Putting on a Toastmasters Speech Contest at the Area Level–5 Lessons Learned

I just finished being a Contest Master for the Spring 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.

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

1.   Start Planning Early

If the District contest takes place in November, then counting back one month you have the Division contest in October, the Area contest in September, and the Club contest in August.    In this round of contests, I started planning for the Area contest one month ahead in August.    Next time I have start planning then in July, which means practically THE moment you become a club officer.     For example, you need qualified judges for the Area Contest in September, but when is the training for judges given?   In July and August.   If it’s at the end of August, and you suddenly realize, “we need qualified judges”, then it may be too late to get people trained for the job.

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 say, “any volunteers?”, the response will be minimal.   But if you go individually and say, “hey, you’re really good at X (whatever role you are looking for).   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, you are going to face passive resistance.   But when you first GROUND them by recognizing their strengths, then you can 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 out at your Area Contest, of course, and we certainly didn’t have a problem with that.   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.   Once we are a known quantity in the other Areas, then next time around when we ask them for help, they will be more willing to step up to the plate and do so.

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.   In my previous incarnation as an Assistant Area Governor, it took TWO YEARS for me to convince anybody in my home club to be a contestant in a speech contest.    Our club was a safe haven for them, and they didn’t want to leave it.    So I started to ask some members to help out at the contest by doing a role such as being a timer or helping out with registration.   Once they were at the contest, they enjoyed themselves and were more likely the following year to be a part of the contest again.

If you do have a contestant, however, getting people to attend in order to support your club’s contestant isn’t so difficult.   If a certain club is sponsoring the Area Contest in their neighborhood, then there is a point of pride in their putting on a good contest, and it is thus easier to get volunteers to do contest roles in that case.

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.

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.

I did okay this time around at the Area level, but I need to take this message to the Club level and let people know the benefit of entering the contest at the ground level, at the Club.

These are just five points I think that, if I followed them in the Spring, would make the Area contest even more successful than it was this time around.    I will confer with the Area Governor and see what he thinks!    It’s not too early to plan for the Spring Contest!


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