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. The four contests are:

Table Topics – An impromptu speech, all contestants are assigned the same topic, told to them when they are introduced by the contest chair. Speeches are to be 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 any subject they choose.

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 their District contest will compete in the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

How to organise a club contest

A lot of work is involved in organising a Toastmasters speech contest. A contest needs club members to sign up as competitors, a contest chair, and also for helper roles. Judges from other clubs are also necessary. The most important thing when organising a club contest is to allow a lot of time (ideally 4 – 6 weeks ahead) to ensure everything is prepared and you aren’t rushing on the night.

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.

Begin by creating a document to keep track of everyone who is participating in the club. Use this template.

Organising the contestants

The contestants are members of the club. They must be paid members 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 are no limits to how many contestants a contest can have, but consider meeting timing, and also the fact that a contest requires a minimum of four helpers from the club.

Organise 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 – Essentially the Toastmaster of the contest. They open and close the contest, explain how it works, brief contestants, introduce contestants, and more. Contest chairs need to prepare for this role. There is a contest chair script (download below) that contest chairs should use as a 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.

Sergent-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 to evaluate. This speaker should 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). Offer that our club can provide judges for their contests.

Judges should 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.

An email should be sent to judges a week before the contest as a confirmation of the contest details.

Purchase a gift for each judge and test speaker as a thank you for their time.

Required judges

Chief judge x1 – Briefs the judges, and all helpers. Organises the tiebreaker judge.

Voting judge x5 – Observes speakers, fills out judges ballot and has a judges de-brief at the end of the contest to provide feedback to 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 require seven judges (five voting judges, one tie breaker, one head judge), but this isn’t as necessary at the club level as it’s sometimes tricky to find enough judges. You can get away with three voting judges, and a chief judge who can also be the tie-breaker judge.

Preparing contest materials

There’s quite a bit of material that you need to bring and print out so that the contest runs smoothly. If you’re running multiple contests on the same night, ensure you 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. Ensure you 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 should have all of 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 – Participation, 1st, 2nd, 3rd. Our club should have some of these already printed, but check this. Before the contest, fill out the Participation certificates and give these to the contest chair. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd certificates should be given to the head judge.

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

Contest rule book – Note this is updated every year. Search for 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.

Scripts

It’s recommended that contest chairs follow the helpful ‘Speech contest scripts’ provided by Toastmasters NZ. Contest chairs should read through this, especially for the contest they are charing. These should also be used as a guide for how the contest chair should run the contest.

The scripts are updated most years. To find the latest, go to 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, and it also may be helpful to the contest’s sergeant-at-arms to view this. Since this is updated every year you should attach the latest version when sending this.

Preparation timeline

Here’s a breakdown of when to organise and contact speech contest participants. This also includes email templates to save time when emailing judges and club members.

At least six weeks before contest

  • Thoroughly read through this and ask any questions to VP Education or someone who has organised a club contest before.
  • Ask president to discuss with the club and ask for participants and helpers.
  • Email local clubs to ask for judges. Suggest emailing 8 clubs. Email template can be found here.
  • 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

  • Follow up with judges to ensure you have enough signed up.
  • Follow up and chase up members to ensure that you have enough participants and helpers.

Two weeks before contest

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

One week before contest

  • Make 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Contact the test speaker to find out the name of their speech (if you’re running an evaluation contest).

Ensure that everyone understands how to perform their roles, as it’s always very busy on the contest night and there may not be enough time to answer everyone’s questions.

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 you may have.

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

  • Ensure winning documents are recorded and kept safe for the area contest + passed on to the Area Director for the area contest