The Road to Washington

The Road to Washington

What does it take to become a champion? Interview with Tania Ehman, District 21 International Speech Champion

Where did you get the idea for your contest-winning speech?
Oh, my goodness. Ideas just come to me and I get inspired! With the speech that won the contest “The Pebble to Pearl Ratio” I started thinking about the essence of people and how much we can hurt others with our words or the way we speak, and how long those hurting words can stay with us. Hurting words are like throwing pebbles in water, the ripples go outwards so far. Then, in an evaluation, someone said to me ‘I have some pearls for you’ and I put the idea of helpful pearls together with the hurtful pebbles and the speech came together.

Did you get support from your club members?
Oh yes, I had feedback from my club all the way through. They made me much more comfortable as a speaker. I belong to Sooke Harbour Toastmasters – it’s the best club in all of Toastmasters. I was so sick the week before the District conference that I made up my mind I would not go to compete. My club members discovered I was sick and they made this video and sent it to me – they had bought pompoms and were acting, dancing to music. I watched it and I thought, “I can do anything!” So I loaded up and came across to the conference. It taught me to just do it. You’ll never gain if you don’t try. You must choose to take a chance even if it scares you – it’s the only way to change.

Did you get help from anyone else?
I was amazed at the offers of help I’ve had from all over District 21. I’ve been overwhelmed by the offers, by people calling and Skyping, people mentoring me, telling me where and why the speech doesn’t work. One group of people gave up a whole sunny Sunday to help me. It was truly amazing. I’ve had help with everything, with structure, staying on track, keeping my stories relevant to my message, even someone helping me become mentally and physically prepared for contests. Even Ted Corcoran, who came from Ireland to be our keynote speaker at the conference, took time to help me. He pointed out the weaknesses in my speech. He explained my style of speaking – he called it “cognitive gymnastics” – that I made a mystery about what I was saying until I finally got around to the point. I had to unlearn my habit of speaking about everything else before I got to what I really wanted to say. I’ve realized that you don’t climb this mountain alone, you do it as a group. I couldn’t do it by myself.

Tell me about your contest speech
I’m not going to do the same speech in Washington that I did at the conference. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not strong enough to win at the higher level. The “Pebble to Pearl Ratio” speech is lacking some essentials. When I tried to change it I found it lost its essence. So I’m struggling to write a new speech. I’ve narrowed down a whole lot of ideas and I’ve come up with the meat of what I want to say. Once it comes together fully I’ve got invitations from many clubs to present it to them. As soon as it’s ready I’ll be doing that.

Meanwhile I’ve pulled enough layers from enough onions so that I’ve finally come to the right message. It’s one I can share and know it is worth seven minutes of people’s time. It’s a huge honour to be in that position. I feel that I have a huge responsibility to do that justice and to say something really worthwhile.

What is it like facing the large conference audience as a contestant?
I find that I face one audience at a time, starting with the club, and I don’t think of
anything else. Last year was my first year in the International speech contest and I
made it to the District but I didn’t place.

This year my goal was to place at the District. So when they called out the third place
winner, then the second place winner and I hadn’t heard my name I whispered to my
sister, “Oh, darn. I’d hoped to place.” Then they called my name in first place, as the contest winner. I thought “Oh, darn! What have I done?” I felt like a fish out of water. Then I thought, “Here’s where I find myself. This is my opportunity – I’ll take it with both hands.”

What would you say to Toastmasters thinking of competing next time?
I’d say “Do it! You’ll never gain if you don’t try. Take a chance. You must choose to take that chance, even if it scares you. It’s the only way to change.