct him, but then had a momentary panic, as the timers are supposed to start timing at the very first utterance or gesture. If the clock started before the introductory applause, there was a significant risk of running overtime and being disqualified. Driving to Saskatoon, I had run through my speech numerous times and the timing was usually around 7:10 or so, and as a result, I was very concerned about my time, despite the fact that in previous competitions the same speech had never run much more than 7:00.

With very little I could do to determine if the clock had started or not, I resolved very quickly to do my speech as I had rehearsed it, and then use the timing lights to correct it if needed.

Speaking too quickly in public is something I have struggled with much of my life, and my anxiety made it more difficult than usual to control my pace, although I still managed to get a couple of small pauses fitted in there. My voice was not only tightened by nervousness and anticipation, but I was also recovering from a cold I had picked up earlier that week.

Aside from that, I am fairly happy with how it went for my first ever District Speech Contest. I did leave out a couple of lines from my previous iterations, and finished well within regulation time. In fact, there wasn't a single disqualification due to time, which was a real relief to all the contestants!

Please note: the sound in the video is a little rough in places; there were 200+ people in a high-ceilinged room, and although we wore lapel mics, there really wasn't anyone available to monitor and change the levels. As a result, things sound somewhat muffled and echo-y, but still seem largely discernible, at least to me; your mileage may vary.

At any rate, if you have 7 minutes or so to spare, here is my third-place winning speech, "Midway Comeuppance".  I hope you get a chuckle or two out of it, and would love to know what you think of it, since I have every intention of competing again at some point.

As always with these sorts of things, honesty and gentleness go hand in glove!


  1. So funny! You totally brought those experiences to life for me.

  2. Good story, Steve. It took some searching, but I was able to get a picture because their automated picture-taking is now online.