There’s a cold breeze blowing up that gives me goosebumps. I’m normally acquainted with the cold, given that I’m in Canada where the temperature drops to -45° C. We spend nearly 7-8 months in a year in snow, but today, I’m not my usual self.
I have been summoned to the “Provincial Centre of Speakers Bureau” for a debacle that happened 3 days ago at the Area Contest where I was contesting. However, I’m not alone. Along with me, there is Dimple Mehta - the Area Director, Meena Bhat - the Division Director, and Lily Murphy - the Chief Judge at the contest. I feel miserable that these people are called over because of me.
Dimple has just gone in to give her statement. Lily and Meena have already given their statements and are sitting beside each other. We are requested not to speak to each other - I honestly see no need for it. Everyone knows what happened.
Honestly, I’m not nervous. I trust my instincts and that I was not at fault. I was wronged. I will call it out!
After what seemed like 15 minutes, Dimple walked out of the room. The peon follows her out and orders “The authorities would like to speak to Cheryl Hill next. Please follow me.”
I can sense all eyes on me as I follow the peon to the room.
It’s a dazzling room with bright lights. There is a logo of our organization - Speakers Bureau. Speakers Bureau is a place for people to practice their public speaking. Once every four months there are various speech contests - Inspirational, Humorous, Debates, On the spot, Visual Aids, Fiction Tales, and more. These contests start at the Club Level and move up the hierarchy. It is as follows:
Club Level -> City Level -> Area Level -> Province Level -> National Level -> Continental Level -> International Level.
A club has a maximum of 25 members. An Area has 4-5 cities under it. I think the remaining levels are self-explanatory. This year, owing to the pandemic, the contests were all held online. Ah! Technology is my weakness. I had taken part in the Inspirational Speech Contest. Oh! the irony.
Centered in the room is a table with 2 chairs on one side and 1 chair on the other. There are 2 people in the panel. One is the province director - Karen Chambers and the Provincial Contest master - Martin Brown.
“Welcome, Cheryl. Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable.” Says Karen with a bright smile on her face.
I sit down and sip some water from the glass. “I’m ready,” I mutter.
“How’re you this morning?” - Martin asks.
“I won’t lie. But I feel horrible for putting you all through this.”
“Don’t worry. We’re here to solve the problem. We’ll do so with a calm mind though. Tell us your side of the story and we’ll make a decision. Our organization follows Integrity.” Karen makes her point.
I nod, meekly.
“Awesome. So here’s what we’re going to do. We will ask you some questions regarding the contest and you will be requested to answer to the best of your knowledge. We have some information on what happened based on an email we received. It is only fair if we ask all the parties involved. So, is there a particular starting point you have?” Martin asks.
“Yes, I’d like to tell you my intention of participating. There are two ways one can participate in the Area Level. One is you have a contest at the City Level and the winner comes to Area Level. If there’s no contest, the club nominates one person to represent in the Area. I contested in the latter way. I was the Area Director last year but I had to resign because of a pressing health issue. I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. This welcomed comments like ‘Oh, Cheryl’s Area is forgotten’. I wanted to change it and so I represented my club.”
“Thank you for stepping up. How do you think the Area Level Contest was organized? Did you have time to test your audio and camera? Or rather, what went awry?” Karen questions.
“As per the testing, Dimple Mehta had spared 30 minutes before the contest to test everyone’s equipment. I did my testing and it worked. But, when the contestants were moved to different rooms for the briefing - my speakers and microphone failed. I let the Master of Ceremonies know and soon the technical person was helping me via phone. This was time-consuming, so the chief judge ordered the speaking orders to be drawn without me. I can take up whichever spot was available. Another contestant objected to this, so they waited for me, I was ready after 10 minutes and attended the draw. I was the second person to speak and when my turn came - my microphone failed again! And it took more than 2 minutes - so judges ordered if the 3rd contestant can go next while tech assists me. This was received with objection too. But I was able to work on my tech equipment and went as per order. I won first place and will technically represent this Area in the Provincial Contest but 2 other contestants and judges protested it and sent you an email.”
“Have you read the Rule book, there is an exception that if there’s a technical issue for more than 2 minutes 30 seconds they are disqualified?” Martin chimes in.
“I wanted to object to this as well. I tested my equipment prior to the contest and it was working. I am a 70-year-old woman who lives all by myself in a rural city and I’m doing my best to socialize amidst a pandemic online and this rule is not favoring that. There is also a rule stating judges shouldn’t comment on the equipment used - I use a little outdated equipment. By disqualifying me in this regard, aren’t you violating this rule? Also, you are disqualifying me AFTER the contest has ended. How valid is that?”
“What was the method of protesting used?” Karen questions.
“Protesting is reserved to contestants and judges. They should mention “Protest” and continue their argument when given a chance to speak by the Chief Judge. But one of the contestants was furious and the judges were speaking to the Chief Judge, but despite that, I was announced as the winner. If I was disqualified, I wouldn’t be winning. Why has the disqualification come up after I won?”
“What do you think from the Chief Judge - Lily Murphy’s announcement?” Martin asks.
“Lily is experienced in this organization. She is the second most awarded in our district. She is a certified judge to top it all training. She was sympathetic to the situation, I really feel sad for her because the email directly blames her. She is innocent as is the Area Director - Dimple.”
“What role does Dimple play here?” Karen questions.
“She delegated all the work and put together a team for this contest. She personally ensured everyone was trained but they can’t all be trained in theory. Though we had glitches - everything ended on time. I think that’s what is important about being a leader.”
“I’ll stop you here and ask - why didn’t you mention the current Province Director - Meena? You spoke about Lily and Dimple?” Martin inquires.
“She knew the rule and didn’t mention it in the contest. She kept mum all through the contest. She said she was the one who forwarded the rules to you.”
“Noted. So what in your opinion is a fair decision?”
“I think it is best to narrow down the inquiry to the judging department alone. Dimple’s work was finding judges. She trusted her instincts and got all certified judges. Her work ends there. Next, there were a total of 9 judges in the contest. The protest was only from 2, it’s not even 50% of the quorum, so that is the reason why I was not disqualified. The matter should be settled there. But one of the judges emailed you questioning this - I expected everything to be clear till the letter ‘r’. I just don’t understand. This is so exhausting. Why aren’t the judges here?”
“We understand, but we have to hear out everybody. Do you think there is anything else to add?”
“Nope. When can I expect a judgment?”
“2-3 days. We’ll get back to you. If there are no further questions, you may leave now.”
I push the chair back as I stand up, I thank them for their time and walk out from the room. I am scathing, but I don’t make it clear. Outside, I’m greeted by Dimple. She is just in her 20s. She has won some awards in this organization. This situation might have her name in the wrong light. I hope she realizes it's a part of leadership.
She smiles at me and says “I am so proud that you participated and made it to the contest. I’m so grateful to you.” I smile back in response.
I don’t see Lily or Meena.
“They have left. I was just waiting for you.” Dimple says as she understands who I was looking for.
“Thank you. Have a good rest of your day!” I say.
“You too!” she says and goes back to her car.
I received the email from the Province within a day - sooner than I thought!
“To whomsoever it may concern,
After careful deliberation of the issue and speaking to every person involved, the District has concluded that Cheryl Hill is at no fault. It was brought to our notice that only 2/9 judges had Objected which is less than the 50% quorum. This should settle the debate under the circumstances of technical issues but the inability to do so has caused the participant Cheryl a very stressful and unpleasant experience. Moreover, certain contestants have protested OUTSIDE the extent of their speech. This is one ground for disqualification.
As a token of appreciation, I order that Cheryl will be the Saskatchewan Representative at the National Level. There will be NO Contest at the Province Level. Instead, the Province will conduct a Polished Speaker series to help Cheryl become tech-savvy and polish her speech. The Province will also hold an exclusive Judge's Training and it is required that members over 1 year attend this session without fail.
For 7 years, Cheryl has been an esteemed member of our organization who was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Irrespective of her setbacks, her willingness to take part in the contest this year is highly lauded in the Province.
There shall be no further discussion on this issue.
Wow! I was partly certain the judgment would be fair but I hadn’t imagined even in my wildest dreams that the Province would honor and favor my case so much!!! I never expected them to go through my files. This deed of theirs means a lot to me.
I lost my husband 15 years ago. Since then, I have been a member of Speakers Bureau. This organization has shaped me so much and kept me active. Sometimes my fellow members' faces are all I see after days. I am indebted to serving this organization for the rest of my life. It feels good to get recognition for doing my bit.
More than getting the opportunity to fast-forward my contest journey, I’m so elated that the rules have been reinforced. There are many people like me who log in from remote regions where the net acts unruly. I believe these people should be given a chance.
Some say I’ve got a chance to cheat my way up the hierarchy. But these are the same people who didn’t support me when my technology failed. I have 4 weeks left for the National Level Contest - so I will ensure I prepare well.
Cheer for me there.