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The bad call

Bad calls and unlucky breaks don’t just happen in baseball. They once happened to me in Toastmasters. Whether they happen in baseball or Toastmasters, they offer a lesson, if you’re willing to accept it.

In 1999, I competed in an evaluation speech contest. The object of the contest is to listen to a brief speech and then give a 2-3 minute evaluation of it. A panel of judges scores the evaluators and picks the winners. As in Little League All-Stars, we advance through several levels of competition. First, there is a club contest. Then, the club winners go on to the area contest. The area contest winners compete in a division contest. In 1999, I had won at all of these levels until I came to the highest level of the evaluation contest, the district contest. My club belonged to Toastmasters Founder’s District, which covers all of Orange County and parts of eastern Los Angeles County. It was the first district created in Toastmasters. Competing at the Founder’s District contest is a big deal.

When I gave my evaluation at that contest, it was one of those experiences where I felt I was at my peak. Everything just flowed. Not only did I give what I thought was a solid analysis of the speech, I engaged the audience and got laughs and smiles from the group. Even the person I was evaluating enjoyed herself. When I was finished, they gave me a strong round of applause. I wasn’t thinking about winning that day. I felt satisfied and proud that I gave an exceptional speech.

The time came to announce the winners. The winners are announced by the district governor. He was given a sheet of paper with the first, second, and third place winners, but only first and second place are announced and get the trophies.

He announced the second-place winner. Then, he announced the winner. It wasn’t me. I figured that maybe the judges didn’t like my speech, or I went overtime, which would have disqualified me. But the audience didn’t seem to agree with the decision. There were confused murmurs throughout the crowd. Then, the district governor said, “Wait a minute. I’m sorry. I read the results wrong. The real winner is–” The chief judge stopped him. She said, “The results are as they were announced, and they cannot be changed.” I appealed to the chief judge, but she said she couldn’t tell me the real winner.

I was devastated. I didn’t know whether or not I was the true winner, but I knew that I could have been. I felt angry and humiliated. I slipped out of the ballroom as fast as I could. I sat in my car for about ten minutes. I was too upset to drive. All I knew was that I was done with Toastmasters, and would never be a part of it again.  

Still too upset to drive, I got out of my car. A couple of my friends saw me in the parking lot. They asked if I were OK. I wasn’t. So, they asked if I can join them for dinner. They spent time with me and let me vent. The second-place winner of the contest felt so bad for me that she gave me her trophy. She said she already had enough trophies, and she wanted to cheer me up. After a while, I composed myself enough to head home.

Eventually, I got over what happened at that contest. The district governor apologized to me, but he couldn’t undo the results of the contest. I never matched the level of performance that I gave in 1999, but I did win more contests. I came in second in the district contest in 2001. In 2003, I finally made it to district level in the International speech contest, Toastmasters’ most prestigeous speaking event. In 2004, I earned my Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest award in Toastmasters. I wouldn’t have accomplished those things if I simply gave up after that disasterous contest.

Bad calls and unlucky breaks do happen. The key thing isn’t to dwell on them, but to recover and move on. We can grow from our setbacks. I did from that contest.

1 Comment

  1. Mark Perew

    Matt –
    I’m glad you didn’t quit.  I’ve learned from the presentations I’ve seen you give.  I remember your 2003 contest speech.  I don’t think I’ve witnessed a better sound effect in a speech, than hearing the ripping duct tape as you described your experiences.  It was very well done.
    Most of all, I’ve learned from the evaluations I’ve received from you and the evaluations I’ve seen you give to others.  You’re very, very good.  Your skills in giving Icebreaker evaluations are superb.
    It is sad that the Chief Judge in your 1999 contest did not know the rules.  She was supposed to interrupt and give the correct results, not prevent the correction.  Toastmasters, being a group of volunteers and mostly amateurs, does have this problem.
    Even with that occasional problem, TM is still a great organization.  I’m glad to have met you there, and to have been honored to benefit from your participation.