Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking – Aaron Watson

One of my friend Aaron Watson recently participated in World Championship of Public Speaking. Here is his experience in this championship. There is lot to learn from his experience.

During 2009 WCPS held at Connecticut while participating in the semi finals I had the privilege to be grouped with Mark Hunter who went on to be the No 1 speaker in the world. I could not reach the top three in the semi finals. Everyone congratulated me saying “a great speech” and “it was a speech of your life”. I accepted with a smile but deep within me I was introspecting how I could make a difference in the midst of an International audience.
The following day I witnessed the WCPS finals and I was excited and thrilled to hear the speeches. What touched me the most was Mark Hunters – “A sink full of Tomatoes”? I realized his purpose for contesting was to fight against injustice meted out to the disabled. It’s this that made him stand on world stage of public speaking year after year.

I came back to India pondering the life of Mark Hunter. I was excited to know that when this world champion learnt his greatest lessons of life from a sink in a kitchen. This made me reflect within - thus was born “Gutter Effect”

Initially the title itself was a bit absurd to my toastmaster friends. However I stuck to the title. So it was back to square one, contests began from the club level that was not easy, the speakers were of very high caliber. Finally the results favored me. The key person whom I relied on was my mentor Mr. Nagaraja Rao he was constantly motivating and guiding me. I also needed International exposure that I got through Dr. Dilip Abayasekhara. Thus this was a close knit team which I called “Operation Gutter Effect”

Interestingly, Dr Dilip instead of evaluating my speech always embraced my speech it’s only then I realized the value of professional coaching and realized we are from away from these standards. We had around 6-8 sessions of one hour each over Skype. He encouraged me when he said retain cricket as an identity and not base ball so that we maintain the authenticity of the speech. During this period my confidence level grew higher and higher. The sessions had become more of fun and excitement as I started discovering myself.

I reached California two days earlier. And unlike last time I began to introduce to many delegates Dr. Dilip also made it a point to introduce me to a number of Toastmasters.

The D – Day arrived. Early that morning 81 contestants assembled for judges briefing. It was a fun filled atmosphere. It was great to see previous winners and finalists contesting this time. We shook hands with each other. I was speaker No.8. I never knew what it meant for me. Later at 02:00 p. m we had the dress rehearsal and audio testing. My contest was scheduled at 05:00 p.m

And then started the excitement, to my surprise ours was held where the finals was conducted. Six of the speakers were from American states one from Canada, one from China and last was myself. The audience was on their feet while the first speaker gave a fantastic speech. As the other speakers continued I was stunned by their delivery, style and passion. Every contestant had worked hard for this day. They were literally giving their life on the stage - anything to enter the finals!!

Many used props, to share an example there was one contestant Kwong Yue Yang from China, he amazed the audience with his stage management, he performed a break dance, a flip that was an instant hit with the audience, and he was followed by Hayward Suggs this tall man with a deep voice rattled the audience. As the eight contestant I was excited watching the speeches, there was another interesting speaker Kylie Bryant a young man who was physically challenged who came on a wheel chair yet stood up and spoke with great difficulty - he got a standing ovation.

Well I was called on to stage, after making a log pause I began to speak. To my surprise I didn’t get the desired response. The first two minutes was good but did not materialize to take the audience to the next level. I began to make longer pauses pondering my strategy.
It’s only when I had a situation where I had to take the ball out of the gutter and I screamed “I got it” evoked the first laughter from the audience. That was enough for me to get into the groove. Probably the audience who had been listening to 3 contests was keen on some excitement and they looked drained. It was this movement that energized. I felt it’s a do or die situation I spoke with passion and made the best use of the stage. Words began to flow like never before, the audience were now responding to my every move in fact I was happiest when I thundered to the audience “ Do you want to know what he is doing today” I heard a loud “ YES”, I did not get that kind of response in my other contests. I knew I had left a mark, It’s only in this contest I could feel my own voice, I could experience my own emotions probably because of the intensity of the contest, I did whatever skills I had learnt in TMs. Throughout the speech I was looking at TM friends from District 82 seated with rapt attention.

The applause was gratifying. I walked out and drank an entire bottle of water. I knew Gutter Effect had met its best forum. What might be the outcome did not bother me but I knew when people across the globe watch the videos they will view it a number of times. I did a little bit of what a speaker could do - spread the message of love and compassion.

The results were announced and there was some confusion I was called and then had to come back. When I was given the trophy there was a huge applause, I did not know my ranking because of the confusion but I just kept smiling throughout. With the audience around us capturing our photos some one asked me “Do people in your country speak such good English” – I shot back – “They speak more that 5 languages like this”. I had overpowered myself that day. The wall may not have been demolished, yet one can see the deep crack created and knew one day it would fall too!

Key Leanings
1. Stick to your original idea.
2. Don’t be contest driven be message driven
3. Have the patience to listen to feedback from anyone.
4. Be flexible - you may get some hints just a few hours before the contest.
5. Don’t change the content to please an audience such that it hampers your message
6. Enjoy participating, last year I came back empty handed, this year with a trophy, the greatest lesson I ever learnt was when I came back empty handed.
7. Be ready to make sacrifices, it not an easy journey your work, family, social life gets impacted but then its all for the better.
8. The journey might make you lonely be selective of the advisers you choose it should be a part of your strategy.
9. Visit clubs to get feedback.
10. Your attitude is the greatest gift to the Toastmasters Movement.

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