5 Lessons Learned in Putting on an Area Contest

Last Saturday, I put on the Area Speech Contest for Area S56, of which I am the Area Governor.   Having helped the Area Governor last year as his assistant, I learned a lot of what to do, and what not to do, when putting on an area contest.

The contest went over well, but there was some behind-the-scenes chaos that wasn’t visible to the audience (fortunately).  As I have said before on many occasions, the job of being a Toastmaster, either for a meeting or for a speech contest, is the art of making everything look on the outside like it is running like the Cirque de Soleil, even though it may feel more like the Keystone Cops on the inside.

In order to reduce the chance of these chaotic elements from ruining a future contest, however, I decided to put down some lessons I learned so that the Spring Contest can run even more smoothly.


The staffing “plan” for the Area Contest says that the Chief Judge needs 5 Voting Judges, 1 Tiebreaking Judge, 3 Ballot Counters, and 2 Timers.   I found 5 Voting Judges from other areas to come my contest.   However, one of them ran into some sort of construction that was going on and she said she was going to be half an hour late.   I was not going to start the contest late just for her, so we got someone from the audience who just happened to be an eligible Judge to fill in for her.   However, what I should have done is to find 6 or even 7 Voting Judges, and tell Judges #6 and #7 that I have them “in reserve”, and if they aren’t needed, they can fill in for another role (like an extra Ballot Counter or Timer).   As long as you tell them up front what your plan is, they won’t mind the flexibility of their role.


One of the procedures you are supposed to follow in a contest is to read off the names of District, Division, or Area officers who may be visiting your contest.   The problem with that is that many of these people may be in the contest, either as contestants, or as Judges, and so their names cannot be read if you are doing this at the beginning of the contest.  

For that reason, we read off the dignitaries’ names AFTER the contest was done.   However, I announced their names, and their roles, but NOT their designations.   For example, I said, “Mr. Charles Brooks, former Division Governor.”   I should have said “Mr. Charles Brooks, DTM, former Division Governor.”   This is more than a formality.   We call them “dignitaries” rather than “royalty” because royalty is an inherited position.   These people who are holding or who have held positions at whatever level have earned their titles, but that also applies to their designations within Toastmasters, like DTM.   Even if it is just “CC”, if they earned it, you call it out!   It deserves everyone’s respect AND their applause!


I saw contests in California where they would take 10 minutes to pass out the certificates of appreciation to all those who played a role in the contest, and I thought that in reality the audience didn’t care about it–for them it was just a delay in what they really wanted to hear, which was the winners of the contests.

So we have decided to hand them out to people during the break in the contests.   However, I was so busy I forgot to do this.   So I think that next time, I will designate someone, maybe the SAA, to help me do this so that by the time the second half of the contest rolls around, everyone who has helped will know that I appreciate their having done so.


Have someone in the audience who can be the backup for the test speaker.   Our test speaker ran into the SAME construction area that one of our judges did, but the test speaker at least started out earlier, so that means she made it to the contest with 5 minutes to spare, whereas the judge was half an hour late and we had to write her out of the contest and get another judge.

If there was no replacement judge, we could have done the contest with only 4 judges, although it would not have been optimal.   But there is no way we could have done the contest without the test speaker.   This is another risk factor I have to control for in the future.


If you are using a public facility, like I was when I was used the local library to do the contest in, make sure you check and see if someone is using the room right after you are.   We ended the contest at 12:40, and we had 20 minutes to spare so I thought, “oh, we’ll be out of here by 1:00”, which was technically the time I had put for the end of our contest.

But then, I remembered that before I left the house to go to the contest, I checked on line and saw that no group was using the room after we were.   So even though it was getting closer and closer to 1:00 PM, I didn’t worry about it because I knew there was no other group coming after us.   People love to stay around and chat after a contest is done, not only to have a chance to visit but to use their last chance of finishing off the refreshments before they hit the road.

If we HAD had some group come after us, I would have had to be strict about telling people to clear out.  But since no group was coming, I could just chill out and let people chat to their hearts content.


Many of the factors I mentioned above are classical examples of reducing risk.   There are certain people who are critical to the functioning of a contest, and you need to account for the possibility that they may be waylaid by circumstances beyond your control.   The more people you have working “redundantly”, that means the more slack you will have to play with when certain roles get strained by absences to the breaking point.   Having more people there means you are less likely to come up against that risk.

So I plan to remember this in the Spring and use it to make the contest even better and to have it run more smoothly.


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