In March of last year, I found myself standing in front of my webcam, facing a virtual audience of Toastmasters. With a less-than-pristine kitchen in the background, I presented a speech for my online club’s speech contest.
My audience had no clue that I had changed my entire speech just 45 minutes before the beginning of the contest. My original speech had one clear message: “Do not judge me by my outside appearance.” I was simply going to share a few obstacles I have overcome in my life. But something felt uneasy in my soul. I felt a voice saying, Why not share about the moments you needed someone to hold your right hand?
For those who don’t know me, I was born with a smaller and shorter right arm and right hand than normal. I was tormented as a kid, and even today people are not sure what to do when they see “righty” coming their way. I’ve had very few occasions in my life where others want to hold my right hand. I get it; it’s odd, and I never want anyone to feel uneasy around me. But it’s never something I really want to talk about, especially in a speech competition.
As uncomfortable as it made me feel, I was even more nervous presenting this newly revised speech without any practice. Just minutes before it was my turn to speak, I put my youngest boy back to bed for the second time that evening.
My mind was scattered. My heart was pounding. But I remember thinking, Even if I totally embarrass myself, nobody will ever see this video anyway.
I also remember feeling completely free as I presented my speech. Even as I neared the final minute and noticed my youngest watching me in his underwear in the hallway (off camera), I remained focused until I finished.
That evening I won first place in my club, CompetitiveCommunicators.com—a result that caught me completely off guard. Then I was told that, if I approved, my recorded video from that live contest could be submitted to the 2018 Toastmasters Video Speech Contest. The video contest is for all undistricted clubs, since they are not able to participate in the International Speech Contest.
Some may call me impulsive. My thought process was quite simple, actually: I thought, Who in their right mind would vote for a mom presenting a speech in front of a wrecked kitchen, verbalizing an under-prepared speech while failing to keep her kids in bed? I honestly believed it would go no further and moved on with my week.
Then, last June, I received an email from Toastmasters World Headquarters that changed everything. Dear Toastmaster Boring, We are pleased to inform you that your entry, “Hold My Right Hand,” is our 2018 Toastmasters International First Place Winner …
I emailed back, just to make sure they had the right video. They did. And even more frightening: I was not allowed to share the news with anyone until after the announcement was made at the International Convention in August 2018. (That was hard!) I knew it would be impossible for me to attend the convention in Chicago, so I waited to see if the announcement would indeed be made. After all, contest officials had weeks to change their minds.
On Saturday, August 25, my winning video was announced right before the end of the convention. My phone began lighting up with Facebook mentions, text messages and calls from Toastmaster friends who had heard the live announcement. Finally, I could talk about it and share my excitement. A few days later I was able to watch the recorded announcement for myself, and tears filled my eyes. Video submissions came from contestants around the world, and my video took first place.
Since winning the contest, I continue—both in online and typical community clubs—to encourage emotional authenticity in every speaking opportunity.
Bethany Boring, ACS, ALB is a member of CompetitiveCommunicators.com, an online club, and Toast-Stars in Melbourne, Florida. She is currently the Area 23 director in District 84.