SWEDESBORO — Fatherhood has had unintended consequences for Bryan Hayden. His Facebook postings about it helped him develop a legion of followers, and they became the basis for a contest-winning speech.
As this fall’s Southwestern New Jersey (District 38, Division D, Area 5) humorous speech champion, the 33-year-old Hayden is the first person to win a Toastmasters speech contest as a representative of the Swede Talkers, a club based in Swedesboro, N.J. The club was formed in April 2010.
“The other groups had a lot more people coming out,” said Hayden, who delivered his winning speech in Haddonfield, N.J. “They would have someone for Table Topics, someone for the speech contest, and they had a lot more of their supporters there. Since we were very under-represented in numbers but still won, I felt like that was really great.”
Had Hayden not been persuaded to enter, the Swede Talkers would not have been represented in the contest. He first delivered his speech, “The First Year of Fatherhood,” during a club meeting. Although it was very well received, it wasn’t intended to be humorous. His challenge was to make it funny – funny enough to be contest worthy.
“When my son was in his first year, I used to write about him every week,” explained Hayden, a director of portfolio analytics for Sun National Bank. “I would put what I would write on Facebook. What was interesting is I started to get this following, and it started to grow and grow. I was thinking I didn’t want to have this thing go forever, so I decided once he became 1 year old I’d stop writing about him, so that’s what I did.
“Afterward, I was thinking about all the things I wrote about him, and I said, ‘Let me take a few of these things and turn it into a speech.’ That’s how it came to be.”
Hayden’s son, Logan James, will be 2 years old in January. Each week during Logan’s first year, Hayden recorded 10 observations and experiences that he posted on Facebook. That gave him 520 anecdotes to choose from, so he had more than enough material to inject humor into what had been a straight speech.
What he found most difficult was transitioning from one unrelated anecdote to another to make the speech smooth. He also needed to avoid entries he considered to be “inside jokes,” and he had to figure out which of his entries would have the most mass appeal.
He delivered his remodeled speech during a mid-September club meeting and asked his fellow Toastmasters to offer criticisms and comments. That helped him fine-tune the speech for the area competition, and he emerged the champion from among four contestants.
“It was kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time,” Hayden, a Woolwich Township resident, said of winning in his first Toastmasters competition. “It was a blessing because I felt great that I ended up winning it. The curse part was that I had to go give it again on a much higher level against the winners of other area contests.
“I’m getting more comfortable speaking publicly, but it’s definitely not something that comes naturally to me. Giving the speech in a higher-pressure environment was kind of tough. When I was giving the speech in the first contest, I was using my notes, and I got a lot of criticism for that. The second time I gave the speech, I made sure that I gave it without any notes at all. That was an extra challenge.”
The second contest was the Division D championship, which brought area champions from Central and South Jersey together in Mount Laurel, N.J. Hayden expected to be speaking in front of a much larger audience, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, he found himself addressing a much older one, which surprised him. There were a couple of other surprises, too.
“It’s a humorous speech contest, so there’s a lot of pressure to be funny,” Hayden said. “Even though I didn’t win the second time, I felt as though I got the most laughs of everybody. I think there’s more to it than just getting laughs. I think they’re looking for almost like a checklist: ‘Let me see your body language, your eye contact, your vocal variety …’ Those are the types of things that they’re scoring on. You could have the funniest speech and still lose.”
Hayden did not win the divisional championship and he didn’t finish second, but that’s all he knows. Although he found competing to be a good and educational experience, he didn’t find it as educational as it could have been.
“I think the one thing that’s really missing from the competition is that you don’t get any feedback from the judges in regard to how they scored, what you could have improved on. You’re pretty much in the dark as to why you didn’t win,” said Hayden.
“I don’t know if they’ll ever say, ‘Here, take a look at the score sheets,’ because I think they like to shred those afterward. Even if they could give your overall average score from all the judges was X, I think that would be helpful.”
Hayden, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Oct. 20 by running 12 miles, has been a member of the Swede Talkers for about a year. He is well on his way toward earning his Competent Communicator Competent Leader citations. Hayden is the Swede Talkers’ VP of Education.