Meet the District 83 Evaluation Contest Winner, Paul Ireifej

After three rounds of competition at club, area, and division contests, nine contestants from across District 83 gathered at the APA Hotel in Woodbridge, New Jersey on May 5, 2019 for the District 83 Evaluation Contest during the conference, Transforming the World with Words.

Evaluations are one of the most important parts of Toastmasters in that members get  feedback on performance, then incorporate those suggestions to improve future speeches. As test speaker, Mary Ann Grady, took the stage that morning, the nine contestants took meticulous notes to deliver their feedback to her. Hopefully, their feedback would be the most acute, insightful, and helpful to the speaker.

It was a tough competition! Paul Ireifeg, DTM of AT&T Toastmasters, took home the win.

Aida Murphy, DTM and Division F Director, interviewed Paul about how he got his start in Toastmasters and how he prepared to give one of his most important evaluations to date.

Why did you join Toastmasters?

I was forced (or maybe strongly encouraged?) to join Toastmasters by my hiring manager (my very first boss with AT&T). I stuttered a lot with simple 1-on-1 conversations at work and it was difficult to get through my 1-on-1 meetings with my boss. I went to a demo meeting in Florham Park (which led to the creation of the Shannon Toastmasters Club, now deprecated). I very reluctantly joined just to tell my manager I did so. I was terrified every Wednesday afternoon when it was time for a meeting.

What have you gained?

It’s difficult to articulate what I’ve gained with Toastmasters. I actually gave a 20 minute speech on this topic for the D83 Speaker’s Bureau. I’ve had a stutter ever since I was small. I had many speech therapists tell me I had a severe problem. At one point I was equipped with a small device in my ear that provided delayed audio feedback (to mimic someone else talking at the same time) to help with my speech. I no longer need a device or therapy, just Toastmasters (which is much cheaper!). Through contests, mentoring and District leadership positions, I gained more confidence that I ever thought possible. I also gained many very good friends who I share side hobbies with (like running, computer hacking, stand-up comedy and improv).

What made you decide to compete for the Evaluation Contest?

I put zero thought into the decision. I was actually just competing in the International Speech Contest at my home club. I participated in the Evaluation Contest just because I don’t have to prepare anything! I ended up placing 2nd in the speech contest and 1rst in the evaluation contest. I didn’t feel pressure as I climbed higher & higher because you don’t really need to prepare anything concrete.

How did you prepare for the Evaluation contest?

My home club, AT&T Middletown Toastmasters, was kind enough to let me give an evaluation each week!!! I practiced a lot, even outside of the club. I was once driving with a friend and asked her to give a 3 minute speech. She did (timed herself) and then I gave her a quick verbal evaluation. It was probably more stressful than the District contest. I also watched YouTube videos: both general training and real evaluations at past District contests.

Now that you have won the District Title, how do you feel?

I started writing my Tall Tales speech for the Fall contest. I want to keep competing and win other contests.

How has this experience changed you?

I feel much more comfortable giving feedback. I learned that my feedback actually has some merit and is helpful to people.

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