Compete in a Speech Contest? WHY NOT?

Trophies on Elizabeth Carter’s mantlepiece

Each month, I will share with you my thoughts on a particular topic.  It will align with our calendar of events. This month, my blog is “Compete in a Speech Contest? WHY NOT!”

During my tenure as a Toastmaster, I have competed in all 4 contests, and have made it to the Division Level in 3 out of the 4 (Table Topics is my nemesis, lol! ).  Since becoming part of the District leadership team in 2015 which prohibits me to compete, I now observe and coach others.  As we approach the season of the Humorous and Evaluation contests,  I’d like to share with you what I have learned over the years and hope that you will ask yourself; WHY NOT?

What is stopping you? These are the common reasons I hear:

  • Fear- I haven’t yet seen anyone faint or die in a contest, and if you never approach fear head-on, you will never move ahead in life.  There are far more greater risks we have taken in life, and we have survived, haven’t we?
  • Preparation- If your club contest is in August, you have some weeks to write a Humorous speech, edit, practice, re-write, edit and practice.  And if you are fortunate to move on the Area contest, that gives you time to get feedback, revise and practice. For the Evaluation contest, sign up to be an Evaluator at every meeting prior to the contest, and/or reach out to a neighboring club and ask to be an evaluator at their meeting.

Have a structure for your Evaluation.  #1 point many members don’t realize; An Evaluation is a Speech…

  • There should be an opening, a body and a close
  • Use one of the evaluation formats to construct your comments. The most popular one is the Sandwich Technique (commend, recommend, commend), but there are more advanced formats such as POSE (Purpose, Organization, Suggestions, Encouragement), CODE (Content, Organization, Delivery, Effectiveness), and GLOVES (Gestures, Language, Organization, Voice, Eye Contact, Stage Use).   These are ways to organize your content to provide feedback to the speaker.

You can make most situations funny.  A number of Humorous Speech Contest winners stated that they didn’t think they were funny.  They won with their ability to create humor with their words, visuals, and situations.

  • A humorous speech is not a stand-up comedy act.
  • Using information from the Toastmasters Humorously Speaking Advanced manual, here are some ways to add humor to a speech:  Exaggeration,  Surprise, Play on words, Expression, Implication.
  • The delivery is key; the set-up, pause, punch line, punch word, and pause (for the response)

  KNow the Rules.  In a contest, you are not being evaluated, you are being judged.  The person with the highest score wins the contest.

  • Understand the judging criteria and scoring.  Your goal is to get the maximum number of points in each category.  Too often, I have seen contestants wonder why they did not win, and it was because they did not understand the scoring criteria
  • Know the timing rules!!!!  If you go over time, you are disqualified, regardless of your judging score.  In the clubs, I know we glaze over this, but in the contest, the rules must be strictly followed.  If you are over 7 minutes 30 seconds in the speech contest or 3 minutes 30 seconds in the evaluation contest, you are disqualified

Opportunity to expand your depth and knowledge of Toastmasters.

  • You step out of your comfort zone of the regular club meeting agenda (also, the roles in the contest do count towards projects in the Competent Leader manual and the speech can count towards your communication manual, as long as they also meet those objectives).
  • You joined to improve your communication and leadership skills.  This is another way of validating your progress.  How much have you improved as a communicator, and how much have you improved in providing feedback?
  • Your speech writing is done for a different purpose. You will then think differently about every speech you write after that point.
  • You expand your network.  The people I have met from being involved in contests have become friends and great resources. This comes not just from competing, but even helping out at an Area, Division, or District contest.

Try it at the Club Level.  Here are some tools to help

Speech contest information on the Toastmasters website:

Judging form for the Humorous Speech contest:

Judging form for the Evaluation Speech contest:

There are pre-canned downloadable presentations that the club can facilitate on evaluations:

Feel free to Google key words; “Toastmasters evaluation …..”, ” Toastmasters Humorous Speech….”  to find a wealth of information.  To see humorous speeches, search YouTube

I hope this information encourages you to consider participating.  WHY NOT take the leap and compete.