Well that sounds intriguing…
Do people do that?
- How fast can you run? Last week I beat you by 2 min; can you beat me now?
- When you started, you only knew 3 notes on the instrument. What can you play now? How would you compare to others with the same starting point?
- How well does your band march? Can you hold your own in a city-wide contest?
- Your fire department let the fire house burn down. How fast can you put out a fire now? How well can your members climb, carry, work the hose and the axes…let’s have a contest.
- So you think your Barbershop chorus is good huh…
I went to a Toastmasters Convention in Chicago. There are always the educational sessions and the inspirational sessions, but the most anticipated sessions are the Semi finals and Finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking. There is only one winner every year, and people from 116 districts, each with 5 Divisions, each Division with 5 Areas, and each Area with 4-5 clubs competing for that spot. That’s weeding down about 13,000 speakers to about 100 or so. Each Semi final has 10-11 speakers competing, with 10 competitions weeding down 100 speakers to just 10. The finals consist of 10 of the best speakers. Those who crave recognition and speaking in front of 1000’s of people are drooling at the chance to be on that stage and getting crowned World Champion. Once you’ve achieved this amazing goal, you cannot compete again on the International Stage. One of the competitors this year had made it to Semifinals 12 times, and had been a finalist 4 times! He didn’t win this time either.
Here’s the thing. Even if it isn’t an official contest, people judge their success by comparison. Our school districts have more children in the top 10% of the country on ACT/SAT scores than any other school! We have a larger percentage of graduates placed right after graduation than any other university. We have more rich people in our city than any other in the country. To aspire to be the best, we resort to self improvement classes, personal coaches and support groups. We then tend to look at the finals and derive the formula that will give us similar results.
There’s the 10,000 hour rule. There’s the gimmick of the year (onstage costume changes, props, even themes for speeches!) There’s teaching to the test. Then there’s over-prep. In Bands of America, the winning bands often practice 1 routine with 3 songs for a year and begin their preparations for the next contest 1 week after the finals in the previous contest. At the speech contest, many contestants hire former world champions to mentor them and coach them to victory and will pay upwards of several thousand dollars. They will sacrifice vacation times, neglect their jobs and families, and practice for hours to perfect their entries. In their quest to have the winning performance, they will study hours and hours of previous performances by winners, analyze second by second recordings of their own performances and compare them to the winners. What are they doing? They are looking for the differences between 1st and 2nd place.
Judging is subjective. They TRY to make it objective…this many points for that sound, deduct this many points for this infraction…but the bottom line is still a subjective opinion. Do you have that same type of judging on the local level as in the International finals? Of course not! So something that would win on the Championship stage or field might not even place on the local level.
I went to an area speech contest where all of the speeches that placed concerned dead pets. I saw a local band contest where one of the finalists of the Bands of America didn’t place in the top 3 because they sang and didn’t march in straight blocks. We understand that you cannot advance to the next level of the competition if you don’t succeed at the local level.
As a member of Sweet Adelines, sometimes the difference between 1st and 2nd place is 4 points. The difference is the sparkle on the costume. The difference is the choreography for the lady in the 3rd row 14th person over. The difference is the intonation of the slide between chords on the Tag. These are things that are so minute and so specialized that a normal person wouldn’t even notice it. So you work on those incredibly small details, then your chorus gets rejected on the initial contest because one of the judges didn’t like your choice of song, or because one thought it was too gimmicky to have props such as hats or fans.
One Football team did a statistical analysis of the winning super bowl teams and discovered a higher percentage of this type of offense and that type of defense, sooooo that’s what they used. They lost 50% of their games. A high school team perfected a trick play, and then became famous for it. Oops! Isn’t it supposed to work because it surprises the opponents?
You must discern what wins on the local level. That’s a problem because in the case of Toastmasters Speech contests, what wins the club might not win the area because of the way the judges are chosen. Who’s here? Ok, take this ballot and vote for your favorite! Or you might encounter this: We, as judges, have been studying all the Semi Finals contests for weeks and have been well trained on what to look for in an international speech. We are 15 minutes early and have chosen our seats trying to look as anonymous as possible. If you win in the area, even if it is the caliber of Convention competitions, you may not win the Division because these particular judges may LIKE dead dog speeches and vacation pictures. And if you do give your dead dog speech on the District level, they will shoot you down because the message isn’t clear. And if you win on the District level, and you do not use onomatopoeia, alliteration, or parenthetical phrases, and have no props and no funny lines, you may not win at the Semi-final level. If you do win at the Semi-final level, YOU MUST USE A DIFFERENT SPEECH FOR THE FINALS. Wait…The speech you used and perfected throughout the club, area, division and district levels is thrown out and you use an untried, imperfect, alternative speech for the final? Does that make any sense whatsoever?
What would you do? I’d have 1 speech topic and 3 different approaches to it. “How to survive the Hard times” would be a good topic. It has universal appeal and can be tailored to each contest.
- Club level: “You all know me: I’ve been a toastmaster here for years! What you don’t know is that I’ve been in witness protection for 22 years and now, now you will learn about the real me!” 5 1/2 min later… “In conclusion, if you find me at your back door with beer in hand, don’t let me in! Mr. Toastmaster.”
- Area level: “You all know me: I’ve been a toastmaster here for years! What you don’t know is that over the past 4 years, I’ve lived a Country/Western life!” 5 1/2 min later… “In conclusion, if you get divorced, lose your house, your car gets repossessed, and your dog dies, you can survive, and even thrive! You can survive the Hard times! Madam Toastmaster.”
- Division level: “Some of you know me: I’ve been a toastmaster for years! What you don’t know is that I didn’t always look like this. I used to weigh 700 pounds and have had extensive surgery!” 6 min later… “In conclusion, you can look this good without surgery, turn down that cupcake!!! Mr. Toastmaster.”
- District level: “Some of you may recognize me: I was at the registration table this morning! What you don’t know is that I’m a Person of the Poetic Persuasion. (That’s alliteration folks.) I’ll be walking and suddenly, ‘Poof!’ A Poetic and Poignant Phrase within the Perfect Parameters will Present itself!” 6 1/2 min later… “In conclusion, should you find yourself hopelessly staring at that blank sheet of paper, Perambulate and Ponder the Paradoxical Points of the Present epoch! Mr. Postmaster…I mean Toastmaster.”
- Semi Finals Level: “You don’t know me: I’ve been a toastmaster for years! Have you ever found yourself staring at an unfamiliar ceiling surrounded by beeping machines and smelling of disinfectant? I have. Myocardial Infarctions are sneaky little buggers and can Defy the Destiny of the most Determined and Deliberate of Dignitaries.” 6 min 28 seconds later… “In conclusion, don’t procrastinate, prevaricate the possibility of pernicious effects of heart disease! Mr. Toastmaster”
- Finals level: “Madam Contest master, fellow toastmasters and guests and esteemed judges, let me tell you about my dog, Fluffy.” 6 min later, stage is littered with dog toys and speaker is sobbing into an over-sized hanky… “Yes, he was 700 pounds and black as a moonless night. Yes, he had 3 heads, but he had the soul of a poet and he especially loved harp music. And after I lost my wife, my truck and my house, he was the only one that stayed with me. I visit him every day at the pet cemetery… *sobs* Madam Contest *sob* chair.” *blows nose*
And the winner…(drum roll please) is the agoraphobic woman who got assaulted in the parking lot by some wild woman in a white SUV.