Last week, I participated at the District level of the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. For people affiliated with Toastmasters, the International Speech Contest is the Olympics of public speaking. In March, over 30,000 people deliver seven-minute speeches in their home clubs around the world. The winners of those home club contests advance to the Area level, and if they place first again, to the Division level. Those who make it through the Division round go on to the District level. In my District, seven of us had the opportunity to deliver our speech at the District Conference. One of us was chosen to deliver a speech at the semi-finals held at the Toastmasters International Convention this summer in Cincinnati, OH.
As the 2005 World Champions of Speaking pointed out last weekend, a seven-minute speech is a very different experience than giving a keynote address for twenty, thirty, or ninety minutes. Speaking for seven minutes is like shooting an arrow at a target. You either nail it or you miss it. There is no time for warming up, and there is no room for error. That is one of the reasons I participate. I doubt that I will ever be asked in my professional life to give a seven-minute speech. I recognize, though, learning to land a speech effectively in seven minutes with any audience in the world is fantastic training for other speaking opportunities.
The title of my speech was “See the Beauty in All Things.” In one section of my speech, I spoke about the value of learning to see the beauty in the unplanned events that show up in our lives. I talked about how sometimes these unplanned events feel like insurmountable mountains that stand between where we are and where we think we should be. I gave examples of how, when we are willing to see the beauty in even these unplanned events, these road blocks can turn into road maps that guide us to greater joy than we thought was possible.
I am not sure how the audience received my speech. Some said the problems we had with microphones interfered and that my voice was not picked up by the lavaliere microphone. What I do know is that the person who placed first is a friend of mine. He gave the best–hands down–delivery with a message the world needs to hear. His content was brilliant, witty, and fun, and we are fortunate that he is going to represent our District at the International Convention. Seeing another person advance to the International level this year was not an unplanned event or an insurmountable mountain for me. I could easily see the beauty in this outcome. Yet, as I drove home, I noticed I had a feeling of unrest deep inside that I couldn’t quite name or identify.
It took me three days and a little Internet research for the unrest to reveal itself. I looked again at the information about this summer’s Toastmasters International Convention that will be held in Cincinnati, OH. I dreamed of seeing family that lives in Cincinnati, a city that I love, and knew they would have been in the audience had I made it to that level.
Next year, however, the Toastmasters International Convention is in Kuala Lumpur. In Malaysia, homosexuality is not only considered a sin; it is still considered a crime. People can be fined or imprisoned.
There it was. It took me three days, but I finally named the roadblock I mentioned we sometimes face. If I were to make it to the District level again next year, and if I were to make it through to the semi-finals, would I be willing to go to the International Convention? Would I want to travel to and speak in this country? Would I dare to deliver a message with truth and authenticity? How far and in what ways would I be willing to go to be the change I wish to see in the world?
Today I look at this thing that feels like an unplanned roadblock. I study it, looking for the beauty within it. I do believe that when we are able to see the beauty and opportunity, unplanned events guide us in new directions that offer even greater alignment and joy than we dreamed was possible. Stay tuned to find out how this one unfolds. Or, join me in looking at it, studying it, and choosing together how we can see the beauty in all things.