This past Saturday, May 2, I competed in the District 39, Division I, International Speech Contest. It was my first time competing, and I must say, I was quite frightened to go up on stage and speak. Here are my thoughts on this event.

What’s the big deal about the International Speech Contest?

Not a tremendously big deal, but it’s a tournament-like contest where each participant vies for the coveted title, “World Champion of Public Speaking.”

The title sounds fancy in itself, but what does it take to become a World Champion? In other words, what does it mean in the world of Toastmasters?

Well, let’s start with the requirements to even become a contestant!

  • You must be in a club in good standing
  • You must have delivered 6 speeches from your Competent Communicator book.

Six speeches won’t turn anyone into an amazing public speaker, but it’s good practice regardless.

Alright, so there are several levels of the competition. Here they are:

  • Club
  • Area
  • Division
  • District
  • Semi-finals
  • International (held in Vegas this year!)

All contestants start at the club level, and if they win, they move on to the area level. Typically only the top speaker moves on, but in abnormal circumstances, the top 2 get to move on.

So, what’s the big deal? Well, most people who compete have been speaking and improving for several years. There is truly cutthroat competition, but it’s all in good fun. There are usually 6-8 participants at each level, so at any given level, you’re competing against the creme of the crop of the previous level, of their respective region.

Rise of a Speaker

I was in an interesting predicament. I was one of two participants at my club level, the other person whom was not competing but merely giving a speech. So naturally, I won.

At the Area 92 contest, I was (again) one of two participants, and due to the number of Areas in Division I, both of us got to move on to the next level, even though I got second. (Caveat: The dude I competed against was amazing)

I reached the big leagues of the Division I contest.

Let me give you a rundown of the types of people I competed against:

  • 7 (!!) time winner of District 39 International Speech Contest
  • people who have been speaking for ten years
  • people old enough to be my parents
  • people twice my age

And then, there was me; the underdog. 24 years old, and just three years ago, I was unable to speak in public in any capacity. I was the Pacquiao, against seven Mayweathers. What chance did I stand?

As if to absolutely shatter every ounce of confidence I had in myself, I drew last in speaker order. I had to listen to 7, magnificently crafted and delivered, speeches; speeches that were written and rewritten, then told and retold in front of a mirror, then delivered and redelivered in front of a significant other or friend…

… speeches about finding inspiration …
… speeches about lessons gleaned from the life of a deceased loved one …
… speeches about overcoming addiction and determining to become someone new …
… speeches about learning deep and profound things from something as simple as art …

… which all reinforced the fact that my speech was the after-product of having nothing better to think about while driving; the delivery the product of saying it out loud during the 30 minutes it took for me to get to the venue. I had never uttered a word of that speech before the day I delivered it in competition.

I was so afraid. My palms were sweating. My feet were itching. I wanted to run away. I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of dozens of people I didn’t know. I didn’t want my unpracticed, afterthought-of-a-speech to be juxtaposed with the wonderfully crafted speech of the 7-time winner of the District 39 International Speech Contest.

I was afraid that I would be seen as a fraud. A person who talked big about the importance of public speaking, but couldn’t even string two words together in front of a crowd.

It was a very disheartening hour, listening to these seven amazing speeches; one of whom I’d already placed second to.

However, when I got mic’d and readied to go up on stage, my mentor, Joey, said “I’m so proud of you. Break a leg.”

She (yes, Joey is a girl) believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

In the few seconds it took for me to run up on stage, I became determined that I wouldn’t give the speech as the person I was. I would give the speech as the person I wanted to be. No longer would I be a wannabe public speaker. That day, I was determined to BE a public speaker.

I delivered the speech not how I wanted to deliver it, but better than how I wanted to deliver it. I delivered it with every ounce of my willpower to be the best that I could be, so as to not let down Joey. My mind communicated to my body, “Your message is worth it. Don’t mess this up.” And my body obliged.

Every single movement I subconsciously made, every single change in pitch and tone that I made, every single variation in volume, acted in accordance to deliver the most powerful message I ever could have imagined myself delivering.

To be perfectly honest, my memory of actually delivering the speech is quite fuzzy. All I know is that I ditched my nervousness, and made my butterflies fly in the formation of my message. In that moment, naught else was more important.

I waited in anticipation for the results to be called. I wasn’t expecting my name to be called. Even though I gave it my all, I lacked the one thing everyone else had–immense amounts of practice. All of the introspection and psychological tricks in the world can’t make the delivery of a speech amazing. But I listened anyway. I wanted to see what the top three people did, that I didn’t do, that I could do in the future to make my speeches more powerful.

But then I heard it.

“Third place: Rasheed Bustamam”

I was shocked. I somehow managed to beat five seasoned speakers who have been working on their public speaking skills for several years, with my Frankenstein of a speech.

“Second place: Patrick Lee”

My mind was still trying to comprehend the odds of me, the underdog, placing in this competition. I was still seeing myself as I saw myself three years ago–an inexperienced, wannabe speaker. Slowly I came to the realization…

“First place: David Goad”

… that I am now a public speaker.

David Goad is a renowned public speaker in his local area; Patrick Lee is a highly skilled public speaker as well.

Rasheed Bustamam… has unleashed the speaker within. He is a public speaker.