I was in Suva, Fiji for a mission trip in 2013. One weekend, we went to a natural waterfall and pool with rock steps up to a rope swing.
The cliff had a thirty foot drop with jagged rocks at the base that extended into a calm, blue pool. I was scared out of my mind, but twenty-plus people were having a blast jumping off the rope swing.
Two of my friends were using a GoPro as they did flips and gainers.
In my head I’m thinking, “I’m screwed. It’s just a matter of time before they notice I haven’t gone off the rope swing.”
Because I had no experience, and was too embarrassed to ask for help, I hoped to go unnoticed as I swam in the relaxing pool.
Then one friend calls me out and they all start telling me to jump off. I knew I couldn’t be soft and say no. So, I quickly asked for help from my best friend.
He positioned my hands and gave me instructions. Still, I didn’t know what I was doing because I was trying to act confident and like he was volunteering his help, but I didn’t need it.
Then, I almost died. Instead of using the rope’s leverage and swinging off, I jumped straight up and then down into the jagged rocks.
Luckily, I had the arm strength to pull myself a foot away from the rocks (and probable death). Everyone said my face looked white as a ghost as my head came out of the water.
The point of my long story is that without any experience or guidance on the rope swing, I relied on pure luck to execute. I trusted myself to do what I didn’t prepare for, and it turned out terribly. It was almost fatal.
So, if you decided you want to run for a student organization position, you’ll need a game plan so you can confidently execute and avoid disaster. Don’t rely on pure luck, like I stupidly did, because it rarely works out in your favor.
5-Steps To Winning A Student Organization Election
If you want to win, the bare minimum is to attend as many organizational meetings as you can. For better results, introduce yourself to new people and make friends. But, not with the sole intention of getting future votes, or you won’t be genuine and people will see right through you.
Even if you don’t have direct conversations with many people at the meeting, it is valuable to get face time and be known as someone who is serious about the organization. If the speeches are similar and the voters don’t have a better reason to vote, then the more active person will be the safer selection.
Step 2: Plan Ahead And Act
You need to be motivated and always have the position you want at the back of your head.
In the meantime, speak to the current exec member in that position to gain a feel of what the responsibility entails. If you don’t know already, then ask him or her what have they done that worked, and what maybe didn’t work so well.
Also, look for opportunities to help out. If the exec team needs assistance in recruiting at MegaFair, jump on the opportunity. If they need help setting up for an event, be the first one to help out. You will practice being an exec member, and also gain credibility as someone who is serious about the organization.
Step 3: Start Campaigning
As elections are about a month away, talk to the current exec team about your interest in the position. You can also start telling people you’re running for a specific position and ask them what they think about it.
This does three things. It gets the word around that you’re going to run, which discourages other candidates who simply won’t run because of a dislike for competition. Second, you can judge the other person’s reaction and see their honest opinion to you running. And third, you will likely find out who else is running for that position, which can be useful for crafting your speech.
For example, if a freshmen or sophomore is running, and you’re an upperclassmen, then you can hone in on the importance of experience.
Also, if your election allows members to give a positive testimony, then talk to someone else running. Agree to speak for them and have them speak for you. You help someone else and yourself. That’s a start to a good working relationship if you both get elected.
Step 4: Preparing The Speech
Assuming that your speech is relatively short, these are the three areas to focus on for maxing out potential votes.
Think of why you would vote for yourself. Ask what makes me credible for the position?
Some areas to brainstorm where you might have gained experiences relevant to the student organization position are: internships, jobs, previous activities in the student organization you want to be elected, another student organization, study abroad, community service, athletics, and a class project. Unless you’re a freshmen, stay away from high school experiences.
When you’re looking for credibility, please don’t mention your GPA or you will come off as a prick. I guess if you didn’t have anything else to speak for you, like literally nothing better, then you could generally mention that you have a high GPA. No matter what, I wouldn’t say the specific number.
People fear change. They fear an uncommitted exec member who fails to fulfill his or her responsibilities. Their biggest fear is that if they elect you, then the organization will sink.
Use these fears to your advantage by reassuring them that you’re organized, committed to the organization, and it will be a main priority if you’re elected. If all those characteristics are true (and they should be), the organization will be just as successful or more successful under your leadership. Then, the voters will feel comfortable about you and listen to the rest of your speech.
Explain why you first joined and the most important element that you appreciate about the organization. Showing your passion for the organization’s mission goes far in connecting with the audience.
Second, say you’re going to keep what the previous exec member did that worked. This will give you a good start and reinforce the idea that if you’re elected, the organization won’t fall to pieces.
Deliver Three Excellent, Creative Ideas
The last part of your speech is where you win. Come up with three excellent and reasonable ideas that get members excited.
A good way to find these ideas is to look at the student organization’s weaknesses, and then find options to improve those areas. Don’t say any idea that is outrageous, too expensive, too over-promised, or illegal. (If you win, then you’ve already done the hard work and can start planning your proposed ideas.)
Three ideas is best, because with anymore the audience will lose their focus and not elect you because you’re so long-winded and boring. (People who think I’m too long-winded and boring stopped reading after the Fiji story.)
Make your ideas easy for the audience to understand and the organization to complete. Include a short reason why your idea is helpful.
In your speech, I might actually address where the idea came from, if it helps. For example, “I believe this idea is important because many members agree that our organization needs to have more community and communication among each other.” You’ve now gone from a voice of one, to a voice for the organization.
If you can express the general body member’s opinion, you’ll position yourself to win.
Practice to the point where your speech isn’t memorized, but you’ve read it enough that it’s very familiar. The two reasons you don’t want to memorize is because you could go blank, and then struggle to find your place. Secondly, you have a higher chance of speaking too fast and using a monotone voice.
Step 5: Delivering The Speech
Your body communicates more than your words. So, smile often and use your hands to deliver points. Don’t just scan the room, look individuals in the eyes and then move on. Find your anchors in the audience who will give you eye contact.
Also, when you bring up your three ideas, use your fingers to signal one, two, and three.
The more prepared, the more you confident you will appear and act. Don’t tap your leg, look down, cross your arms, or say like/uh/um 100 times.
Lastly, and this goes without saying, no one likes a sore loser, and what’s even worse is a sore winner. Independent of the election’s outcome, controlling your emotions is important.
If you win and obnoxiously celebrate (or lose and complain), people will lose respect for you. How are you going to effectively lead in your new position (or get elected next time) without people’s respect? Instead, practice being even keeled.
Comment below with tips for public speaking. I saw some statistic that said it is the number one fear for the majority of people.