My first public speaking contest. And certainly not the last!

In December 2018, I decided to go to one of the first three introductory meetings of Riga Toastmasters (learn more here and here, hereafter referred to as RTM), which is, very briefly, a club/organization through which public speaking and presentation in English, as well as listening and evaluation skills, can be developed.

Since I had enjoyed the stage, but I was no longer leading the big work conferences and balls, I wanted to find a place where I could be on stage and improve my performance and also my English.

Initially, during the first 3 meetings, which are freely available for everyone to understand - whether they want to continue or not, I had perceived RTM as a place where you can practice being on stage in a friendly, educational way and freely, without straining much, improvise up to 2 minutes long speeches.

These meetings were inspiring and interesting and, of course, they drew me in. In February 2019, I became a full member and only then did I realize that if you want to grow and develop, it is not enough with chilling , because my abilities and knowledge are limited to be able to prepare 5-7 long speeches without much effort. You have to put in the work if you want to achieve more. I prepared and delivered my first two speeches from the curriculum, but then life happened and I, after ~6 months of activity, had to take a break from participating in RTM for an indefinite period of time.

I returned in the summer of this year, because public speaking, its improvement, and being on stage never stopped nagging me. On my return, I started with participating in impromptu short speeches (Table Topics), or in one of the additional roles that are necessary for the course of the lessons (evaluator of speeches, leader of the evening, timer, etc.).

So it happened that in autumn there was a Humorous speech competition at the Club level. Initially, I didn't even really want to participate, because I didn't feel I had started my return to the club actively enough. But then, while driving home from the meeting, looking out the window of the trolley bus, ideas began to flow in my head, which I immediately jotted down in notes on my phone. Little by little, several points, and ideas to talk about were formed, which gradually grew with content, and after a couple of days, the first version of the speech was ready.

First round: Club contest

In the club contest, I was the only one who participated with a prepared Humorous speech. It's probably a good thing because I doubt that such a half-baked speech would have survived in the competition. I also was second in the Table Topics.

Second round: Area contest

The Area contest took place at the beginning of November, right here in Riga, where I had to compete with 2 Estonian representatives. The order in which the performances take place is drawn during the contestants' briefing. My turn number was 1. For this round, I had thoroughly prepared my speech - in the evenings I drilled it in front of the mirror, in the shower I thought of improvements and nuances to add to make it perfect.

And it was perfect - it flowed and moved forward like unstoppable lava. I was amazed at how the audience reacted, laughing non-stop, and giving me instant feedback. I won and of course, I was ecstatic because I could go to the next round. Also in the Table Topics, I was second best - although I was surprised by that result.

Round Three: Division contest

It happened at the end of November in Tallinn, Estonia. This time the competition was greater - there were 8 speakers: 4 Finnish representatives, 2 Lithuanian, 1 Estonian, and I - from Latvia. 

Immediately after the Area contest, I was sick for two weeks, so I was far away from drilling my speech during this period, but I did repeat it a little in the last week before the competition - as I felt that the speech was still in my head and, surfing on the success of the previous round, I did not stress too much. I also didn't want to cross the line when it was already too much. My Ego was at the top of the mountain and it seemed that my speech was the best in the world, with it I would definitely go on to the District competition round in Poland, to which only 1st place gets the possibility to go (unlike the previous rounds, where 1st and 2nd went further). 

Before the competition, there was a briefing for the contestants and a sequence draw - we rolled the wheel of fortune in the application. And believe it or not, both times - for the Humorous speech and for the Table Topics - I drew the 1st number. A trick that everyone, including me, was a little shocked by. But that was enough for my Ego - the fanatic thoughts ran through my head: “It is a sign! As in the previous round! First number = first place!”

It was time to go on stage and make the audience laugh. But, it didn't happen as I expected - people laughed, but I didn't get the storm of laughter that I had in the previous round. I felt my Ego begin to crumble, words started to slip, a phrase ran out of my head, pauses seemed longer than they should be... 

The Table Topics speech seemed to go a little better, kind of... I was standing on the stage and the Contest Chair named the topic, saying: “This is the hardest Table Topic ever!” At first, the phrase didn't register in my brain, because it sounded like a sentence that the Contest Chair would insert before naming the actual topic. According to the rules, it is usually repeated twice, and when I heard the same phrase a second time, it clicked in my brain that this is a topic that I now have to talk about for at least 1 minute! My head was empty and I finally decided that I would blurt out whatever was on my tongue at that moment, without any preconceived story plan, as I would usually do. And here I got the laugh I had been waiting for in my Humorous speech. My Ego was back and I was confident that I had won this one, especially after hearing the other contestants' speeches, which didn't have half as many laughs as mine.


In third place was one of the Finns, who was my favorite. I was shocked that he only got third place and already thought in my head: "It can not be?! Will I be in the Top 2?!" Second place went to a Finnish woman, who was also at the top of my list. And at that moment, I was already buying plane tickets to Poland in my mind, until I heard that the 1st place went to another Finnish woman, not me... My plane crashed. I felt a huge disappointment inside me. The awards crashed my Ego… 

"Okay, at least I'll go to Poland with the Table Topics speech!" I thought and listened to the awards ceremony. I must say that I was a bit surprised about the 3rd place because, even if it was good, it was not in my favorite top. Second place - yes, ok... “Yes, yes, yes! I'll be the first!” thoughts raced through my head because, of course, I had put myself at the top of my favorites list. In the end, the 1st place went to Finland and at the first moment I thought I misheard. "How?! How is that possible?! But my speech was laughed at the most!!" Once again - disappointment and sadness inside...


Yes, I got upset about the result that I wasn't even in the top three. But then it was our turn to listen to one of the keynote speakers. He talked about his success in public speaking, because this year he participated in the international speech contest, but did not make it past the semi-finals. He talked about his Ego and the inner drive that, being an athlete for 25 years, pushed him forward not only in sports but also in international speech contest, in which he got into, so to speak, by chance. About how he had completely strayed from his original goal of joining Toastmasters in the first place. With each of his sentences, I drew parallels with myself, it seemed that I was listening to my future self... A quote that he repeated several times in his speech: "There is winning. There is learning. There is no such thing as losing.” was the subject of his Table Topics speech at the contest. This speech made me think more and more deeply.

I understood that:

  • I came into this competition with such a huge ego and confidence from the success of the previous round (which completely clouded my mind, unless it was the result of 2 weeks of illness), and was pumped up even more when I drew first numbers for both speeches. Winning was all I could think about while others were giving their speeches to the audience because they wanted the audience to have fun and be interesting.
  • my expectations that the same speech in all audiences would be equally funny to everyone prevented me from enjoying the process because I had thoughts in my head: “Why aren't they laughing?! Why does that judge have such a gloomy face?!” These unnecessary thoughts, which were wandering in parallel in the expanses of my brain, did not allow me to fully focus on what I had to do. As a result, there was sloppiness, mistakes, and long pauses where they shouldn't have been.
  • the laughter in the Table Topics speech lifted my spirits to heaven. Although the speeches should not always be funny, the desire to hear laughter was somehow stuck in me, because - of course - it was a Humorous speech contest. And I expected a lot of laughs.
  • one cannot hope and expect to be able to ride on previous success. You have to seriously prepare, you have to try the speech many times, and you have to polish it down to the details, if you want to maintain the level and even improve it.
  • I'm not entirely sure what the criteria are by which a Table Topics speech is judged. At no point during this one year in RTM did I really dig deep and research what is the best structure to create in 1-2 minutes of improvisation. And that's a good lesson - you have to learn the theory too! Despite being funny, the speech had no structure, just a jumble of words and sentences that sounded funny.
  • with the obsessive desire to win the competition, I deviated from my goal, which initially was and still is - to improve both my performance and speech on stage, in front of the audience, and also my English. This process happens from speech to speech, from contest to contest, and that's what I have to focus on - to be a better version of myself each time, and not to try to jump over my own ass, which had never been the goal at all.

Precisely because of the insights and insights gained, this competition was extremely valuable and instructive. All this must be digested and processed now, so as not to step on the same rakers next time! :)

"There is winning. There is learning. There is no such thing as losing.”

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