As I write this column in early August, I'm enjoying baseball's pennant race, and I maintain a slender hope for a Houston-Kansas City World Series. Football season will soon give me opportunity to root for Big Red Nebraska and the Oilers, and basketball will give me the Rockets and Kansas University, K-State, and Missouri. Although my sports appreciation is evident, comments of a friend help keep it in perspective. What does it mean, personally, when my team wins? Am I better because I happen to live in the right city? Does it make me smarter when my college's teams win? No, beyond its entertaining value, sports offer very little for a spectator.
To extend this observation to Toastmasters, one may ask, then, "why do we have contests?" I contend that different principles apply. Ask yourself: would as many people come to see a speech exhibition as they do a speech competition? I think not. Beyond the fact that we like to see "who's the best," there are other distinctions in favor of a contest. Most contestants spend a prodigious amount of time polishing and practicing their speech. In contests, we see Toastmasters using everything they have learned to demonstrate their optimal abilities. A Toastmasters' contest is much more than a battle for a trophy or an entertaining event; it's a presentation of speaking skills to the highest degree -- skills that we strive to emulate. The Toastmasters' contest is a unique opportunity to watch and learn what factors are in a superior speaker, a textbook come to life.
In this season of contests, I hope my viewpoint will encourage you to attend your Area, Division, and, especially, District contest. I guarantee that you will meet friends, have fun, and improve your knowledge of speaking. But don't stop there. Take that excitement and knowledge and begin preparing your speech for the Spring contest! Enter a club contest and discover to what limits you can stretch your own talents; then push them just a little beyond that point. That's when you join the cycle of learning and stretching that will take you to the pinnacle of speaking expertise. I'll see you at the top!