What a Coincidence! – the day

audienceMy morning ritual worked its magic. Compared to this time 3 years ago I was cool, calm and collected rather than frantic, manic and in a panic! Up at 4:30am, move a bit, stretch a bit, lift a bit, eat a bit; out the door by 7:15am. We packed the car the night before leaving nothing to chance. We were off to the Toastmasters 2014 Central Division Contest. I was competing in two of the four categories; proudly representing my Club, Northern Stars and my Area C8. It was a great honour to compete against the best in the State of South Australia. I felt very loved and supported.

The order of the contests was:
1.    Evaluation
2.    Humorous
3.    Table Topics
4.    International

I was in the first and last competitions. It was going to be a long day. I knew that blissful ‘ahhhhhhhh’ feeling would not kick in until I had completed my last speech in the last contest in the afternoon. No gourmet BBQ lunch for me today. The butterflies would not allow it.

8:40am
We drew numbered bits of paper from a box for our speaking order. There were five contestants and I drew …. [dum roll] …. a blank bit of paper – oh no!. I didn’t have my glasses on so missed the tiny number 5 in the lower edge on the back. Great start to get number 5. Always a help in the Evaluation contest to go last.

9:30am
The format starts with a very courageous person presenting a 5-7 minute speech in front of the audience. The contestants can sit anywhere and watch, listen and take notes. At the end of the speech the contestants are escorted to another room where we have five minutes to write more notes and prepare. Then our notes are taken away from us. We wait our turn in silence to give our evaluation of that speaker. We have a maximum of 3 minutes with 30 seconds grace to do so. We do not hear what the other contestants say. Being last I had an extra 10-15 minutes to go over in my head what I was going to say. It is a definite advantage. The overall objective is to provide the speaker with an evaluation that tells them what they did well, what can be improved and to motivate them to want to keep going.

Our CIA (Contest Information Advisor) discreetly stuck her thankfully warm hand up my back to get the lapel microphone cord hidden under my shirt. Now was not the time to be shy. I was now wired for sound and just plain WIRED! It was my turn. Shoulders back, stride confidently to the stage to look like you know what you’re doing and a big smile like you are really enjoying this.

“Wipula’s objective was to ….” I was off and running. My thoughts flowed into words in a logical manner except for the couple of silly things that blabbered out of my mouth, but with only 3 minutes I just kept going … maybe the judges missed that bit? The white timing light went on at 2 minutes … woohoo that I even noticed it for once … I was where I was meant to be in my structure. The amber light went on at 2.5 minutes … again I was on track. I didn’t notice the final red light at 3 minutes ….. mmmmm did I go over time? If so I would be instantly DISQUALIFIED. The audience politely applauded as I left the stage with my big genuine smile of relief. It felt good.

11:00am
The humorous contest was up next. I enjoyed the time being entertained as an audience member. Laughter relaxed me and I forgot about my next speech for a while.

1:30pm
The day became a blur after the humorous contest. The lunch break and then the Table Topics contest came and went so fast. The topic was: “There are no endings just new beginnings”. Such courageous contestants. They hear the topic for the first time just before they walk on stage and then have 2 minutes to deliver a structured engaging impromptu speech. How scary is THAT?!!!!!!!

Suddenly the International contest was here. Unlike the Table Topics contestants I had been working on my speech for about 10 months. I first delivered it in August last year at Club level, then again at the Area contest last October. This was now my time to tell my story.

I speak about death. My 22 year old son was tragically killed in a car accident in April 2012. Public speaking has become my empowering grief management tool. I speak about my transformational experiences as a Mother who has buried her son. I speak about how culturally unprepared we are for death. I speak to stay connected with life. It is a great gift provided by the audience. By listening to my story they validate my pain and my love. They become part of my grief management process. I was already a winner before I stepped on that stage.

I again drew as the last speaker. It’s a long wait. I would be the last speech of the day. My energy levels were fading. It had been a long day. I went over the speech in my head for the gazillionth time. Oh no … I was forgetting things. Get your act together girl! Deep breaths. I was nervous.

It felt like Groundhog Day. Our CIA (Contest Information Advisor) discreetly stuck her thankfully warm hand up my back to get the lapel microphone cord hidden under my shirt. Now was not the time to be shy. I was now wired for sound and just plain WIRED! It was my turn. Shoulders back, stride confidently to the stage to look like you know what you’re doing and a big smile like you are really enjoying this.

The Contest Chair introduced me: “Abby Davis with her speech, ‘What a Coincidence’. ‘What a Coincidence’, Abby Davis.” [applause]

“Without fail my partner always, smugly, finds that prime parking place. What a coincidence! Don’t you hate that? …..” I was off and running. But I knew within the first few moments that I was not “popping”. It was a subtle feeling. The audience laughed where expected. All appeared to be going well. But after months of preparation something was not right. I did not feel connected with the audience like I had in the Evaluation contest earlier that day. Once I had that feeling I delivered my speech with one thought in my mind … just get through this without a mistake. Once that thought appeared in my mind the chance of magic happening between myself and the audience disappeared. I was doing the speech by rote from that moment on rather than being in the moment, feeling the audience and feeling the passion. I had one brief moment in the closing lines where I had to improvise as I went blank. I felt flat as I walked off the stage hiding behind a big smile as the audience politely applauded. I was devastated but did not let on to anyone.

3:00pm
The results were announced.

Evaluation
1. Abby Davis
2. Darren Fleming
3. Joanne Kneebone
Humorous
1. Jody Rollings
2. Joanne Kneebone
3. Kerry Pienaar
Table Topics
1. Damon Nazeran
2. Janet Leitch
3. Nick Hindley
International
1. Brett Gresham
2. Abby Davis
3. Gavin Hewitt

Abby with her trophiesIt was a very high standard with the best in the state. It was therefore a wonderful feeling to receive First for Evaluation and Second for International. This means I will be going to Melbourne in May to represent Central Division in the District Evaluation Contest with the other First place winners; Jody, Damon and Brett . What a team! What an honour!

What did I learn from the day? We are always so mercilessly hard on ourselves. From where I was it did not feel like I had connected with the audience with my last speech. By having that thought it affected how I delivered my speech, thinking that no one cared. I just wanted to be out of there at that point. The feedback afterwards was the exact opposite. People were still sobbing. I was inundated with hugs and comments like “you are so brave”, “that was beautiful”, “thank you for sharing that”. Best of all was when people started sharing their personal stories of having similar experiences. How special was that? I had connected. They were giving back to me. What a gift. The reason I felt I had not connected was that I was misreading the audience. I was looking at a sea of blank emotionless faces. But they were deeply feeling my pain and my love and it caused them to go quiet and hide these powerful feelings. It is what we do in our culture when it comes to talking about death. A topic for another day.

It is now a few days after the competition. I am feeling very grateful to that audience for listening to my story and giving me such great feedback. It is another positive step along my lifelong journey of finding a new way to live in this world without my son, Robbie.

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