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Is Second Place a Failure?

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Kate Atkin

Corporate Public Speaking Challenge

As I mentioned in my last post, two years ago I discovered the theory of the Imposter Phenomenon while studying for a masters in positive psychology. This led me to realise that my own internal voices, which for years have been telling me that “I wasn’t good enough” or “if I didn’t do things 100% perfect it was a huge failure”, are actually false and quite common.

Now, I knew that intellectually before I came across the psychological term, but learning more about the phenomenon has helped me to understand and work on overcoming the feelings. So when I was offered the chance to compete in this year’s corporate speaking challenge I said yes, before really thinking about the consequences.

The finals were held in Bloomsbury House in London, last week and I gave a well-received 6-minute speech on the given topic of “everything needs to change so everything can stay the same”.  And I came second. So does that mean I failed? Well, if I listened to my Imposter talking I not only failed, but I AM a failure.  But is that really true? Most people would probably rather visit the dentist than take part in a public speaking competition.

It is true that I failed to get first place, but I also know the judges took ages over their deliberations between first & second place, and I know that I did my best on the night, and I know from feedback that others thought it was a very good, and informative, speech. I also know that justifying the second-place position is another of my imposter traits!

Michael Ronayne, director of the College of Public Speaking said “The Corporate Speaking Challenge brings together a wide range of accomplished speakers from all walks of society in a contest to test the fluency and credibility of the individual speakers. To be the runner up in a very strong field is a great achievement and Kate’s performance, talking about control, connection and purpose was worthy of the prize. She has great poise and a very relaxed and relatable manner. She engages naturally and draws the listener in with ease.”

Then this Friday I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 in the car about the BBC New Comedy Awards. Guess what struck me? A number of now highly successful comedians came second.  Did those placed second view themselves as failures and give up, or did they go on to pursue their craft? Some of our best-known and well-loved comedians came second, or weren’t even placed, when they entered the Awards. I’ll take solace from that.

So is second place a failure? No, real failure would have been finding an excuse not to take part at all.

If you find yourself making excuses not to speak in public, or find yourself reluctant to speak up in meetings or wish to brush up on your skills, then join me on 7th December at 6.30pm at St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge for a glass of wine, a nibble of cheese and some sharing of presentation tips.

To book, sign up via Eventbrite and make a donation on the night to help raise funds for Arthur Rank Hospice.

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