Friday, August 2, 2013
The Speech Contest
The Rotary District Governor visited our club this week, and in giving her talk recognized members of the club who had been active in Rotary District activities. I was among those named, with my work as District Membership Chair and District Speech Contest chair cited.
I had almost forgotten about the speech contest, and not without reason. Although it ended well, it was a volunteer commitment that sucked six months out of my life and my business, with a considerable part of that time wasted, as far as I was concerned. It taught me some valuable lessons about the perils of volunteerism, and was the catalyst for causing me to drop out of Rotary beyond the club level.
My godfather, a wise man with some experience in such matters, likes to say that no man can want for things to do if he’s willing to volunteer. A lot of good comes of doing so, but the take-home lesson from the speech contest was never again to volunteer for a job where I have to rely on other volunteers getting things done.
One Man’s Child; Everyone’s Orphan
Our District Speech Contest was launched by a District Governor named Richard D. King, who went on to become president or Rotary International. Rick is a powerful public speaker and heavyweight attorney, and he felt that participating in a speech contest at a young age set him on his path. I, too, am a great believer in the value of learning to stand up before a group and communicate.
Once he began the contest, his successors felt bound to continue it. But because none of them had the passion that Rick did, nobody ever did the followup work to establish procedures and systems for running it. When I took it on more than two decades later, there was nothing in writing about how to do it, but plenty of people who had done it before and were more than willing to tell me that their way was the only way.
Many of the people involved in the contest before had been educators, and they tended to approach it as a classroom experience. I chose to run the contest as an entrepreneurial competition that was judged more on overall effect than on how well a speaker did a number of small, technical points. The educators were infuriated, and dealing with them involved way too much time and aggravation.
Follow the Money
After a few years, when it was clear that the contest was going to be a regular District event, it should have been made part of the district budget. But nobody ever did that, so the contest chair was responsible (and nobody told me this beforehand) for collecting money from each of the 60 clubs in the district to pay for it. Some of them had to be repeatedly harassed before they coughed it up, which probably wasted 40-60 hours of my time.
And even though I gave everyone explicit written directions as to how to proceed, many of the Rotarian volunteers ignored them. Two months after the contest had ended, I got an email from a mother wanting to know when her child would be receiving her check for participating in the area speech contest. The person running that contest was supposed to have paid it out on the spot, and I was left apologizing profusely and seeing that it got done.
My legacy was that I persuaded the next District Governor to put the speech contest in the budget, so my predecessors haven’t had to waste the week or more that I did, chasing the money. But they still probably had to go through a lot of the other stuff. Better them than me.