By Vinette Hoffman-Jackson
On Saturday 13th May 2017, after months of competition, I was selected to represent District 71 (UK & Ireland) in the International Speech Contest in Vancouver, Canada, which was a dream come true. I somehow managed to retain a calm exterior whilst graciously accepting my trophy and giving my thank you speech although butterflies were doing somersaults in my stomach.
After the competition, I exchanged a few smiles and pleasantries then headed to my room where the magnitude of my achievement became apparent and I was overcome by emotions. I laughed, cried, danced a little then called home to share the good news.
The following few weeks leading up to the competition swiftly flew by and I slowly got used to the recognition and the congratulations that came with the title. However, the process taught me some very important lessons
- Do not get complacent!
A few weeks after winning the competition, I gave a speech at Bedford Speakers and the toastmaster of the evening asked everyone to vote based on the experience of the speaker. I messed up one line I did get the Best Speaker ribbon that night. It was a fair decision, as the winner gave a very impressive CC manual speech that night and thoroughly deserved her best speaker ribbon.
There is always room for improvement and we just have to keep working to improve our craft.
- Treat everyone nicely; They may be a judge!
As soon as I exited Vancouver Airport and made my way outside the busy terminal in search of the Light Rail, I noticed a woman staring at me. I felt a bit uncomfortable and sub consciously started checking my attire or if I had accidentally taken the wrong suitcase. She then leaned over to her travelling companion and whispered something. He looked at me nodded and smiled. ‘You’re from District 71, right?’
‘Yes I am’ I responded in slight disbelief at being recognised.
‘We are from Australia. We have been travelling for nearly 24 hours .Our contestant is in your semi final. I was a judge a few years ago but not this year’ he stated.
That conversation attracted the attention of a few other people nearby who were also in town for the convention. It made me realise that every second person I met, not only was a possible Toastmaster but could also be a judge. From that point, I started smiling at every second person I met right up to the time I was knocked out of the competition, after that I only smiled at one in ten.
- The World Clock and your Body Clock do not work in synchronicity!
If you follow my Facebook posts you will have surmised that I wholeheartedly endorse synchronicity. I arrived in Vancouver about midday, which would have been 6pm back in the UK, and as it was dinner time, understandably I was hungry so I headed to the nearest café. After my meal, which is unusual and may have been jet lag ,I fell asleep and slept until 1am. I awoke and my stomach demanded breakfast but of course none was available. So breakfast the first morning was a pack of pretzel from the aeroplane and a left over bar of chocolate from lunch.
I was awake at nights and felt sleepy during the days. I was told later that my the human body takes the same number of days as hours in time difference to adjust. My advice is to fly to the convention a few days ahead of the day your scheduled to speak so your body clock can synchronise with the world clock.
- Inform your bank when you travel abroad
On the 21st of August, I turned up at my hotel and attempted to check in at reception with my credit card. I confidently walked up the receptionist and pleasantly greeted her with a smile and said ‘Good afternoon Miss, I have a booked room under the name Vinette Hoffman-Jackson, As she processed my payment took time to glance around the foyer , smiling at anyone who made eye contact with me.
My confidence was short lived as she cleared her throat, diplomatically lowered her voice, and whispered ‘I am sorry, but your card has been declined’
I leaned in closer, glanced around and whispered’ Are you sure? Could you please try again ‘and chuckled nervously. Once again, it was declined. I must have an honest face because they allowed me to check in and requested that I come down in the morning when the banks in the UK were opened to clear up the matter, which I did.
- You only need a few shoes
As I started packing for my trip in May, I kept adding things to my bag without checking what was already there. So on arrival I found out that I had packed 12 pairs of shoes for a four-day convention. As I did not want to feel like a complete idiot, I ended up wearing heels to Starbucks each morning to get my coffee, smiling with every second person in the queue.
On the return leg of my journey a strange thing happened as the same suitcase with the same contents was overweight. I am guessing broken dreams and disappointment weigh more than glorious expectations.
- Be 100% present in the moment
Shortly before I left for the competition, I received some challenging news; and while it was expected, it was very ill timed. It haunted my every thought and this slight distraction affected me much more than I thought it would.
Competition at this level is not only about reciting a speech; you need to connect with your audience. You have to be there physically, emotionally and mentally.
- Regardless of how bad you are feeling, someone else may be feeling worse.
On the morning after the semi-finals in Vancouver, I took a trip out to Stanley Park and sat at a table reflecting on my disappointing loss and my journey so far. An African American woman approached my table and asked if she could sit at my table and even though I was not in the mood for company, I said yes. We got engaged in a mundane conversation until she was joined by a young man (Remember lesson number 2?) Well it turned out that both were toastmasters. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the speech contest and I explained how disappointed I felt. My news was greeted by a wide smile from the young gentleman which was perplexing.
‘Well consider this’ he says ‘ I have been trying for about 6 years to win and last year I came second but this year I did not even place in my semi-finals!’ His name was Aaron Beverly. That cheered me up immediately. (Insert sorry emoji). He then issued a challenge for August 2018 in Chicago and I accepted.
This accidental meeting reinforced what a wonderful organisation toastmasters is; It teaches resilience, camaraderie and gives you the motivation to keep trying
- Be a good sport!
Despite my exit from the competition, our neighbouring District 91 still had a competitor in the final so I showed up on Saturday night ready to cheer on fellow Brit Simon Bucknall. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I was fortunate enough to be seated next to Patricia O’Reilly who had a wonderful sense of humour as we sat watching all the speakers on stage.
- Enjoy the moment
Toastmasters are unique! They are friendly, supportive, humorous helpful and so much more. Networking with people from all over the world with a common interest was great. I spoke to people from over 30 different countries in one day.
I sincerely hope every toastmaster get the experience of attending a convention at least once. It is the most amazing experience ever!!