7 Tips for Putting on a Division Contest

I am the Assistant Division Governor for the South Division of District 30; I was an Area Governor last year and an Assistant Area Governor the year before that.   This year the Division Director, LaShonda Milton, put on a Division Contest that was very successful.

For those of you who are in Toastmasters, here’s what I recommend if you have to put on a Division Contest.

1.  Have a project plan

As a project manager, I feel it is important to have a plan when creating an event like a Division Contest.    When you make the plan, however, have an internal deadline and a deadline which you tell everyone else.   Many people will respond on time, but some are stragglers and you need to be able to make sure they don’t delay what needs to be done.

The people you should have on board even BEFORE you finalize the project plan are a) the contest chair and b) the chief judge, because they will be controlling the preparations with regards to the contestants and functionaries, respectively.    Get their input, or even better, sit down with them and create the project plan together.   If they are just shown it, they won’t own it!

2.  Use the rifle, not the shotgun, approach when asking for volunteers

Sending out e-mail blasts acting for volunteers is not an effective use of your time.   For each role, you should be targeting at least two people, one for your primary and one as a backup.   Send each person a separate e-mail, asking them to volunteer and explaining in particular why you thought they would be good for the role.    You will get more positive responses from this approach, the rifle approach, than the “e-mail blast” or shotgun approach.    When I say “rifle” and “shotgun” approach, I am, of course, speaking metaphorically–just in case those Toastmasters who live in “open carry” states in the United States are reading this post.  😉

3.  Get the paperwork done beforehand

I have had contest chairs come in with a stack of forms and try to organize them at the conference.   Mistake!    While you are trying to get organized, everybody is coming at you from multiple directions with questions.  Instead, get large envelopes and put each person’s forms in an envelope.   For the contestants, this is helpful because you can use this to determine speaking order.   Simply put a card with a number from 1 to whatever on it, and then when they randomly pick an envelope, they are also determining their speaking order.

For the functionaries, separate envelopes for specific people and roles are a must.   Then they can fill in the forms and turn them back into you and you don’t have to worry about mixing up forms of different types.

4.  Wine ’em and dine ’em

Well, again I am speaking metaphorically about serving wine.   I mean have refreshments for the guests between contests, as well as beverages that they can have even before the contest begins.    Having them eat and mingle during the break allows them to be entertained, while you as the Division Governor are left free to “hover” and make sure all of your functionaries are set for the second half of the contest.

5.  Keep the contest chair and toastmaster roles separate

We have had a contest chair come up and try to give an entertaining performance before they introduce the Master of Ceremonies, aka the Toastmaster.    Just remember, there are three stages to becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster.

  1. When you are afraid to get on stage
  2. When you are afraid to get off stage
  3. When you know the right time to get on and the right time to get off stage

The contest chair doesn’t need to draw attention to him- or herself by doing an entertaining show of his or her own.   It is their job to let people know who they are, so they know who to go to if they have questions, to introduce the Toastmaster, and to help with the award announcements.   That’s it.   The rest is done by the Toastmaster, who can add to the script with entertainment as time allows.

6.   The scourge of cellphones

You have the Toastmaster make an announcement about keeping cellphones quiet.   You remind people when they return from breaks.   And yet, in our Division Contest yesterday, we had one person who had a cellphone go off during a speech.   And naturally, the person had it on the LOUDEST setting, because they were hard of hearing, and they had it buried in the DEEPEST part of their bag, so it took the LONGEST time to dig out and turn off.   The person on stage giving

Rather than just give an announcement to turn off the cellphones, or say jokingly that the cellphone will be confiscated if it will go off (which everybody knows is a bogus threat), say that if someone’s cellphone goes off during the contest, that person and their cellphone will be ejected from the contest.    That rule needs to be stated up front by the Toastmaster.   Also, the Toastmaster needs to state up front that, if the person speaking is interrupted by a cellphone, the speaker gets 30 additional seconds on the timing clock.   So, if a person in the audience who is a friend or relative of another speaker gets it into his or her head to try to sabotage the rival speaker by turning on his or her cellphone, they will know that they are instead HELPING the rival speaker to additional time.

The temporary embarrassment of having one’s cellphone may be an incentive to make sure it is off, but the embarrassment of having to leave the contest PERIOD is a much bigger embarrassment, and is therefore a much bigger inducement for people to take responsibility for their own actions

7.   Parting words

I have seen Toastmasters or Contest Chairs introduce the International Speech Contests, the second half of the Spring Speech Contest after the Table Topic or Evaluation Speech Contest of the first half (depending on your district), by saying, “and now, we have saved the best for last!”   Please don’t do this–what kind of message is it saying to the Table Topics Contestant:  that their contest has less value!

Also, thank ALL of the contestants, MOST of whom will go away disappointed that they haven’t won.   You need to congratulate the winners, but you must also make sure that people who haven’t won don’t consider themselves losers!

If you follow these tips, your Division Contest is bound to be a well-presented, well-received, and all round entertaining event!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: