Psyching Yourself Up

by Samantha Lynch Johnson

My first evaluation contest in my Toastmasters club I beat everyone hands down. I was the only contestant. But don’t be fooled, I gave myself quite a run. “You got lucky, next contest there’ll be more people.” “You’ve been a Toastmaster for six weeks, what do you know about evaluating anyone?” said the voice of comedian Kevin Hart in my head, psyching me out with internal trash talk. And so it went up through Area, Division and finally District 27 speech evaluation competition. By luck or design, I saw little of my fellow competitors because I almost always spoke last.

An evaluation competition is extemporaneous. You make a speech critique based on an excellent speaker’s content. Having no real template, I watched hours of YouTube tutorials by contest winners (check out Chris Swanson and John Zimmer). Since I had only the Toastmasters Competent Communication manual at my disposal, I structured my evaluations around specific skills. For example, one evaluation I focused on vocal variety in storytelling. Another evaluation I made into a story and emphasized body language.

The District 27 Evaluation Competition in May felt like a family reunion. Toastmasters frequently belong to multiple clubs or have years of speaking experience. I was perfectly psyched up out. I drew fourth in a field of seven and structured my evaluation as a visual aid speech. The one thing I hadn’t anticipated was the regret when listening to speakers who evaluate after you. My internal trash talker came to impress. “Oh he used humor, why didn’t you think of that?” Or, “You should have picked up on the grammatical error in minute 3:48.” By then it’s too late to change anything you’ve said.

My surprise wasn’t feigned when my name was called as the winner. Of course, my internal trash talker tells me it’s beginner’s luck. My takeaway? Gag your trash talker, psych yourself up and do it anyway.

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Samantha Lynch Johnson (CC), the 2017 Champion of the District 27 Speech Evaluation Contest, is Assistant to the District 27 Public Relations Manager and Vice President of Public Relations of Waldorf Toastmasters, which meets at Peace Lutheran Church in Waldorf, Maryland (11610 Rubina Pl, Waldorf, MD 20602), at 7 PM on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month.

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