5 Tips for Putting on a Successful Toastmasters Speech Contest at the Area Level

If it’s September, then it means that kids are back in school, and Toastmasters are preparing for the Fall Speech Contest.   In District 30 (Chicagoland area), the Fall Speech Contest consists of the Evaluation and Humorous Speech Contests.

I am the Assistant Division Governor for Area 56 in the South Division of District 30, and I was an Area Governor last year and an Assistant Area Governor the year before that.   This year I’m not putting on the Area Contests, but I am helping all of the new Area Directors (the new title for what used to be the Area Governor role).    At the first District Executive Committee meeting in July, here’s the advice I gave them to help make their contests so smoothly

1. Consider having a joint Area Contest

In our South Division, we have 6 areas.    Rather than having six area contests in the space of about three weeks, I recommended for Area Directors to get together and see if they could put on a joint Area Contest.    This is especially helpful if some area has fewer clubs or has clubs that don’t participate in speech contests, because the smaller area can team up with a larger area and the time needed for the joint contest will be less than if you had separate contests.   Why? Because you can double up on roles by having the timers, ballot counters, Sergeant at Arms, and even the judges perform the roles for both contests.

There’s a lot of variety here–you can have one complete contest of the evaluation and humorous speech contest for one area, followed by a break and then the entire complete contest of the evaluation and humorous speech contest for the other area.    However, I have seen a truly joint contest where the evaluation speech contest of BOTH areas is done first, followed by the humorous speech contest for BOTH areas afterwards.    This again is especially helpful for areas that are different sizes–it also allows you to use one test speaker rather than two for the evaluation contest.

2.  Judge each other’s Area Contest

There are supposed to five judges for an Area Contest.   Rather than looking for special judges outside of your Division, get one judge from each Area so there is no bias towards any one Area’s contestants.   Yes, you will have to attend all of the Area Contests, but you don’t have to worry about getting judges for your contest because everyone else will be willing to help you at your contest if you are willing to help them with theirs.

3.  Get a backup Test Speaker

For the evaluation contest, you need a Test Speaker, but you should always get a backup.   This is a risk management strategy, because you will have someone there who can give a speech in case the test speaker is ill or is caught in traffic, etc. Have the various Area Directors of other Areas ask their club Presidents for test speakers.    You should do the same in your area, and so each Area should be able to get 2 volunteers, one planned test speaker and one backup test speaker.    Although competition is the order of the day in the contest itself, preparing for the contest is all about cooperation.

4.  Designate a Snackmaster

One of the ways to get people to go to contest–if they aren’t a contestant, that is–is to provide food at the contest    You don’t have to go overboard, but on the other hand you can improve on the standard fare of donuts and coffee with a little imagination.    Some Districts give Area Directors a budget, but if you don’t have a budget, rather than having to outlay the money yourself, designate a Snackmaster as one of the roles for the contest.   The Snackmaster can either have a club’s funds donate money for the food for a contest, or the burden can be shared by several clubs in the Area by having one club bring beverages, one bring a main dish, one bring side dishes, etc.    It makes the contest more fun and attractive for people to go to it because food makes it not just a contest, but an event!

5.  Do the paperwork early

Buy some folders and put the paperwork for the various officers in folders and get it all complete at least two days before the event.   Why?   Because then you will have the breathing space to a) review the documents to make sure there are no misspelled names, etc., and to b) cope with any last minute changes that occur in the day or so before the contest.    I once waited until the night before the contest, and my printer ink ran out, causing me to have to do a mad dash for Kinko’s before they closed.    Reduce the opportunity for drama, after all, you’re preparing for a humorous contest!

These are the tips that I passed on to the incoming Area Directors, because they made my Area Contests go smoothly.  When things go well, you are more relaxed, and often times that spontaneity is infectious, and makes everyone around you, including the contestants, do their job without stressing about it.     The audience is now your focus–let them see that in your smile when you announce–“LET THE CONTESTS BEGIN!”


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