‘’Mohamed, I want you to compete in the international speech contest in 2015!!!’’ Christian, our former Mannheim Toastmasters club president, said to me this sentence after I gave my second speech at our meeting in December 2014. I heard this sentence from him and I felt truly shocked: ‘’was what I heard correct? He really wants me to participate in such a global competitive contest even though I just joined the club two months ago and only after my second speech, or in other words project?’’ (Important hint: In the Toastmasters world a project means a speech with a pre-defined purpose, which is managed through a personal manual that each member receives after joining the organization).
So now let me give you some general facts here. The road to the finals of the world championships of public speaking is similar to the European champions league of football, where the competition is getting more fierce each step you move forward. The only difference is that only the first place winners of each contest qualify for the next stage:
Club Contest –>Area Contest–>Division Contest–>District Contest (Continental Contest ex: European Championship)–>Semi-Finals World Championship–>Finals of the World Championship of Public Speaking.
And our first contest -which is the club one- was planned for March 2015. And according to the organization rules to be qualified to compete, I needed at least to finish six projects (target pre-defined speeches) until that time.
Keeping into consideration the effort needed to find an idea which is matching the target of each project, write a new script, refine and rehearse it. And keep in mind that there are only two club meetings per month and a lot of other members would like to reserve a speaker’s timeslot and enhance their speaking skills. Now that’s not easy.
I spent the time driving home thinking about what Christian said, and my thoughts were bouncing between dreaming about such a new experiment and the honor of winning such a championship, and between the internal resistance within me, fear of the unknown, and going outside of my comfort zone. Finally, I found myself saying: ‘’Well, the meetings for 2014 are over and the next meeting is in 2015. I will relax now and enjoy the Christmas time, stop thinking about this topic temporarily, and see how it will go in 2015’’.
Time passed faster than I thought, and I found myself already in the club meeting at the end of January 2015 giving my third speech, while forgetting on purpose this idea of competing. But at the end of the meeting, Christian our former club president, as well as the other club members, raised the bar higher, and they asked me again -but this time in public- to compete. They also told me that they see me on stage and that they believe that I can win. I told them that I have nothing against the idea of competing, but I was hoping to compete in 2016 when I am prepared and after crafting my skills and gaining more experience, and not directly after less than six months from joining the organization. In the end, I left the meeting with a promise that I will seriously consider it and give them feedback as soon as possible.
I went again to my car, and I was driving back home, and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about what happened, but each time I was saying to myself why not, I also used to find other thousand reasons to say:’’ Mohamed, face it, you are not prepared and you are missing a lot of things before you feel deep inside of you capable of competing’’. While driving, I reached my hand to open my car-Mp3 player, and by coincidence the track which started playing was a motivational track for Eric Thomas where he said: ‘’There will never be a moment in your life, where it’s the right time, to do a great thing. If you waited for that perfect moment or the perfect opportunity, it’s not going to happen. You have to create the perfect time and the perfect opportunity’’.
The next day in the morning, I started my day as usual by searching for something inspirational to read or watch. I am subscribed to a daily free mentorship program called the ‘’Darren Daily’’’. It belongs to Darren Hardy the CEO of Success magazine. I opened the email of Darren to find a short video where he said:’’ Do it now. You cannot afford to wait for perfect conditions. Have the courage to begin. Borrow from the beauty of tomorrow to enroll yourself in the activity of today. Do as Eleanor Roosevelt so wisely instructed, “You must do one thing every day that scares you.” Today take your first scary steps forward toward the achievement of your goals.”
I said to myself: ‘’ ok, it seems that suddenly everything is pushing me to do it, then I think I will give it a try. In the end what is the worst thing which can happen?’’. And I kept my opinion to myself, and I did not share it with anyone else. But deep in the back of my head, I was thinking still about the two main challenges that I am facing: a) How to come up with three ideas and find enough time to write good scripts for the three speeches? b) Where to find the speaker’s timeslots to give them?
One week passed by, and during a typical day at work, I received an email from a friend who is working at John Deere Company asking me to be a guest speaker at their company’s first-demo meeting. I felt worried, and I asked myself: ‘’should I accept this opportunity or not? If I accepted it, maybe this will be a step forward to fulfill the pre-requisites of the contest and finish one of my projects to be eligible to participate, plus that it will be a great opportunity to speak in front of a new audience. But what if I did not find suitable speech content for such an event? And what if I am not prepared well?’’. I kept thinking about all possibilities and was confused until I received an email suddenly from Christian, urging me again to compete (he is a persistent guy, right 🙂 ?) and to participate in the John Deere meeting, then he finally ended his email by writing a sentence which truly inspired me. He wrote: ‘’ go for it. You will have a good chance to advance and will learn through this ”condensed” preparation situation in any case plus if you win, what success in that short time.’’. After I read this sentence, I could not stop myself from writing back to him saying: ‘’Christian, let us do it. Let us rumble in the Jungle.’’
So I participated in the John Deere event, and it went far better than what I was expecting, and later with the support of my family, friends, colleagues at work and of course colleagues from the Toastmasters club, I was able to reach far more than I was ever expecting in 2015.
I passed the club contest by direct nomination, then I participated in the area contest, and I won it, then I followed it by winning the division contest and became the South-West Germany Champion of Public Speaking. And the journey ended with me competing in the European Championship of Public Speaking where I was only 1 step away from reaching the World Championship Semi-finals in America.
Was I afraid? Yes
Was I worried? Yes
Did I have enough time to plan and prepare? Definitely No.
If time goes back would I repeat this journey? Definitely yes and without even hesitating for one second. In fact, I cannot imagine myself not participating in such a fantastic Journey.
I enjoyed every moment on this journey, and by the end of it I discovered that I did not only learn and improve in public speaking, but also I learned three valuable lessons which I can use in my life:
The first lesson that I learned was that, if you kept waiting for the perfect moment or always waited for things to move according to your plan to achieve something, then most probably you will never accomplish anything. The perfect moment may never come and, in this case, you have to create the perfect moment and opportunity for yourself.
The second lesson that I learned was that sometimes the people around you could see things in you that you cannot see yourself. They may even believe in you more than you do. And if you are surrounded with the right people, they will challenge you, support you, lift you up and hold you through your way and push you to stretch your limits and reach things that you maybe never believed possible.
I remember that whenever I used to say to some colleagues at work or at the club that I see it very hard or almost impossible to come up with ideas in this very short time, write three new speeches, rehearse and present them in a good way, they used to tell me: ‘’Maybe it’s impossible for others, but not for you. You belong to the stage Mohamed, and we see you there.’’ And when one day I had to give two different speeches on two different days after each other, and I was worried that I could mix up between both speeches, they used to tell me: ’It will not happen. We know your capabilities, and we truly believe in you.’’
The third and final lesson that I learned was that you will always face internal resistance deep inside of you when you are doing something new because you are leaving your comfort zone. But I discovered that the more you take action, and the more that you work hard on preparing yourself and especially mentally, the more that you will feel relaxed and confident, and the less that you will feel this resistance deep inside of you.
Now, when I look back on this journey, I can imagine Ralph Smedley the founder of Toastmasters Organization when he said his famous sentence which is printed out in every Toastmasters new membership certificate: “Ours is the only organization I know dedicated to the individual, we work together to bring out the best in each of us, and then we apply these skills to help others.”