Almost a Champ Again

Some memories feel like a dream: just over 1.5 months have passed since the District 21 Fall Conference in Parksville. A part of my mind still asks “did that really happen?” In truth, it almost didn’t happen.

To be clear, I knew I was going to the Fall Conference: I had paid for my ticket in August. I had plans to hear the keynotes, attend the evening events, and gorge on the food. But the best laid plans of mice and men…

In September, I entered my club’s Table Topics contest to encourage other club members to do the same (I’m serious). I placed second, which was fine. A second after the contest wrapped up, the winner ran over and asked if I would be willing to represent the club at the Area Contest: she would represent her other club in Table Topics. Okay, but what was I going to do now?

A Toastmaster once remarked, I did not seem to be the competition type. I agree: I’ve entered contests for the promised growth, not for trophies. Regardless, I instantly knew I wanted to represent, take that second chance. I also knew I could not use the same approach to Table Topics that I had been using since Day 1. Something had to change. I had to change.

I thought about past Table Topics Champions Jo Priestly (District 21), and good friend, Darren Frew (District 96). Darren didn’t win at his Area Contest, but ended up winning first place at District in 2015. Thanks to advice he received from another Table Topics Champion, it changed his approach completely. His own story and advice made something click in my head. Suddenly I could envision the new approach I wanted to take, and I knew I couldn’t hold back. It would be all or nothing, every time.

I answered the Area Table Topics question, and won. I tried the same approach again and won at Division. Next was District. While I was relieved I had already made plans to attend the Conference, I knew my original plans had flown out the window. There was no time to let everything sink in. Nathan (who would become 2016’s District Champion for the Humorous Speech) and I were from the same club. Who could have imagined, two “kids” tag-teaming and winning their way to the District stage.

It wasn’t the first time I had entered the Table Topics Contest, but I had never gone past club level. This time around, I was armed with a new set of skills. Additionally, club members drilled me with sample Table Topics questions. It was little help for the actual District question, but it gave me much needed practice and allowed me to hone my new strategy. This time, I was as prepared as I could have possibly been.

At the District contest, I entered the room and concentrated on calming my heart. I made eye contact with my club members in the audience; they were the last clear faces I saw. When I heard the Table Topics question once, a part of me relaxed. I knew exactly what my answer would be; I just needed to figure out how structure my answer succinctly. I haven’t seen myself yet on the recorded video (who knows if I’ll ever be brave enough), but I felt like it was as heartfelt and honest of an answer as I could have given under the pressure.

I won second for it.

Tania Ehman (who would become 2016’s District 21 Table Topics Champ) went after me. The only thing I remember from her answer was she made the audience laugh at least four times in quick succession: I knew she would win. She did.

The rest of the weekend passed by in a blur. Nathan won the Humorous Speech Contest and became an instant star from his hard work. Suddenly, we packed up and rushed to get back to the ferry on a holiday weekend. We showed up too early and sat in the parking lot. If I was smarter, we would have grabbed dinner somewhere. But my mind was shot. In the cold and pouring rain, the adrenaline/stress was slowly waning. The whole event was now just beginning to sink in.

I thought back to my contest: after the event, everyone was approaching Tania to offer their congratulations. From the corner of my eye, I saw a lady (I want to say her name was Linda) making a beeline for me. She was on a mission.

“I just wanted to let you know, I thought you should have won. Our whole table voted for you. Your answer was so organized, concise, heartfelt, honest, you pulled from some distant place that was so advanced….”

I didn’t know what I was expecting but I was struck with her strong genuine response. I wish I had given her a hug, or taken a picture with her, or done something. I just stood there stunned and trying not to tear up with emotion and saying (not so coherently) how much I appreciated her comments to me.

Out of the entire District, I had placed second. For a “kid” that had no visions or goals to do so, I ended up on the District podium again.

I remember at the Division Contest, I was worried. On the list of Table Topics contestants, I recognized powerful, heavy-weight speakers. Before they announced the winners, I quietly voiced my reservations to the Toastmaster beside me. She leaned over and whispered back, “you forget you are a heavy-weight too.” That had never crossed my mind before. Maybe, she had merit.

Linda was the beginning of something. I had so many people approach me after the contest to say they and/or their entire table loved my response. That I had moved them with my heartfelt gratitude, honesty, and how I had made them cry. I felt how genuine they all were, their support.

I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.

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