In August 2012, Podium member Yan Li, competed in the semi-finals at the International Speech contest in Orlando, Florida. Yan joined Podium in November 2009 and had barely completed her first 10 speeches in the Competent Communicator manual when she advanced to the world stage. Here she shares what she learned from competing.
Q: What have you learned from your journey to the semi-finals?
A: I learned a lot from the process, from finding the right message to using the stage. I received valuable feedback from my evaluators. I am definitely a better speaker than before the competition. As a person, the competition helped me to realize my potential and to focus on my objectives. It helped me to believe in myself more and not be afraid of making mistakes. You never work on a speech so hard until you compete. It was an amazing journey.
Q: What perhaps did you feel was the biggest challenge at the semi-finals?
A: One challenge was to stay excited about a speech I’ve presented many times before the semi-finals. It was also a challenge to get psychologically prepared for the competition. In the semi-finals, I drew the first speaker position. Never before had I drawn as the first speaker. I was either the second last or last speaker to go up. Psychologically I was not fully prepared to speak first.
Q: If you compete again, what do you plan to do differently?
A: When competing, you have to take risks in your speech. If you have a good but risky idea for a speech, try to make it work for your speech. Don’t be afraid. The people who left lasting impressions and stood out were the ones who took risks. To transform a good speech to a good competition speech, you will not only need good material but also outstanding delivery techniques. Next time I compete, I’ll work more on my delivery to leave a lasting impression.
Q: Gord Wilson from our club is your mentor. In what ways did he help you in your journey?
A: Gord encouraged me to compete at the club contest, although I didn’t accept his offer at first. That was the start of everything. He was always there to support me. From the moment I won District 60, he already had a plan for me for the next few months. He put in a tremendous amount of work to fill my speaking calendar so I could practice my speech in front of different audiences. I didn’t have to contact any clubs for practice. He accompanied me to most of my presentations. When he could not attend, he arranged other club members to accompany me. I told him that I didn’t always need people to come with me. He simply smiled and said, “I know. But I don’t want you to go alone.” When I had doubts about different ideas, he encouraged me and said, “Try it out. You never know.” What made him a great mentor is that he encouraged and supported me, as well as members in every club we visited.
Q: How did the District support you?
A: People in the District were really excited for me. Gord had never seen anything like this in the District. Past District Governor Phyrne Parker helped me to connect with 2009 World Champion of Public Speaking Mark Hunter who provided amazing help. The District organized events to help me get feedback from larger audiences. Other District leaders like Ross McKay, Vicky Moskowitz, Allan Madonik, Carol Donohue and countless others were extremely supportive. Many experienced members like Kathryn Mackenzie spent hours helping me improve every little detail of my speech. At the end of the preparation, it really wasn’t about me anymore. I really wanted to win for everyone who helped me.
Q: Why do you think your speech stood up above head and shoulders above the rest to carry you so far?
A: I guess my speech really touched my audience’s hearts. From a speaker’s point of view, I saw the faces of the audience. I saw people tearing up. My speech was about an important yet ordinary person in my life: my father. Someone once wrote to me, “I like your ‘Ordinary Man’ speech because my father was an ordinary man.” Comments like this made me smile and I felt all the troubles I went through to prepare the speech were worth it.
Q: What changes did you make to your speech along the way?
A: The message evolved along the way. At the beginning it was about how much time I had spent listening to my father. Then it was about my father taking the responsibilities as a father and how it affected me. I was never truly satisfied with the message until I realized how my father’s words and actions showed me the way from ordinary to extraordinary. I found it was a very philosophical process.