Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Note to the Losers in the 2015 World Championship of Public Speaking

Yeah, congratulations and all to 2015 World Champion Mohammed Qahtani. I was watching here in my office in Colorado as you literally smoked the competition.

But this post is for the rest of you. The losers. That's all 95 of the rest of you - because everyone knows taking 2nd just means you're the first loser, right?

In case you don't know, I know how it feels. I've lost all 12 times I've entered the International Contest. I've lost at club. I've gotten lost going to Area, and not showed up. I've lost at Division, 5 times (three of those, I was lucky enough to go to District, anyway). Lost at District this year, for the first time - because I went OVERTIME. Lost at the semi-finals 6 times. Lost at the Finals, twice. The highest I've ever made it? 3rd Place.

And let's not even talk about all the losses in Table Topics, Evaluation, Humorous and Tall Tales. Because, frankly, I just don't like to think about them.

So I'm a loser too. Just like YOU.

And I know how you feel. Especially when people come up and say wonderful things like:

'You gave a great speech'
'I had you placed in the top three'
'I thought you should have won'
'If you had drawn a better speaking order....'
'The winner just had a lot of support in the audience'
'I just don't understand the judges'
'Your message meant so much to me'
my personal favorite, from 2006, when I took third in the Finals 'You finished right where I picked you!'
and, finally, one I use myself 'You're a winner anyway!'

(Editor's note: One I can't identify with, but sympathize with is: 'Toastmaster judges are just biased against women'. But let's save that for another day.)

We hear that. We nod. We smile. We say thanks. And we even try to believe it. But for awhile at least, most of us are seething just a little bit inside. Wondering what we did wrong. Thinking about what we aren't going to get to do. Questioning the judging, our writing and delivery, our coaches, and perhaps even whether or not this whole competition thing, or even Toastmasters thing, is even worth it anyway!

OK - I get it.


First - Let's face it - you gave a great speech. ALL of you did. And yet, only 10 were going to win the semi's, and only one was going to win it all, no matter what. If you reshuffle the semi's, you'd have different winners in many instances. Heck, if you pit all 10 finalists against each other in a semi - well then you'd have a whole different contest on Saturday. I bet even if you had all the Finalists compete in front of a different set of judges, you'd have a different outcome.

The contest is about finding a CONTEST WINNER even more than it is about finding the best speaker in Toastmasters. Luck of the draw & luck of the day both play strongly into the outcomes. Even those champs that say great things like 'I already knew I was going to win because of the work I put in' or even 'Make the only question be whose in 2nd place' could have fallen to different fates if things had fallen slightly different.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the maxim 'The harder I work the luckier I get'. I'm in favor of both hard work AND luck.

Second - You just finished in the TOP 96 speakers in all of Toastmasters. Out of about 30,000 competitors. That's the top 1/3 of 1 percent. Some of you finished in the Top 30, 20, 10 and 3. That's pretty doggone impressive, isn't it? For some of you, it wasn't even your FIRST time!

You just spoke to audiences of several hundred (or a couple thousand) people on a great stage (or two), with full mics, lights, and cameras. A far cry from your TM meeting back home, I bet. You can pull some sample video without breaking copyright law, and grab a few screenshots here and there to promote yourself, right?

You just spent a tremendous amount of time (hopefully) honing your craft, speaking in front of new people over the last few months, getting coached, and dreaming of 'what if'. That makes you A - a much better speaker than you were a few months ago. And B - aware of the 'what if' you want - which you can pursue without a trophy, in virtually every scenario. Whatever you want to do, you are closer to it now than ever before. Don't chase the wrong trophy.

Third - No whining. No believing the excuses you hear made for you. Don't blame the judges, or the speaking order, or the crowd, or the organization. Don't blame...whatever you want to blame. Even yourself. You did your best. They did their best. Can you do better? Fine - accept that, and do better next time. But the more time you spend whining, the less time you spend getting better. Take it from a recovering whineaholic!

Fourth and Finally - You're only a loser if you choose to identify as such. I give entire keynotes about this concept. Find your victories. Celebrate them. Build upon them. Whether you ever enter another contest or not is inconsequential. You've done something tremendous this summer/winter. Don't minimize, don't regret it. Learn from it. Be better because of it. Give more to your audiences because of it. Give more back to Toastmasters because of it.

You may not be the World Champion of Public Speaking - but you're damn good. Don't chase the wrong trophy, continue to Speak and Deliver, and WIN...Anyway!


  1. Excellent as always Rich! But more important right on target. I am fortunate enough to say that I have never lost at the finals (I lucked out at my first and only appearance) BUT I too have lost at other every level, if you define getting the trophy as "winning". But at every level "win" or loss, I enjoyed my fellow competitors and their speeches, I made new friends, and I poured my heart out as I spoke. Yes, speak to WIN ANYWAY and you will always come out ahead from the experience.

    1. Thanks Champ - losing makes winning all the more sweet :)

  2. This is a great read Rich! A reminder that success is not a finite thing!

  3. Any idea who's been to the final round the most number of times (and how many times)?

    1. I believe it is Jock Elliot with 6 before he won, and John Howard with 5, before he went into leadership, and passed away right before he was to become IP. Both, if I recall, took 2nd at least once.

  4. Excellent message, Rich. I definitely asked many of those questions when I competed in the semi-finals.
    Sometimes it's simply comforting to know you're not the only one feeling like this after a "loss."

  5. Thanks, Rich. Awesome read. Nobody enters the contest to come in second or third, or even not to place at all. Your article puts our efforts into the right perspective.

    I don't want to diminish the achievements of the winners. But I always have an inkling as well, that despite of the highly experienced judges and the profound judging process within TMI, there is an element of luck and some influence by "personal chemistry".

    Very often when hearing the results I am (at least partly) surprised - and many of my TM fellows are as well. But you put it right, Rich: Another set of speakers, another set of judges, another set of winners.

    Thanks again for writing your important message down and sharing it with us.

    Thomas (placed 3rd in SF #1, 2015, Las Vegas, NV)

  6. Thanks for the kudos, Dr. Rose, and for your FB comment as well :) Congratulations on your victory last week!



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