The Results Are In

So… the big day has come and gone. 

I’ll be blunt: I didn’t win. 

I’m not overly put out by this. Among other reasons, I have a wedding in Germany that precludes my continued participation – now, I no longer have to feel torn between attending my good friend’s wedding in the land that I most love and giving that speech to a larger crowd for a chance at yet another round of the same. But the main thing is, I performed exactly how I intended to, and I pulled it off well. In a competition against my own fallibility, I won, and handily. 

That’s not to say that my speech was not received well; it was. People laughed at the right points; I let them laugh to completion. People came to tears at the right points; I let them process that too. I crafted a speech on a devastatingly sad series of events and managed to deliver it such that people sincerely enjoyed it. Take the Thenardiers out of Les Mis and listen to that show – ain’t nothing but sorrow. I managed to run the gamut of human experience, from devastation to jubilation, and send them off inspired. I really enjoyed myself too, and I did it within my prescribed time limit.

I had my friend record the speech because I’m interested in self improvement. I know that I can win this competition at the international stage. Not this year, clearly, and maybe not next year – hell, who knows if I’ll have a Toastmasters club next year – but I believe this goal is firmly within my reach. I’ve been walking down a road that fits my fancy for almost two years now, and I don’t intend to lay it aside simply because I’m moving to a foreign country – speaking, like writing, is something that speaks to me, and I’ll find a virtual club to keep growing if I must. I’m not letting this hobby go dormant. 

As to the whereabouts of that recording, well, it’s on my friend’s phone. I gave him mine with instructions on how to use it, but he’s not an Apple user and couldn’t figure it out, so he used his, and for that, I’m glad. He’s going to put it on a thumb drive; I’ll see him Monday. I’ve never watched myself perform before, and I feel like that’s a powerful tool for self improvement, particularly in this arena. One person told me I looked down too much. Another told me that I needed to project more at parts. I’ll see this all for myself soon enough. It’s data towards a greater understanding.

I’m glad I worked through this project. It was a unique beast; I’ve never spent four months crafting a seven-minute speech before. Let me tell you, it takes all of that time to visualize, write, revise, and rehearse a speech of this caliber; I probably could’ve used another month. But because I went through it, I feel I could reasonably do it again, and by myself. A lot of mentors gave me a lot of really good advice, and it’s stuff that I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. I am incredibly blessed.

This speech also reignited my passion for singing. I wanted to take voice lessons as a kid but never did because of varying instability growing up. That didn’t stop me from singing though; I sang from seventh grade all the way through college, and I got some really neat opportunities as a result. Now, I have two great textbooks on singing and the wonderful world of YouTube vocal coaches at my disposal, and the will to actually employ them. Cardio, singing, and speaking all intersect at the breath, and singing offers a wealth of exercises that benefit the spoken word. That, and singing is one of the best medicines I’ve ever found – it’s right up there with a morning run after a spring storm. Singing – it’s not just for showers.

The person who bested me gave a very different speech. In one word, mine was ‘gravitas;’ hers was ‘motivation.’ Hers had less substance to it, but it was almost melodic, and she delivered it to great effect. I feel like, in a different crowd, my speech could win. However, we were in Texas at 2 PM, and people wanted something more upbeat than 9/11 for their Saturday entertainment. Funnily, we’re both Army vets. I met her briefly before the contest; she was a supply officer in the army who started out as a private. One has to work pretty hard to cross over, and she did it. I give her props – I hope she keeps climbing. 

Friends, I’m used to being misunderstood. I grew up a gay kid in a cow town in rural New York. My best friend for years was my piano. I took refuge among the theater kids in high school, and I met my dearest friends in a French class my senior year. I tossed my newfound belonging away to attend West Point, join the infantry, and serve in an organization that loathes three-syllable words. Folks, that’s just not me. 

It’s not uncommon for an artist to toil for years before being recognized for the quality of his work. Hell, Vincent Van Gogh died an unknown and is now hailed as the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt.  Talk about a transformation! I just hope I don’t have to die to for recognition – I’ve got a lot of life yet to live.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my club. I love these guys. I did my dress rehearsal on Monday, and I had people coaching me for a full forty-five minutes after the meeting – stuff that I’d actually use! They also showed up in spades to see me speak yesterday. I’m really glad to belong to such a fine group, and thrilled to share what I’ve learned from them with others.

Onward & upward!

James

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