I was not expecting to win our Toastmaster club’s formal International Table Topics (impromptu speech) contest today, at all. I entered it just to challenge myself, because I knew I would have to face discomfort. We don’t improve at anything when we don’t get out of our comfort zone, or when we don’t offer ourselves up for critique. There are members who typically handle impromptu topics quite better than I do, but I think I largely got lucky and was able to connect with the topic (which has actually been used in a previous competition before):

I am going to give you four words. You need to use at least two of them in a story, and you may use all four if you wish. The words are boy, telephone booth, wolf, and theater.

In Toastmasters, we need to start speaking almost immediately after we receive the impromptu topic (in Academic Decathlon in high school we were allowed a minute of prep time), so I was very glad to recall right away the infamous incident involving my high school boyfriend, the summer before college, breaking curfew, climbing up to my brother’s second story window, and my dad unexpectedly being asleep in my brother’s room (instead of my brother being in there)… I knew that error of judgment would come in handy someday! And now, thirteen years later…

Anyway, today’s contest was the first step in the International Speech Competition, and I will be representing our club (in the Table Topics category) for the Area C-4 contest next week. John Richardson will be competing with a prepared speech, and Steve Matley (who won the district award for evaluation a couple of months ago) will be the runner-up for both of us. I am excited and a good kind of nervous. I know I have been given a golden chance to push myself. Those chances are gifts.

I am thankful, too, that my mom was able to watch my kiddos for me after all, today. My Nana has been sick and needed some errands run, and Tuesday was the only day my mom and Aunt Debbie could do it this week. When my mom first told me this weekend, I was a little bummed because I really wanted to try the International Table Topics contest this season…but I tried not to let on about it. For starters, I am just lucky my mom babysits for me on Tuesdays to begin with.  Also:  family comes first without exception and needs to be always the priority (in my way of thinking), and I just figured that my participation was not to be this year. And that was okay, you know? We give up something we love (speaking with our friends) for something we love more (Nana and her well-being). Trading one thing for another that we love even better is never a sacrifice or a loss. But then late last night I found out that my Nana’s neighbor had been able to run the errands and that Mom wasn’t planning on going after all. Thus it turned out that I was able to attend our club contest meeting after all.

I’d also like to take a second to give a shout-out to my Toastmaster colleague Tara Fall, who also writes the blog Finding Strength to Stand Again. She revamped her Icebreaker speech (her FIRST speech for our group…I know I know…it is excellent…we teased her at first about being a hustler, but really and truly she does not have a background in public speaking), and she has entered it in the American Academy of Neurology Film Festival. Maybe it is just because I know her and love her  purpose-driven positive vibe, her focus on gratitude and learning, and her manner of speaking/word choices/cadence…but I really think this video of her speech is a must-see. If you do like what you see, it would be awesome to vote for her video if you all have a chance.

I think all four of us who competed today are just happy that Bob, today’s Contest Master, didn’t use the second topic he’d prepared (also used in a previous season):

You are St. Patrick, and you have been given the task of getting all the snakes out of Ireland. How do you do it?

I mean, what the heck? So see, this could have gone a totally different way today! I am still thinking about what I would have said there… Any ideas, readers?