Viewpoint: Contestant or Candidate?

Viewpoint: Contestant or Candidate?

A message from our International President

Back in 1994, I was a contestant at the Interdistrict Speech Contest in Louisville, Kentucky. I didn’t win and decided to make a comeback the following year. But that year I was also nominated for district office as lt. governor marketing. Thus, my dilemma began. Should I be a contestant or a candidate for district office?

I asked for advice from many leaders and speech champions. The funny thing was, the leaders advised me to go for district leadership and the speech champions said I should compete again. I was right back where I started.

That’s when I consulted with then-Second Vice President Ian Edwards. He asked me very simply, “What is your purpose for entering speech contests?” He explained that if I competed to become a better speaker and communicator, then following the leadership track would actually offer me more opportunities to speak and develop my skills than any speech contest could. I decided that that was what I wanted, so I ran for district office; the rest is history.

Isn’t it Simply Amazing how serendipity works? That’s when you look for something and find something else that is even better. I joined Toastmasters because I thought it would be cool to do speeches and have fun with fellow members. I entered speech contests because I thought that was the best way to improve my speaking skills. Yet I found that volunteering for leadership roles was the biggest factor in helping me refine my communication skills – not to mention the tons of leadership lessons I’ve picked up over the years. These are practical lessons no book or school can ever teach.

Too often we think of TI’s communication and leadership tracks as two separate and distinct entities. But the reality is that one develops and sustains the other. Our new Competent Leadership manual shows how club speaking roles can help develop leadership skills. And as leaders having to motivate, facilitate and counsel others, we develop our communication skills in the process.

In the next two months, Toastmasters clubs and districts around the world will hold elections for new sets of officers. I urge you to consider taking on a leadership role. Serve your clubs, areas, divisions and districts as volunteer leaders. Volunteer leaders form the backbone of our organization. They are why we continue to grow. They are why our clubs and districts function smoothly. And yet, volunteer leaders can gain from their experience as much as our organization benefits from them. This symbiotic relationship is what makes Toastmasters International and its members Simply Amazing!

As for me, well, I may never be a World Champion of Public Speaking, but in 2005, as Senior Vice President and contest chairman of that event, I did have my picture taken on the International Speech Contest stage holding the winner’s trophy in front of 2000 people. As time passes, will anyone know the difference?

Johnny Uy, DTM
International President