Advice for Speech Contests

Thanks to Toastmasters, I’ve had a variety of opportunities to participate in speech contests, including simply being a member of the audience, competing in them, judging them, and running them. Here’s some advice and information that I provide to competitors before a contest.

Contests have more formal rules than regular Toastmasters meetings, so they’re going to be a slightly different experience for everyone, especially competitors.

Here are some key things to remember:

  1. Outsiders at a contest may very well be judges, but we’re not supposed to notice who the judges are. Although we may introduce external folks as visiting dignitaries, they will never be designated as judges. At larger contests, the Chief Judge may be known, but none of the contributing judges will be identified.

  2. Time is important in competition. Speeches are 5 – 7 minutes, plus or minus 30 seconds. Table topics (short ad hoc question responses) are 1 – 2 minutes, plus 30 seconds (they must make the minimum of 1 minute). Evaluations are 2 – 3 minutes, plus or minus 30 seconds. Failure to meet the time limits will result in disqualification.

  3. Judges are not allowed to know the experience level of competitors, so the Agenda will not show Toastmasters level designations, e.g. – “CC” for Competent Communicator, “ACS” for Advanced Communicator Silver, etc. If you have a badge that shows these designations, please don’t wear it.

  4. In the Table Topics Contest, all contestants will be responding to the same question. Competitors will be sequestered until it’s their time to compete. One of the jobs of the Sergeant-at-Arms (SAA) at a contest is to handle the sequestering.

  5. In the Evaluation Contest, all contestants watch the same speech from a designated Model Speaker. After the speech, all notes are collected and the contestants are sequestered without their notes or any paper/materials. Contestants get their notes back briefly before they compete. One of the jobs of the Sergeant-at-Arms (SAA) at a contest is to handle the sequestering.

  6. Just because a contest is more formal, don’t worry about it. You’ve done this before. You can do it again. It’s still the same, friendly audience. Relax. Have fun.

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