THE CONSTANT CONTESTANT

By Audrey Dargan, competing since 1982

I joined The University Club in 1982.  At that time I had a job with the Australian National University as a Staff Counsellor.  My role was a heavy one, and looking back now, I realise the emotional pressures on me were great.

Then a public speaking club was formed at the ANU, The University Club, and in 1982 and I became a Charter member.  At first I was nervous and found Table Topics very challenging.  However, I blossomed in the support and companionship of the group.  I began to look forward to meetings as the highlight of my week and I joined the Club Executive and began to take part in the Club Speech Contests.

In 1985 my Mother died.  Her death was not unexpected and she was 90 + years, yet I suffered physically and mentally at her loss.  I found a way of coping with this was to write a speech expressing how faith in God could bring healing in grief by comparing God to an Eagle with outstretched wings catching eaglets as they fell from great heights in their attempts to learn to fly.  That speech took me to the District Speech Contest: “What Manner of Bird is the Eagle?”  I found a blouse with beautiful colours depicting wings and I opened my arms at the end of the speech and finished with a quote from the Bible: “What Manner of Bird is the Eagle? That the King of Kings and Lord of Lords likens himself Unto It!”  I did not get a place at District but the speech was well received.

After this experience, I began to look outward and explore possibilities: I took long service leave from the ANU and studied at UNSW for my Masters in Social Work, graduating in 1989 at the age of 61.

I was hooked on performing.  I loved the sense of connection with the audience and the power of speech to transform thought and emotion.  I became a constant contestant over the next thirty years.

The University Club, and other clubs such as University II and Sunday Brunch brought me further joy over so many years.  I loved to take part in the Humorous Speech Contests where disasters could be laughed at with others.

Although, I always felt nervous before giving a speech, I have never lost the joy in communicating with an audience.  Just last semester I had to give a presentation with a nineteen year old in my Ancient Greek History Class (I am now 89) and we both got 8/10 for our effort.  I couldn’t have done that without all the training with Toastmasters.

Has Toastmasters International changed much over the 34 years I have been a member?  Well, yes, I think it has streamlined its programmes and perhaps has more of a corporate image.  What hasn’t changed is the recognition that enabling people to find their individual voice in a supportive group is the best way to encourage personal growth.

Will I compete in another contest?  If I can stand on my own two legs! 

I thank Toastmasters International and especially The University Club for a wonderful journey.