About two years ago, the District that I was in completed the process of splitting in two. By the Fall Contest season, the newer district dropped the Humorous Speech contest and adopted the Tall Tales contest instead. A lot of people asked if I would enter the Tall Tales contest, to which I politely declined, most likely citing work-related reasons.
This year, I was asked again if I would compete. This time, the questions were usually followed with encouragement along the lines of “you should enter, you’d be so good!” An overwhelming feeling took a hold of me. Personally, I was determined to never ever enter into a Tall Tales contest. But why?
My reservation was based solely on my personal experiences, and not towards the poor innocent contest itself. Right after I won the Humorous Speech contest, I remember lots of people came up to me to express how their own mother/aunt/sister/daughter/niece/cousin had gone through the same experiences. I was extremely touched and thankful to know I was not alone.
A couple of years later I was attending a Toastmasters event. A lady came up to me excitedly and said, “Oh it’s you! I still remember your speech; I find it so amazing you were able to make all of that up!”
My heart stopped. I started to feel sick.
I had not made my speech up. All of those events had happened to my life. Those experiences hurt me, shocked me, and affected me for many years afterwards.
I wish I could say it was a one off event, but it happened a few more times over the next year. Individuals were so happy to tell me how amazing it was that I had made up such a speech. When I told them the speech was true and drawn from my own life experiences, the look on their faces told me they didn’t know how to process that information.
They hurt me. Not the curious individuals that asked me if the speech was true, but those who were confident in their assumptions, albeit wrong. I tried to be understanding of those who assumed my speech was fabricated, but I was starting to sink. I found myself feeling like my entire speech had been diluted in value. I felt like the little boy who cried wolf…only he never lied, and yet nobody believed him.
I felt like if I entered the Tall Tales contest, on some level I would be validating the misconception that my Humorous speech had been made up. And that, was an absolutely horrible feeling.
I have no qualms about other individuals competing in order to grow and evolve as a speaker. Personally, I just decided this contest was not for me. I thought I could handle it, until all the well-meaning people’sfriendly encouragement left me feeling torn in two.
Hesitantly, I turned to a trusted friend in Toastmasters, Ian Cunliffe. I cannot tell you what made me reach out to him, but somehow I just knew I could talk to him about my internal dilemma. I sent a very hesitating sounding email, and he emailed back right away to say “I’m here. Call me.” I was blown away: without hesitation,he was asking me to call him at a time way past normal polite calling hours.
I talked, talked, and talked. I told him my reservations, my fears, and how I felt that slight sting whenever someone was certain I had made up my entire speech. He never judged, and he even shared some of his own experiences where audience members had completely misread his message. For the awesome guy that he is, Ian never once made me feel like I was being a silly/ungrateful/big-headed champ for thinking that way (and I really hope I’m not being a silly/ungrateful/big-headed champ). He told me there may always be someone in the audience that doesn’t understand your speech the way you intended it. The important thing is to do what makes us happy.
The conversation with Ian reminded me of some words in my own speech. Back in the day I had declared I didn’t think it was my job to correct all potential misconceptions, and convince the whole world to see me as the correct gender. Talking to Ian helped me realize it shouldn’t be my job either to chase after every audience member, and ensure they absorbed every aspect of my speech exactly how I wanted them to.
So if anyone needs clarification one last time, that speech, is true. I’ll always remember the lady glaring at me in the women’s changeroom (she still did not believe I was a girl!) My friend grinning like the Cheshire cat when he realized he was not alone in his thinking. The sheepish lady at the restaurant who ended up ordering a lot of the same dishes as my mother and I. And the girl working behind the counter at McDonald’s, that just had to go and whisper to her co-worker to look at the girl that looked like a guy, all bundled up in a ski jacket and a grey toque. Those events are only the tip of the iceberg, and I will remember them all, for a very long time.
Where does this leave me? Two places.
One: I recently attended a Humorous Speech contest in the old District. During the contestant interviews, the Chair asked each person to give one tip for how to prepare for this type of a contest. Every contestant suggested writing a speech based on personal experiences, because it is easier to draw upon them when you are nervous, and sometimes life provides ample sources of humour. You go guys and gals, I couldn’t agree with you more.
Two: I spent all Sunday sitting in front of my laptop trying to craft a tall tale. I can’t get the tale any shorter than six minutes. It may not shine in all of the judge’s criteria (if any). And I can only describe it as more of a daydream than from my imagination. But as a wise man once told me, “do what makes you happy.” And I think this story may do just that.