Creating Leaders Through Speech Contests

From Our Members

By:  David Gosnell, DTM, District Chief Judge

We are in the middle of the fall contest season, and most Clubs have completed their contests. Area and Division Directors are planning and scheduling their contests. And the four District contests will all be held at the District Conference in May.

Whether you’re a Club VPE, an Area or Division Director, or someone else responsible for putting a speech contest together, the first challenge is the biggest: enlisting leaders. The Contest Chair, the Contest Master, and the Chief Judge are the leaders who will make or break your contest.

Frequently I hear these words: “It’s difficult to find good leaders to run a contest.” Yes, sometimes there are few experienced people to call on. Many VPEs and Area Directors thus end up chairing their own contests, because they can’t find anyone else willing and able to do it.

Consequently, many leaders seek to enlist the most experienced Toastmasters they can find, even calling on the District Trio to help. Finding someone who has many years of experience running contests has an advantage: it ensures a smooth and successful event!

Is that really the best approach? Hmmmm …. Let’s see … what’s that slogan I’ve heard? Oh, yeah!


Leaders aren’t born? Leaders are made? Yes! By intentional planning and effort! That’s one reason this is the slogan of Toastmasters International.

Which leads to a question. Why not create leaders through our speech contests? We could use our most focused and public events to do what we say we’re all about!

How could that work? Here’s the process in three key steps:

First, enlist some leaders who can grow in the process. Not the Toastmasters who can do it in their sleep. Instead, look for the people who have some experience with contests, who can learn and grow as leaders by taking on one of these big roles: Contest Chair, Chief Judge, or Contest Master.

Wondering how to do that? Check out this enlistment process in the Resources/Downloads section of the District website. It’s time-tested and highly effective if you follow all the steps.

Second, train those leaders to do what it takes to be successful in their role. This is where those experienced Toastmasters (you know, the ones you were going to enlist) can make a big difference. Ask someone with experience as a Contest Chair to mentor your new Contest Chair. And so on for the other roles. That way your new leaders will get all the help and instruction they need, and your experienced leaders can contribute to making leaders.

Finally, help your leaders to run a truly successful contest. Help them understand the value of using the same enlistment process to get their functionaries and judges. Reinforce the value of reading, understanding, and following this year’s Rulebook. Coach and support them through the difficult issues that arise.

What leadership skills will they learn? Here are a few.

  • Organizing and planning a project
  • Enlisting and training volunteers
  • Communicating across multiple channels
  • Leading a team to achieve a goal
  • Resolving issues and conflicts
  • Recognizing and celebrating success

No, you don’t have to enlist less experienced Toastmasters for all of your contest leadership roles. But if we all bring in one or two new leaders during each contest cycle, it won’t be long before these words will be a thing of the past: “It’s difficult to find good leaders to run a contest.”

So yes, you can enlist the most experienced Toastmasters you know. And next spring, you will be in the same situation, looking around for leaders you still can’t seem to find.

Or, you can develop new leaders now, and when the spring contest season comes, you’ll have more people on whom to call, and a proven process for making even more leaders through those contests!

Wondering if this will work for you? I will make this promise: contact me, and I will get someone to help you do all this. That could be me, someone on my team, or another willing and able mentor. Don’t believe that you have to do this on your own – Toastmasters are available to assist you!

Other resources are:

  • An experienced leader in your Club or Area
  • Your Division’s Contest Support Team (if your Division Director enlisted one)
  • The District Contest Resource Team

And we are continually adding print, video, and webinar resources to help you in all aspects of your contest, especially now that are contests are all-virtual.

Are you ready? Let’s create some leaders!

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