Unlike many of the champions before me winning the contest was not my initial goal. No one from my district had ever won before, so I did not even fantasize about going all the way. The reason I decided to compete was because of my mentors and the lessons they taught me.
At the time of the contest I was trying to build my speaking career while working as a telemarketer for Bose Corporation. I fully understood that the best marketing tool for a professional speaker is being good on the platform. Since I was working so hard to launch my career, I realized that I was not taking the time to improve the stories I was telling in my keynote speeches. So I figured that if I entered the contest it would force me to work on my best stories – to make them even better.
My district speech was built around the story of my first time onstage at an “open mic” night at a Boston comedy club. For my regional contest speech I combined three stories I had about the release of tension. This included my favorite story, “Valet.” I still tell these stories in my professional keynote speeches. They have improved greatly due to retooling for the competition. My goal to improve my stories was met even before I reached the championship level. This is an important lesson for us all.
I believe everyone should compete. The pressure of the contest makes speakers stronger and more confident. Isn’t that why we are here? After you compete at the area level, speaking at your club will never again cause you much anxiety.
Once I won the Regional and moved on to the Championship I had a new problem: I had used my best stories. As a result, “Ouch!” the winning speech, was the first speech I ever wrote from scratch. I learned more about speech writing (thanks to my two coaches) in the 77 days prior to the Championship than I learned in nine years of speaking.