By Valerie Fletcher Adolph
In May, Carol Carter won the District 21 public speaking championship and was acclaimed as the best Toastmasters speaker in British Columbia. She won a large silver cup and became eligible to compete with Toastmasters from around the world at the Toastmasters International convention.
Partly in preparation for this and partly to share her win with other Toastmasters around the province, she took the silver trophy with her to speak at 37 B.C. Toastmasters clubs. It gave her the opportunity to practise her new speech, and it gave members a chance to have their photo taken with her and the cup. It was much like a Stanley Cup-winning team taking the Stanley Cup to players’ hometowns. Carol has posted the photos here.
“Visiting the many different clubs really helped me,” she said. “I met many different people and spoke in a variety of settings. This is advice I’d give to all Toastmasters – visit other clubs and see different ways of doing things. Make use of your Toastmasters membership in this way – you’ll grow so much faster.
“With my speech, I noticed how something that resonates in one club doesn’t resonate in another. I gained clearer insights into what should be cut or changed. There are so many different choices I could make within the speech. One week I did the speech three different ways, just to see what worked. It was fun. It was interesting. If you have the chance to take one speech to other clubs, go for it! You’ll learn. You’ll grow.”
Everyone was behind Carol, offering ideas and suggestions and sending her good wishes, as she practised her speech. Then she headed off to the Toastmasters International convention in Florida. Against strong competition from many countries, Carol came second in her semi-final contest. This makes her one of the top-18 speakers in the world.
Competing on the same big stage that later held the world championship, she delivered her “A Spectacular Life” speech, rich with sincerity and emotion. Her supporters from B.C. said she gave her best performance ever.
Looking back on the experience, Carol said: “Within our semi-final group, we were all rooting for each other – there was great camaraderie. We were all first-timers at the International, we all were in the same boat. I met a woman from Scarborough, Ontario. We really connected, and we exchanged e-mail addresses.
“I talked to competitors about the feedback and advice they had been given. We have similar experiences in our preparation. We’ve had advice that was helpful … and many surprises. We agreed: it doesn’t matter where you place in the group as long as you do your personal best.
“We all went with the speech that had won our district. The feeling was, ‘That’s what got me here,’ but we had all worked to perfect a second speech for the finals. Only one of those speeches would be heard.
“Our semi-final was held on the main stage – it’s huge. It takes 10 seconds to walk across it. The room is huge too, and the audience happened to sit all to the left, so it felt lop-sided. All the contestants commented on that, but it was the same for all of us. It was a different experience.
“It was a well-organized convention, and everyone was helpful and supportive. The past champions were roaming around and happy to answer questions and offer encouragement.”
Carol believes that the richness of the experience came from her interactions with other Toastmasters from all around the world. “There’s nobody in the world like Toastmasters,” she said, “You meet a fantastic quality of people.”
Carol’s advice to future district speech winners? “Practise in as many different environments as you can. Don’t get too used to one single space, and expect the unexpected at all times.
“My growth as a speaker? Through Toastmasters and this process, I’ve gained insights that I might never have gained any other way. I hope everyone gained something through participating in my process. I gained so much.
“As a speaker, I gained insights and confidence. Halfway through the process, my dad died. I was able to manage my emotions and stand up to deliver the eulogy. I couldn’t have done that before.
“I’ve been inspired by all the people in Toastmasters and their willingness to contribute to the growth of others. People give of themselves without thought of reward. They reach out and support others wherever they’re from. Being part of this makes me want to contribute more. I see hope for mankind yet!
“I was inspired by LaShunda Rundles, she attended the conference and she was in a wheelchair: she was so ill she couldn’t speak, but she was there, giving whatever she had left to support others. She told me that if I made it to the finals, she would help me at the conference. She was there to be supportive when she was so ill. She never made it home. LaShunda died three days later.
“Toastmasters are a different breed of people, or maybe Toastmasters transforms people into a different breed. The conference inspired and motivated me, and like my new friend and fellow competitor from Ontario said, ‘I’ll be back next year.’”
Valerie Fletcher Adolph, DTM, was a Director of Volunteers for 20 years and her first book Managing Crisis was written for volunteer organizations in a time of financial crisis. Currently (when not writing speeches) she writes mostly for the web.