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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 30 - Off Days

We all have off days.

One of mine came during the run-up to the Toastmasters International Speech contest in 2006. I made it a goal that year to progress to at least  the district level competition, one of ten speakers representing 2000 members of Founders District in Orange and Los Angeles counties, an extremely difficult goal to achieve.

It started off well. My club sent me to the area contest, where I had no competition, which meant that all I had to do was give a speech in the required amount of time and I’d move on to the division contest, which I did.

As part of my preparation for the next level, I scheduled myself to present the speech three days before the contest at the local district Speakers Bureau, a particularly tough crowd. If my speech could pass their critique, I was well on the way to winning the division.

Because I had never given this speech in contested competition, I wanted feedback. And did I ever get it. The group roasted that speech so badly that I knew it would never win anything. I dumped the speech.

Suddenly, two days before the big contest, I had no speech. The one I’d practiced was useless and I had no backup.

Often when I need to think, I take a walk. The afternoon after that devastating critique, after spending the morning thinking all was lost, I went for a walk. For a while nothing happened. After fifteen minutes a few ideas started to take hold. I thought back to the most influential person in my life, who happened to be a high school physical education teacher. What was his lesson that could help me with my problem? The answer was easy: never quit.

The more I walked, the more the outlines of a speech came into focus. It became less about the lesson and more about the person and how he had influenced me. By the time I returned home, I knew what my speech would be.

After practicing that evening and part of the next day, I proclaimed the speech ready.

On Saturday morning, I entered the contest room confident that my speech was competitive. I had heard the other competitors and knew they could also compete. As the five speakers presented their speeches, I listened and silently practiced. I spoke last. When the toastmaster introduced me, I launched into my presentation with total confidence that this was the best speech I could give at this time and in this place.

At the end of the night, they announced the winners. I didn’t get third place. I didn’t get second place. I couldn’t imagine one of the other speakers winning. Then the contest toastmaster called my name and presented me with the division contest trophy.

With that, I achieved my goal of participating in the district contest in front of 200 people at the district conference a few weeks later. It was an incredible experience and, although I didn’t win that contest, I did win my own contest with myself.

I often see people who are devastated by a harsh critique. Yes, it is difficult to hear your work taken apart by others. However, it is a necessary part of life. Most of the time, we are too close to our work to see the flaws. At times we desperately want it to be right and refuse to acknowledge that it isn’t.

That evening critique that destroyed my speech was an incredible moment of growth. In the aftermath, I realized that to complete I needed to step up to a new level in my speaking. I needed to dump all the ego involved in the old presentation and put everything I had into a new presentation that worked.

The next time you are inclined to look at a critique as an attack on you, consider the following: Those who gave you feedback were giving you their genuine reaction to your work. They have no agenda other than to help you improve.

Three of the most powerful moments of growth for me came as the result of a devastating critique that I answered with a determined effort to improve, not just a little but a lot. The next time you get criticized, don’t sulk and criticize back, learn from it and improve.

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