A lot can happen in just five seconds. This week I was reminded of the significant impact 5 seconds can have. On Wednesday night I competed in my Toastmasters club’s International Speech Contest and despite having a solid speech and feeling like a rockstar when I delivered it, I was disqualified – for time.

I was over time by just five seconds… and the words I said during those five extra seconds were not needed. I added a concluding statement that was unnecessary. It was redundant. It served no purpose. And I knew as soon as I said it that I went over my time. 

As a curious reflective practitioner, I had many questions. What happened? What would I do differently next time? And, what I can I learn from this?  

What happened?

Comfort and complacency. The first two words that came to mind as I reflected on my speech and preparation for it.  

Over 17 years as a Toastmaster, I have competed many times in this contest, and competed at the District level 3 times. My comfort in competition and comfort with “knowing” how much time I have when the red light comes on, led me to take unnecessary risks with my timing. You could say I was “too comfortable.”

It isn’t easy to admit complacency. This is, however,  exactly where I know I need to be paying attention. My comfort comes from my complacency.  This sense of calmness that prevents me from trying harder, and truly challenging myself to do better.  If I hadn’t taken my experience for granted, I would have paid closer attention to what was happening during my speech. 

Man, sometimes reflections can be painful. 

What would I do differently next time? 

I really loved writing and preparing this speech. It speaks from my heart, and is a story that I want to share. However, I didn’t take the time to really practice it in delivery.

My “do differently” is to practice more and time myself each time I deliver it – to nail the timing of my speech. I want to go back to the tried and true best practices I used to use in my early years of competition. I know this will make the difference for me next year when I compete again.

What can I learn from this? 

There are many new insights. The three most significant are:

  1. Watch out for comfort and complacency. Noticing the dangers of comfort and complacency in my speech, I started to look at where else in my business and life might this be showing up. When we get complacent, we stop stretching and growing. Proactively looking for comfort and complacency in ourselves can be part of our regular practice.
  2. Manage the time.  While time is connected with comfort and complacency, I realized that this lesson is its own important message for me.  Just because I can speak for 7 minutes and 30 seconds, doesn’t mean I need to use it all.  Pushing the limits and finishing “just in time” creates a pressure that I have come to enjoy – but it doesn’t serve me.  
  3. Practice. Practice. Practice. Any time I have worked towards mastery of anything, it has been the time “on the mat” that has truly transformed my skills. It doesn’t matter if you are brand new, or a seasoned veteran, the moment we stop practicing we stop growing and improving. 

It is humbling being disqualified for time after so much experience competing. I never imagined I could learn so much from just 5 seconds. I am grateful for the lessons.