How to organise a Toastmaster Speech contest

How a contest works

Toastmasters clubs all around the globe hold four contests annually. Club members compete to win their contest and then compete with winners from other clubs at the area > division > district level. These four contests are:

Table Topics – An impromptu speech, all contestants are assigned the same topic, determined by the contest chair. This is told to them when they are introduced to the stage. Speeches are one to two minutes in length.

Evaluation – Contestants observe a five to seven minute test speech and then present a two to three minute evaluation of the test speech.

Humourous – Contestants present a humorous five to seven minute speech that must be thematic in nature (opening, body, and close), not a monologue (series of one-liners).

International – Contestants present a five to seven minute speech on a subject of their choosing.

Any member can compete in their club’s contests provided they are a paid member. International speech contestants must have completed at least two levels of a path to participate in this contest.

The winners of the club contest will compete in their Area (a group of clubs) contest. The winner of the Area contest will compete in their Division (a group of areas) contest. The winner of the Division contest will then compete in their District (a group of divisions – NZ is split into two districts) contest. All contests aside from the International speech contest end at the District level. The winner of the District contest will compete in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

How to organise a club contest

There are lot of moving parts going into organising a Toastmasters speech contest. A contest needs club members to sign up as competitors, a contest chair, timers, ballot counters and a sergeant at arms. Judges from other clubs are also needed. The most important thing when organising a club contest is to start planning well in advance, ideally 4 – 6 weeks ahead of time.

Each aspect of organising a contest has its own heading below, with a checklist of when everything should be organised, and email templates to send out to participants.

This template is a good starting point and can be used to keep track of everyone who is participating in the contest.

Organising the contestants

Contestants are members of the club. They must be paid members “in good standing” to compete. There are no other requirements, except for the International contest which requires members to have completed two levels of a Pathways path.

At least three meetings before the contest, ask the president to tell the club of the upcoming contest and ask for contestants and helpers. Take note of who has signed up. Ask the president to mention the contest at the closing business for each meeting until the contest.

A couple of days after this, email the club outlining how the club contest works, and ask for members to sign up as contestants and helpers.

There is no limit to the number of contestants in a competition, but you must consider meeting timing, and balance participation from contestants against club members performing the other roles needed. You will need a minimum of four helpers.

Organising the helpers

At the same time you’re asking for contestants, also ask your club members to fill the helper roles. These roles are necessary for the contest to run smoothly. All helper roles except for the contest chair will be briefed by the chief judge.

Helper roles

Contest chair x1 – The Toastmaster of the contest. They open and close the contest, explain how it works, brief and introduce contestants and more. Contest chairs need to prepare for this role. The contest chair script (download below) provides a great guideline of how to run the contest.

Timer x2 – Similar to a club timer role, one timer manages the lights, whilst the other looks at the stopwatch and notes down the contestant’s time. Can be done with one timer if necessary.

Ballot counter x2 – Collects the judge’s ballots and tallies the results. Can be done with one ballot counter if necessary.

Sergeant-At-Arms x1 – Escorts the contestants out of the room when necessary, secures the door, and leads contestants into the room at the required times.

Test speaker x1 – Evaluation contests require a test speaker for contestants to evaluate. This speaker must be from another club.

Organising judges

Six weeks before the contest, send an email out to local clubs (use NZ club finder to see a list of close clubs, or view the spreadsheet in our club’s Google Drive). Clubs will often ‘trade-horses’ so if we offer to provide judges at their contest they will provide them at ours. Include this offer in your email.

Judges must be from other clubs to ensure there is no bias and to encourage inter-club relations.

There are no requirements to be a judge at the club contest level, aside from being a paid member of their club. Judges should remain anonymous where possible; never point them out.

An email should be sent to judges a week before the contest confirming contest details.

Purchase a gift for each judge and test speaker as a thank you for their time. The cost of the gift should be $10 – $15 each which will be reimbursed by the club.

Required Judges

Chief judge x1 – Briefs the judges, timers, ballot counters and sergeant-at-arms. Selects the tiebreaker judge.

Voting judge x5 – Observes contestants, fills out judging ballot and provides feedback in the judges de-brief at the end of the contest for the contest winners.

Tie breaker judge x1 – Similar to a voting judge. Results are counted if there is a tie from the voting judge’s results.

In a perfect world, you will find seven judges (five voting judges, one tie breaker, one chief judge), however the contest rules do note that if this is impractical (i.e., we can’t find enough judges) this can be bent a little. Check-in with the VP Education and President of the club if you are struggling with to get the numbers. You can get away with three voting judges, and a chief judge who can also be the tie-breaker judge.

Preparing contest materials

Make sure you print out all the materials you need for the contest night well in advance to ensure there are sufficient quantities. If you’re running multiple contests on the same night, print out enough for both contests. To make things easier, separate out the resources into folders to give to the chief judge and contest chair for each contest. It pays to print a spare copy of each item.

Speech Contest Kit – To make your life easier, you can go to and download the Speech Contest kit relevant to the contest(s) you’re running. These kits have all the resources to download and print out. Do not print out a rule book for each contestant as that’s a waste a paper.

Certificates –You will need certificates for Participation, First, Second, Third place. Check whether our club has these already printed. Before the contest, fill out the participation certificates and give these to the contest chair. The First, Second, Third place certificates are given to the head judge.

Eligibility forms – (provided in the speech contest kit). Judges and Contestants need to fill these out. Judge forms should be given to the head judge and contestant forms should be given to the contest chair.

Contest rule book – This is updated every year. Always reference the latest version.

Present for judges & test speaker – Buy a present for each judge, and for the test speaker if you’re running an evaluation contest.

Contest agenda – Similar to the club agenda. Ensure plenty of copies are printed so judges and guests have a copy. Do not include the name of judges. You can base the content of the agenda off this template.

A deck of cards – For contest chairs to determine the speaking order.


It’s recommended that contest chairs utilise the helpful ‘Speech Contest Scripts’ provided by Toastmasters NZ as both a general guide and a script to follow. Contest chairs should familiarise themselves with this script, especially the sections for the contest they are chairing.

Since this is updated every year find the latest script at and search the page for ‘Speech Contest Scripts’. An older version of the script can be found here.

Send this script to the contest chair. It may be helpful for the contest’s sergeant-at-arms to view this. Make sure you send the most up-to-date version.

Preparation Timeline

A helpful breakdown of when to organise and contact speech contest participants follows. Included are email templates for judges and club members.

At least six weeks before contest

  • Thoroughly read this (guide). Ask your VP Education if you have any questions.
  • Ask your Club President to notify the club of the contest date and ask for participants, helpers, and club volunteers to assist with judging at other club contests.
  • Email local clubs to ask for judges. Normally you can start by emailing 8 local clubs. Email template can be found here. Also keep an eye out for other clubs emailing to ask for judges. You can usually nab a judge or two by offering to judge at their contest.
  • Email the club to inform them of the upcoming contest, and to request participation. Email template can be found here.
  • Set up this document to keep track of contestants, helpers, and judges.

Four weeks before contest

  • You should have your 7 judges from other clubs by now. Follow up with other local clubs if you don’t yet have this number.
  • You should have helpers and contest participants locked in. Follow up directly with specific members if you still have unfulfilled roles or are low on contestants.

Two weeks before contest

  • Ensure contestants, helpers, and judges are finalised by now.

At least one meeting before contest

Ideally the following will be done at least one meeting prior to the contest. This means each role holder can ask questions in person if they are unsure about their role. It can get hectic on contest night and this can be minimised if everyone is well prepared.

  • Email the contest chair of each contest with information on performing their role. Ensure they are emailed the script for the contest chair. Email template can be found here.
  • Email the sergeant-at-arms of each contest with information on performing their role. Email template can be found here.
  • Email the timers of each contest with information on performing their role. Email template can be found here.
  • Email the ballot counters of each contest with information on performing their role. Email template can be found here.
  • Email the contestants of each contest with information on the contest and the rule book. Each contest has a different email template. Email templates can be found below.

One week before contest

  • Create the agenda. Use our regular template but use this template as a guide for the content section.
  • Email judges (and test speaker for evaluation contest) to confirm attendance and details. Email template can be found here.
  • Email the chief judge with information on the judges. Email template can be found here.
  • Email club to confirm attendance and provide more information. Email template can be found here.
  • If you’re running the evaluation contest, contact the test speaker to find out the name of their speech.

Weekend before contest

  • Print agenda, ensuring plenty of copies are printed.
  • Print out contest materials – see the above ‘contest materials’ section for everything to print. Ensure these are organised so that you can easily give them to the people who need them.
  • Ensure contest chair is comfortable with the role and answer any questions they may have.
  • Contact the club’s sergeant-at-arms to ensure that the room is set up by 6pm, and that we’ll have extra biscuits and milk, and that there will be extra chairs.
  • Purchase a gift for each judge and test speaker as a thank you for their time. The cost of the gift should be $10 – $15 each which will be reimbursed by the club.

During contest

  • Arrive early.
  • Give contest chair the documents they need.
  • Give chief judge the documents they need.
  • Write out all participation certificates.
  • Take photos when certificates are handed out.
  • Have fun!

After contest

  • Record the winning order of the contestants and pass this on to the Area Director for the area contest. Record the full ranking of contestants even beyond first, second, and third. In the case where a contestant is unable to make the area contest, the next ranking contestant is eligible to attend the area contest to represent the club in their place.
  • Email judges from other clubs thanking them for their time and following up with relevant club members on contests we have promised judges for.