At the beginning of last year, I attended the Moth for the first time in years. I decided to throw my name into the hat, got unexpectedly called to the stage, and ended up winning the Moth StorySLAM. While it was a delightful and surprising victory, I couldn’t help but find the whole experience a bit amusing.

Miyo won the MothSlam

I used to value competitions. Every time I fell short of securing first place in Toastmasters’ speech contests, I would introspect and question what might have gone wrong. On one occasion, a friend asserted that individuals with accents would never reach the finals. To either validate or disprove her point, I encountered multiple instances where people attributed my lack of victory to my accent. Despite this discouragement, I persisted, making repeated attempts. Given that English is not my mother tongue, winning a competition held significant weight for me as it appeared to serve as validation for my English-speaking skills. Admittedly, there might be some truth to this belief. If a considerable number of individuals, particularly judges, subscribe to this notion, it would seemingly diminish my chances of winning. I eventually stopped competing not out of surrender but to preserve my unique style, unwilling to conform just to win. 

Miyo at the Toastmasters speech competition

Then, I was once talking with the judges after the Moth GrandSLAM, asking how they scored them. I was glad that I wasn’t a judge. Each story was unique and compelling. It would’ve been hard for me to pick a winner. One judge shared a personal insight, stating, “At the end of the day, after work, I didn’t want to hear a sad or gut-wrenching story. I wanted to hear a light-hearted, funny one.

This experience highlighted the inherent subjectivity in judging. While certain judges may have undergone training to evaluate performances objectively, everyone brings their own set of feelings and preferences to the table. The mental state of judges at any given moment remains unknown – they might harbor a dislike for a particular topic, view it favorably due to a personal connection with the storyteller, or simply experience a momentary zone-out after a long day. The intricacies of these individual perspectives add layers of complexity to the judging process.

Recently, at another Moth StorySLAM, I once again threw my name into the hat, got called to the stage, but this time received the lowest score. It would be a lie if I say I didn’t get disappointed at all, but I knew the value of my story beyond the judges’ taste for the evening.

After I left a venue, a stranger tapped my shoulder on the street.

The judges did a lousy job tonight. Your story was incredible. It taught us important history lesson. It was funny and poignant. Very powerful. It was a winning story for me.” 

Others in agreement nodded. In the end, as long as my story resonates with someone in the audience, that’s what truly matters. 

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