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In which the author concedes that when preparing for competition, thinking you can do it alone is … kinda dumb.

Ordeal of the FishStart: Mentors. Who needs them?

You do.

In the spring of 2004 I had won the club level of the Toastmasters International Speech contest, the very first step in a competition that literally spans the world, reaching dozens of nations, East and West.

At the same time in some Toastmasters Districts, a second contest was underway, the sometimes whimsical and usually humorous “Tall Tales” contest. At the outset I had no intention of competing in this second contest, but Life had other plans.

At the eleventh hour I realized if I wanted to go real any distance with the International competition, I needed help. The man I am calling Fred Bacher, the former fellow member of my home club who had helped to reignite club interest in the Toastmaster contest scene, had already pointed me at a resource that I had not yet embraced.

Before Fred had moved out of state, he had joined a specialty club called Jackpot Speakers, a rebel band of contest animals intent on having within their ranks, in only a few short years, winners of the International Speech contest, a rare species of Toastmaster known in the organization as “World Champions of Public Speaking.” Fred had encouraged me to check it out, but I resisted, partly due to being intimidated by the caliber of speakers Fred was traveling with. And partly, the one thing I did have on Fred was my ability to write compelling material.

At the time I was still harboring the thought I could conquer any given contest alone.

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In which the author shares his first experience with Toastmaster contests, and discovers the hard way that when it comes to the contest arena, fair play is optional.

Ordeal of the FishStart Imagine standing on a raised platform with about 250 people in the audience. On top of that, this audience is not captive, not drunk, and is actually hanging on your every word. What would you be feeling?

Like most people, you would be petrified.

I don’t understand why public speaking is so terrifying. But it is. There is something about baring yourself (metaphorically speaking) to an audience — even an audience that couldn’t be more supportive — that forces every little doubt you’ve ever had about yourself into the forefront of your consciousness.

I suspect the reason for this has something to do with our not being raised to really look at our self-worth issues, and something to do with choosing to be the focus, even for a few minutes, of a couple of hundred times more attention than we usually get. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the root cause of stage fright, but the answer to it is to get into the ring with that monster and slug it out.

And when you can do it with style, you’ll beat the snot out of it.

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