What is my message? Thoughts on the “Speak” documentary.

Three weeks ago I attended a screening of the documentary “Speak” at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD. This documentary (now available on iTunes) had a special significance to me because it follows the 2008 Toastmasters International Speech Contest. The spring of 2008 was my first foray into the International contest and that year my entry was a persuasive speech on the importance of political participation tied together with American Idol references. After an upset victory at Divisions, I had the privilege of going on to compete at the District 78 Spring Conference ten hours away from Sioux Falls, SD in Williston, ND. At the conference we were introduced to a group of filmmakers who stated that they were interested in filming footage for their documentary on public speaking. They even asked me to sign a release saying it was all right to use video of me in their documentary. Now I am not in the documentary “Speak”, the culmination of that filming, but there is an interview with Rich Breiner, who placed second in Williston ahead of my third place finish.

That day I had one person tell me that they liked my speech, but “they never win”. One of the district Lieutenant Governors told me that I needed to tell “personal stories”. My normal strategy of attempting to cram as much research in seven minutes, wasn’t going to cut it anymore. So every International speech contest since I have been attempting to incorporate stories about myself into my contest speeches.

But watching this documentary has led me to believe that I have been going about it completely wrong.

This is a only a slight spoiler, but late in the film one of the finalists, Rich Hopkins, gave the following discussion he had with his wife:

Can I go about this contest in a way that I’m not all about the win? I’m not all about competing and trying to be the best in that moment and be the best speaker, but to get up and give a message and if I don’t win to be happy for the other contestants. To be a better loser than perhaps I’ve been in the past.

And in what seems like a sign that this advice I really need to heed, a week ago, I attended a workshop by Ryan Avery titled “How to Make It a Great Speech”. He received advice from a world-class speaker that he should never “give a speech again” and only give “messages from the heart”.

My International Speech from last Saturday never really was able to develop the message that I thought it could. I am not sure I have given more than a couple speeches in my life that had a true message from the heart.

I haven’t faced the adversity of the finalists in “Speak”. I have long lamented that it seems like you can’t be a professional speaker unless you have suffered from some injury or disease (three of those featured in the documentary had lupus, an amputated foot and a heart attack in the previous year). I know that isn’t (completely) true, but one of my biggest goals this year is to determine the what I want to accomplish as a speaker.

I have spent a lot of time thinking in the last month about what I want my message to be. Some day I am going to figure it out.

Image credit: http://speakthemovie.com/

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3 comments on “What is my message? Thoughts on the “Speak” documentary.
  1. […] was walking home from a workout with my wife, when I shared with her my recent reflection on my need for a “message” in my public speaking. After a little bit of discussion, she reframed the question in a way that […]

  2. […] have written extensively (here, here, and here) on my need to improve my storytelling and ability to stay on message during my […]

  3. […] I have also wrote about previously, Speak and the 2008 Toastmasters International speech contest hold a special significance to me […]

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