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.
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.
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.
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 toastmasters.org/shop/contests/speech-contest-kits 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 toastmasters.org.nz/events/contests 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.