“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” ― Karen Lamb

This quote came full circle for me this past weekend. A year ago my husband and I attended our first Toastmasters fall conference. We watched the humorous speech contest. I remember how inspired we both were from it. Never did I think that a year later I would be competing at that level. And never did I think that I would unexpectedly use my platform to inspire people. Here’s how I did that.

This past weekend I competed in the District 6 Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest. District 6 is made up of most of Minnesota and Ontario. There are more than 5,000 Toastmasters in the district. So to get to this level is a pretty big deal.

To get to the district level, you have to win at the club level, the area level, and the division level. Or, if you’re like me take second at the division level but get to go the district anyway because the first place winner was traveling for work.

My speech was titled What Are You Running From? and it shared all the reasons why I think marathons are ridiculous. Things like how runners pay $100 for what should be a free sport. How entering a marathon can cost more than $1000 when you add the entrance free, travel and lodging expenses, and all the running accessories. Runners buy lots of layers of clothing that they shed throughout the race. Some of those pieces of clothing they never see again.

Running a marathon makes you body bleed in spots it should never, ever bleed. Marathoners are always talking about how they are training for a marathon, are about to run a marathon, or are recovering from a marathon.

Spectators are the true heroes of the marathon. They get up at the crack of dawn to drop their runner off at the start line. They didn’t sign-up for that. Then they have to solve algebra problems to find out where their runner is on the race course, park the car, jog down to the race course, cheer them on, run back to the car and do it all over again, four or five more time. And be at the finish line to see them cross because if they don’t see them at the finish line it’s like the marathon didn’t count. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone just so you can get a participation medal and beer.

Marathoners insist on broadcasting their accomplishments by wearing adorable shirts that say things like:

  • I’m not sweating, I’m leaking awesomeness;
  • Pain is temporary, but internet race results are forever; and
  • If you see me on the ground, drag me across the finish line. All real t-shirt slogans.

I didn’t place in the top three. All the contestants were so good that I didn’t necessarily expect to. My goal was to make people laugh. I realized that my speech did more than entertain. It got people talking.

A lot of people came up to me afterwords to tell me how much they loved my speech. Many were non-runners who felt the same way I did. Others were runners who could relate to everything I was saying and couldn’t wait to text their runner friends to tell them about my speech.

This made me realize how much power you have when you’re speaking to a group. My goal was to make people laugh. I didn’t expect so many people to tell me they felt the same way.

I get inspired by seeing other people speak. It didn’t occur to me that others would get inspired by hearing me speak. My speech started an anti-running anti-movement (and play on words)! Next up, marathon spectator support groups

Feedback As with any Toastmasters speaking event, fellow Toastmasters are more than willing to give unsolicited feedback. Although I think just being in Toastmasters means that giving and receiving feedback is implied.

I was told that I said “um” and “you guys” a few times. My husband explained to this person that while not using filler words in a Toastmasters speech is the goal, that isn’t realistic in comedy. Sometimes you use filler words to connect to the audience on a personal level.

I was told that I seemed to lose my train of thought a couple times. Yep, I did. I added new jokes to my speech the day of. Risky? Yes. But I wanted to make it the funniest I could. I had to go big. And I did. I left it all on the stage.

I was told that I seemed to favor one side of the room. I didn’t notice this on stage. But when he mentioned I did remember that the podium to the left of the stage made me feel closed off from that side of the room. And it apparently showed to the group.

The Power of the Mic Pack Being mic’d up was weird. I’ve never worn a mic pack. And I’ve never felt more like a talk show host. It was a pretty awesome feeling. It was nice because your hands are free. But you also have other things to worry about. For instance, if you are going to cough, even if you do it away from the mic everyone hears it. Learned that one the hard way.

The humorous speech contest is different from stand-up comedy in several ways. First, the lights are on. You can see everyone in the audience. Second, in a comedy club most people are there for the show. In a speech contest, far less people are there because they actually want to be. Many are there because it’s part of the night’s events. The speech contest audience is far less drunk than a comedy club audience.

I’ve been to three district speech conferences now and I’ve noticed that the judges seem to be the same people. I’m not sure how the district judges are chosen. While the goal during the contest is for the judges to be unknown, it’s easy to spot who they are.

How is the humorous speech judged? Content, which includes speech development, effectiveness, speech value, and audience response is 55%. Delivery, which is physical, voice and manner makes up 30% of the score. And language which is judged by appropriateness and correctness makes up the remaining 15%. In addition, 75% of your speech has to be written by you.The other 25% can be borrowed from someone else but you have to cite the source(s).

I was surprised that some contestants used street jokes. If you’re unfamiliar, Top Comedy Secrets defines a street joke as “The term street joke is used by comedians to describe jokes told on the ‘street’. These are the common jokes that are told every day between non-professionals at home, at work and at social gatherings.”

Street jokes usually aren’t attributed back to one person so they wouldn’t need to be cited.  As a comedian, street jokes are frowned upon or forbidden, depending upon the comedian circle that you’re in. A lot of new comics use them, mainly because they’re not aware of what a street joke is. Street jokes tend to be predictable and overused.

Take Aways From the Speech Contest If winning a speech contest is dependent upon giving a flawless, well rehearsed speech, I will never win. While I rehearse it, I am also always tweaking it right up to the very end. I don’t want to be too well rehearsed and seem robotic and detached from the audience.

If the speech judges look forward to street jokes, I won’t win. I don’t play it safe. I like creating jokes and I’m good at it. But these things are not going to stop me from competing every chance I get.

I needed to up my act out game if I wanted to be a contender in the contest. I don’t do a lot of act outs when I’m doing stand-up comedy. I’m not a fan of them. Since I went eighth in the contest, I had the benefit of seeing seven contestants before me. It was evident that I need to be way more animated than I had ever been before. So I sucked it up and did just that. My husband noticed but said it wasn’t over the top. I think I have a lot to learn about being more of a performer on stage.

The speech contest was an amazing experience. At worst, I gave the tenth most humorous speech in the district. Not bad considering that is tenth out of more then 5,000 Toastmasters in our district.

Everyone I competed against is someone to watch. They have so much potential as speakers and leaders. I look forward to watching them every chance I get. I want to learn from them and grow with them.

You know who you remind me of?! One of the winners told me that my delivery reminds him of Julia Louis-Dreyfus which I founded incredibly sweet. I’m honored at the comparison.

After Party After the night’s events, both Friday and Saturday, there is an after party in the hospitality suite. We didn’t go on Friday night because I was just so exhausted and wanted to go to bed. I was originally planning to do the Dubh Linn open mic on Friday but realized I completely spaced it. Not until Saturday morning did I realize that I forget about the open mic. Oops.

We did go to the after party on Saturday night. We were there until 2:30! And we didn’t close the place down. Those Toastmasters really know how to party. It was fun to socialize with people that we’d met at past conferences and people that we had just met.

Room Evacuation Early Sunday morning, I sprung out of bed convinced that the room had filled with bees. I take nighttime migraine meds that sometimes make me hallucinate. I made a run for the door but Carter stopped me. He had to pul me back to bed and cradle me, telling me that I was just dreaming. I had completely forgotten about this until he reminded me in the morning. Never a dull moment.

When in Rome, or Duluth While we were in Duluth, we took advantage of the area. On the way up, we drove to Betty’s Pies. Carter got a slice of caramel apple pie and I got the French cherry. They were both so good. I especially liked the crunch topping on the French cherry slice.

As we headed to the Holiday Inn to check in, we stopped at Castle Danger Brewery. We got there at 3:30 pm and there were a few people there. Within the next hour the place was packed!

On Sunday, before heading home we had breakfast at Duluth Grill. It was on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It’s a very popular place. We got to sit at the counter. Usually I wouldn’t entertain the thought of sitting at the counter because the stools are uncomfortable. But I was so hungry that I just wanted the first seat available. And to my surprise, the counter seats were super comfortable and offered lots of room. Plus you got to look out at other diners.

Then we drove up to Silver Bay. We had wanted to drive up to Grand Marais but I was worried we wouldn’t make it back home in time to pick up Caesar, so we headed back home. But I wanted to see the Split Rock Lighthouse. So we took a detour to Split Rock State Park. I bought us a State Park Pass. They’re still only $25 for the year! On the way up Carter was saying that he wanted to explore the state parks next year. Now that we have a park pass we have no excuses not to check out the parks.

Minnesota State Parks are free on Black Friday. If you’ve wanted to check them out this is a great time to do it.

I still am in awe at how far I’ve come in a year. It makes me want to be more mindful of setting and tracking goals. I didn’t intentionally set out to compete at the district level this year but there I was. If I can be more deliberate, I have the potential to go far.

I also need to be more conscious of my ability to inspire people. Public speaking is an amazing platform. One that I haven’t given much thought to. I’ve been so focused on getting more opportunities to speak, and not as focused on what my message is and who it will reach. Now I know I need to be more thoughtful in how I plan my speeches and what message I want people to walk away with.

Where do you want to be in a year? What can you start today to get you there?

Thanks for stopping by! Julie

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