Putting on a Toastmasters Area Speech Contest–5 Lessons Learned

I just finished being a Contest Master for the Fall Speech Contest being held at the Area level of Toastmasters International.  The Fall Speech Contest has four levels, club –> area –> division –> district, and the Area level is therefore the second level.

Besides being the The contest went fairly well, but I wanted to write down 5 lessons learned so that the contest next Spring will go more smoothly.

1.   Start Planning Early

If the District contest takes place by April 26, then counting back one month you have the Division contests ending on April 11, the Area contests ending on March 15, and the Club contests ending in February.    In this round of contests, I started planning for the Area contest one month ahead in February.    However, you really should start planning for judges when the Toastmasters Leadership Institutes begin in December.   Why is that?   Because the Judges Training is given along with the Club Officer Training.    You can remind those club officers that they should also get Judges Training while they are at the TLI conferences.    If it is February and you realize “we need qualified judges”, it may be too late because the club officers may have already received their club officer training and may not be willing to go to another TLI just to get Judges Training.   The more club officers you have trained as judges, the more you can then supply neighboring Area Contests with judges.    And then when it comes time for YOUR area contest, you will have a lot more cooperation in getting judges.

2.   Use the Rifle, not the Shotgun

Now I’m not talking about open carry laws in the Toastmaster Club; I’m referring to how you ask people to volunteer to be a contestant, or to perform one of the support roles.    If you ask at a club meeting and use the shotgun approach to say, “any volunteers?”, the response will be minimal.   You may rename yourself the “club dentist,” because getting volunteers for speech contests will seem like pulling teeth.

But if you go to individuals and say, “hey, you’re really good at doing these kind of speeches (or doing these kind of roles).   I was thinking that you would be a good person to have at our contest to do X.”   When you thrust somebody in a role outside of their comfort zone, especially in front of others, you are going to face passive resistance.   But when you first GROUND them by recognizing their strengths, you can then STRETCH them into the role by taking those recognized strengths and applying them to the contest.

3.  Lateral Cooperation

The Division Governor should be willing to help you out at your Area Contest, of course.   But you need to get cooperation from other Areas in the same Division.    You can approach the Division Governor but it is best to forge relationships with other Area Governors.    Why?   Because you can take the qualified judges in your area and have them be judges in the other areas, while the other areas reciprocate.    We had a problem with that in this round of contests, but what the Area Governor and I (the Assistant Area Governor) have done is we have gone and taken the first step by volunteering to help in the other contests.   That starts with getting club officers trained and willing to be judges in their contests.  Once we help out other Area Governors with their contests, they are more willing to step up to the plate and help you with yours.

4.  Vertical Cooperation

As I mentioned, the Division Governor should be willing to help out at the Area Contest, which is to be expected.   But going in the other direction, you should get cooperation from your own Area.   Use the “rifle” or targeted approach to get members to help out at a contest.    How do you get people to do that?   First, when your own club has people in the contest as contestants, ask people in your club to go as “cheerleaders” for your fellow team members.    Many who are shy about being in the contestant will want to at least help out the others who are brave enough to compete.   Once they go to a contest, they usually have a good time, and these are the people I target for the next contest to help out as timers, counters, or even helping out with refreshments, set-up or clean-up.

5.  Encouraging Words

If someone enters a contest, they need to be given praise just for having taken that step.    They may work hard on a speech, only to get 3rd place.    They will naturally be disappointed.    They may be disappointed to the point of saying, “what’s the use?”   So talk to the winners and congratulate them, but tell the others to that they are, in your eyes, winners as well for having taken the brave step of being in a contest.

As I mentioned today at the contest at the beginning of the contest, we should be in a contest not to beat the other contestants, but to beat our own weaknesses.   If you go to a gym, and you are stronger at doing a certain exercise than everybody in the gym on that day, what health benefit do you gain from that fact?   NOT A SINGLE ONE!    You only gain a health benefit by being better than you were the last time you were in the gym.   Similarly, you do not get better at speaking by being chosen as the winner in a speech contest.    You get better at speaking by entering a speech contest and doing the practice it takes to be the winner.

At the end of the contest, after all the trophies were given, I made it a point to ask for the audience to applaud for everybody, because as I said, “all are winners for having had the courage to become better speakers, and they all have accomplished that!”

These are just five points I think that, if followed in future contests, will make the Area contest even more successful than it was this time around.   


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