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In which the author shares the inspiration, the original story, and final “working script” of his winning contest speech, and some thoughts on how this made him a better writer.

Ordeal of the FishStart: I‘ve been writing about a prize-winning Toastmaster contest speech of mine for nearly two weeks now, but I haven’t really told you anything about the speech.

If you’ve viewed the video file provided to me by Jackpot Speakers founder Narayanan Doraswamy, you’ve seen the finished product. I posted the embedded Google Video on my last post, and if you missed it there (you deprived creature) here’s another chance:

And now … you are about to learn more about this speech than you probably ever would want to know.

The Story of the Story

“The Ordeal of the Fish” is a whimsical, slightly jaded idyll of a story about a talking fish that was caught in a flash drought (Arizona and Nevada are prone to those) and was forced to come into my neighborhood — on fin — to find water.

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In which the author — dragged down by an inconvenient bug and an equally inconvenient lack of sleep — rides into cosmopolitan Modesto for the final contest showdown.

Ordeal of the FishStart: Going the distance through all the levels of a speech contest must be a little like a marathon. Now, I’ve never run a marathon, so I don’t understand the experience personally, but I have friends who have, and clearly it’s grueling.

In its own way, a speech contest can be, too.

I estimate I probably put in about 60 hours writing, rewriting and rehearsing (or should I say “hearsing and rehearsing?”) “The Ordeal of the Fish” for that season. I understand it is not unusual for the serious International competitor to put in over 100 hours to get their speech to District, and probably a comparable amount (or more) for each of the next two levels.

I was not facing this level of competition with the Tall Tales contest. The Tall Tale is an strange animal, and I am told it is a hard one to judge and a harder one to execute. Just after my Division win, the then Immediate Past District Governor Bruce Louie called my speech a perfect example of what a Tall Tale speech should be.

Flattering, and bittersweet at the same time. It’s the nature of Toastmaster contests that you really can’t recycle material, certainly not verbatim, and a winning speech — if you can take it the distance — will wind up retired to a shelf somewhere, a pleasant memory collecting dust.


(Yes, Grasshopper … that which passes, passes like clouds.)

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