Ask Darren: “Did anyone help you? Were you coached?”
Yes, I had two designated coaches, and a lot of “unofficial” coaches. My first coach was Dave McIlhenny, a Past District Governor and District speech contest winner. I wanted help from someone who had won before. When you want to learn something, who do you go to for help?
Dave guided me through the District and then the Regional contests. I spent many a night in his living room, accompanied by my girlfriend (at the time), Tanya. She was a huge support and possessed great instincts. She listened to me practice many times. God help the spouses who have to listen to contestants over and over again!
At the regional conference Dave introduced me to Mark Brown, the 1995 World Champion. He was giving a workshop at the conference. I remember sitting in the front row of his workshop, sponging up all of the knowledge I possibly could. After winning the contest, Dave asked Mark if he would coach me in “the big dance.” Dave was smart enough to know that he had never been to that level before, but Mark had. Dave then took a back seat to Mark, but was still very active in the creation of my winning speech.
Once I won the regional speech and was headed to the Championship, I solicited advice from as many of the ten previous World Champions I could track down. There is no way I would have won any level of the contest without my mentors. I do work really hard on my own, but I would have been going in the wrong direction. Hard work in the wrong direction is a great waste.