Keefe Toastmasters trophiesThese are some of the trophies that I’ve won in various contests since joining Toastmasters. When I began to compete, these trophies were the prime motivator for me. I wanted one in every contest I entered, and the one I wanted most was the first-place trophy!

Now as a more seasoned speaker, I understand something that some of my Toastmasters peers told me years ago. The value of entering competitions isn’t the hardware you might acquire. It’s the personal growth that you obtain in the effort and experience.

In Toastmasters, and in other areas of our lives, we compete against ourselves, not against each other. When we compete against someone else, we focus energy on ways to “overcome” that person. To “one-up” them. Perhaps to belittle or beat them down in a fruitless effort to make ourselves look or feel better than them.

That is selfish and self-centered thinking that, in its extreme, is destructive to relationships and self-esteem.

When we compete against ourselves, we focus energy on ways to overcome past mistakes and obstacles that achieved a certain result. By learning from our mistakes and exploring ways to overcome those obstacles, we improve and move forward.

I can compete against myself and still support and cheer for someone else who is in the same “arena” as me. That is part of the reason why some teams succeed; each member works to do his or her best, while supporting each others’ efforts.

Another key is that, by not considering others as my “competition,” I remain open to learning from them, which can provide insights and ideas that I otherwise wouldn’t think by myself. That is the another reason why some team succeed; each member remains teachable and absorbs lessons from the experience and perspective of fellow teammates.

Early on, I didn’t work with other Toastmasters when I wrote and delivered my speeches in contests. I was competitive to a fault, and my speaking and delivery skills suffered–even when I occasionally took first place.

Today, I practice my speeches in Toastmasters meeting attended, in part, by people with whom I will share the stage at speech contests. We offer each other pointed, practical suggestions and encourage each other to do our best.

Each of us still wants to take home the trophy, of course. But I can say, for myself, that I have peace when I deliver a speech as well as I possibly could—even if someone else’s speech and delivery is rated higher that day by the judges.

And I can applaud my fellow contestants enthusiastically, because they, like me, know that the person they are competing against is themselves.

If you would like me to address your group or organization on the topic of teamwork, competition, speaking skills or a related topic, contact me.