After hours of preparation and hundreds of repetitions of the same speech, former Ahwatukee Toastmasters member Michael Desiderio took home his fourth second-place trophy from the International Speech Contest last week.
The competition starts every year among different clubs. Desiderio is a member of the Dobson Ranch Toastmasters, formally known as Ahwatukee Toastmasters.
Once a competitor wins from their club they move on to the next level and then the next until, finally, 82 district-level winners go on to the semi-finals in Las Vegas. Nine winners from the semi-finals move on to the finals.
Desiderio has won second place four times and third once but has never made it to the final round. It's something that's a little disappointing, but he says it gives him courage to keep trying.
"I really do want to get on that world championship stage," Desiderio said. "It would give me the opportunity to speak to a whole different audience and with a different message. I feel good, a little disappointed, but I respect the process."
Competitors deliver one presentation from the beginning until through the semi-finals. If they make it through the semi-finals they deliver a whole new speech at the finals. Desiderio's speech was called "You are Here."
"It was about embracing who you are now," Desiderio said. "I categorize it as a paradox that we're so focused on what will bring us happiness that many people are miserable. It's about recognizing that things are good here no matter what the circumstances might be. I used some funny stories but also real-life stories to illustrate that. I used the fact that I have a 15-month-old son who has inherited from me a rare genetic disease. Long story short, he has sort of been the inspiration for this because if you know anything about little kids all they know is being right here right now and having fun in the moment. It's inspiring, or at least it was for me, because he has reminded me that what's really important is loving ourselves where we are now. Not that we shouldn't try to get better, and I talk about that, but happiness really comes from embracing who you are now."
Desiderio says he can't count the amount of time he spent practicing his speech. He has in the past year, now that he has a son, learned to practice at times when it won't interfere with his family time.
"Once my son came along 15 months ago, we both tried to have kids for so long and it never happened and then here comes this miracle as far as we're concerned, it sort of made me put in the practice and the time when I should be sleeping. I don't take the time away from him," Desiderio said. "It does take a lot of dedication and hours and hours of practice.
"For me it's in solitude, recording myself, video recording myself and playing it back and studying it, rewriting every word of the speech and looking for ways to make it better. If you were to pull up next to me at a stop light this time of year you would think I'm on a cell phone hands free but I'm basically reciting my speech while I travel to meetings. I think most people at this level it's just what you do if you want to win."
Desiderio says he will compete again next year and he encourages anyone else to join the competition as well. His advice for those thinking of joining: "I would say that if you're fortunate enough to ever enter a speech contest, and I think everyone should consider doing it if they're in Toastmasters, have fun, enjoy the process and try to give something to the audience or to those around you in your life that you care about and interact with. At the end of the day that's really what life is about."
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