Friday, March 25, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: I Lost My Contest - Now What?

For the last few weeks I've been writing contest-oriented posts, as Toastmasters International's Spring Contest season begins, and with it, the International Speech Contest, which annually produces a World Champion of Public Speaking. Prior posts include: Why Contests are the Best and Worst Events in Your Speaking CareerWhy Does International Become Inspirational?Are the Contests Fair?, and The Top 8 Ways to Guarantee Victory.

We're mid-contest season now folks. A lot of you have already had Area and Division Contests, and a lot of you have no doubt won, and are looking forward to the District Stage in May. Congratulations!

But...most of you LOST. Now what?

Don't Complain. I know - you were wronged by incompetent judges. You went just one second overtime, but were clearly the winner. The trophy went to the District Governor's wife, a brand-new member that everyone is now rooting for, or the same guy that wins every year just because he's 'that guy' - and they actually quoted the Starfish story. 

As I said earlier in this series, life's not fair. But complaining won't get you anywhere, other than well-remembered next year for being such a whiner. Be gracious. Wait a few weeks. Go back to your speech script, or even better, the tape of your contest. You might be surprised to find out you weren't as good as you thought, and the winner wasn't as bad as you felt.

When I lost in 2004 at the Division Level, I felt ripped off, and let many folks know it. A few weeks later, I reviewed the tapes, and learned a lot about myself as a speaker, and finally allowed myself to accept some of the amazing things the winner did it their presentation. I apologized quickly to those I had complained to, and this loss began to pave the way for me to become a better student of speaking, and my eventual appearances on the Big Stage.

Allow Yourself to Feel Bad. It's OK. You put a lot of effort in. Your speech was all about your grandfather or son or mother, you hired a coach, and you had all the right gestures, eye contact, and humor, yet - it just didn't happen - perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the 7th consecutive year. 

Been there, done that. I cried after not placing at the 2008 World Championship. I had had an amazingly stressful summer, been given some pretty bad news over the phone the day before the contest, and after the awards, I darted back to my hotel room and broke down (away, luckily, from the cameras of the documentary crew that was following us around that week...).

You don't have to feel THAT bad, of course, and many of you won't. In hindsight, I wish I'd had the presence of mind to stick around, talk to more people, and celebrate the victory of being there. But if you don't feel it, you just don't feel it, and that's OK. Take the time you need, get a milkshake or tub of Ben & Jerry's, and be miserable for an hour or two. But, to paraphrase Darren LaCroix - don't stay down too long.

Remember Why You're Here. Why are you in Toastmasters? When you joined, was speaking in a contest even on your radar? Or did you just want to become more comfortable in front of an audience? What have you accomplished since stepping into the meeting for the first time? Don't let the contest part of Toastmasters sour you on the organization. There are too many other things you can get out of being a member to allow that to happen. There are also too many people who need your help and experience to guide them on their journey for you to give it all up.

Plan Your Next Step. When is your next speech? What more can you do with the speech you have just given? What skills can you focus on to better prepare yourself, not just for the next contest, but for public speaking in general? Replace your goal of winning the contest with something new - the next award, running for district office, mentoring new Toastmasters, or simply doing better next year. When you start looking at where you want to win next, it's easier to leave today's loss behind. 

My last contest loss was in 2009 - the last time I competed before club a few weeks ago. It was at the final Region I Conference, where I took second to the eventual 2nd runner up at the championship that year - Erick Rainey. 

I had excuses I could hang my head on, sure. I had just won the year before, and not done well at the championship. I had been vocal in my opposition to Toastmaster's plan to do away with Region Conferences and change the nomination process for International Directors - and not always in the nicest way. To top it off, the documentary crew was following me there too, to see if I could create a redemption story - even tracking me down in the bathroom as I rehearsed into a mirror - not a great way to keep a low profile in an organization that can occasionally penalize for perceived overexposure.

It was a great loss. I had given a fantastic speech, but I knew Erick had pulled it off. Afterwards, instead of the negative emotions and actions that had followed previous year's 'failures', I felt good about myself, what my next steps were, and who I was as a speaker. I wasn't happy to lose, but I was no longer at the mercy of judges and their opinions for my self-worth. I understood the process, and redefined my goal that year to be one of having fun, giving a meaningful message, and no matter the trophy, winning anyway. Some of you might remember I did, in fact, leave TM after that. But not out of anger or frustration - I believed my future lay outside the organization. It didn't take long for me (and my wife) to realize TM was a place I enjoyed too much to leave in the rearview mirror - and I've worked since then to find my success both inside and outside the organization.

If you're still alive this contest season - that is terrific, and you probably don't want to even think about losing. But all but one of you eventually will. I encourage you to be ready to Win Anyway.


  1. Rich:

    As usual, you gave excellent advice. Your graphic reminded me of the Jerry Seinfeld routine about the special agony of coming in second:

    “ win the gold, you feel good. You win the bronze, you think at least I got something. But, you win that silver, that’s like congratulations you almost won. Of all the losers, you came in first of that group...”


  2. As a contest junkie with over 2 dozen contests under my belt, I think it's important to know the factors that come into play for Toastmaster contests up to and including District contests:
    Content: 20%
    Delivery: 30%
    Majority of judges the same age as you: 20%
    Majority of judges the same sex as you: 20%
    Majority of judges the same race as you 10%

    As you can see, you only have control over half the factors in your contest!

  3. You really are a Champion. I have become a HUGE fan of your wisdom and the way you so generously share it with others. Keep at it because we need what you have!
    --Dave Ross

  4. Rich:

    Nice Post!

    It's really the process, not the event, isn't it?

    I recently coached a young lady who is entering a sate beauty contest. She has been first runner up in about a dozen contests. WOW, that's really persistence isn't it

    During our session, failure never was mentioned. She has a goal of becoming Miss "State" because that will give her the 'platform' for her 'platform' - helping young people with low self-esteem.

    She's already a winner!

  5. Great thoughts and great that you were able to share how it impacted you. I went a second or so over at division, and had a lot of the same emotions. I was surprised how strongly saddened I was to be out of it. But then I realized how much I put into it, so it there was a good reason to be disappointed. But it is nice to know that feeling strongly sad is not unusual.

  6. The best way to learn about judging is to be the chief judge, or at least a ballot counter. You're able to see how different judges rate the same speech. You can see how the same judge rates different speeches if you volunteer at different contests.

    I've seen some wild variations in my time as a chief judge and, while I cannot give any specific examples.when 1 judge ranks a speaker first and none of the other judges rank them at all - you know you've got a wild one :)

  7. wonderfully written! and of course, so true too - and plus a real story we all can remember.

  8. Thanks a lot for the amazing and transforming article sir.. It was much needed for me at the moment :)



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