19. A New Series: My Personal Journey in Public Speaking: 6. Highlights - Contests


In the midst of playing roles in your club meetings, or preparing and delivering speeches as a new member, one will walk right into…. Contest season!

Contests are the events in a Toastmaster's calendar that often bring the excitement up a few notches. As a newer member, one would usually start by helping existing members organise speech contests. And there are 2 seasons of contests, one around the 3rd quarter of the year and one around the first quarter of the year.

The Humorous Speech contest and the Speech Evaluation contest usually come together around August - September and the International Speech and the Table Topics contest occur around February and March.

I will share what I remember during my time as a member, a contest organiser and a contestant. The contests always start at Club level, and the winner at the Club represents the Club to participate at the Area level, and then the Division level and finally the District level. Most contests end at District level, except the International Speech contest, which goes all the way to GLOBAL level, where the finalists meet at the International Convention to compete for the Grand Champion of public speaking!

I'll try to share by type of contest (based on memory):

A. The Table Topics Contest

  1. Like the usual Table Topics session, this contest tests the contestants' ability to think on the fly, to be able to conjure and present an impromptu speech upon given the topic by the Contest Chair.

  2. Contestants will wait outside the contest hall until their names are called.

  3. One by one, they come into the hall, get ready on stage, listen to the Contest Chair give the topic twice, and off they go.

  4. The contestant is given 1-2 minutes to craft and present a coherent and interesting story. Of course, judging will be based on the basics of public speaking as well. Anything less than 30s or more than 2.5 minutes will be disqualified.

  5. The Organiser will need to prepare a secret topic before hand for the contestants to use.

B. Humorous Speech Contest

  1. This was my favourite speech contest, as I was known at some point to always make people laugh. However, a contest is so much more different than a normal speech. The content has to have a balance of meaning, and yet be light hearted enough to tickle the funny bone of predominantly strangers

  2. The timing given for a contestant is between 5 - 7 minutes to complete the speech. Anything above 7.5 minutes or less than 4.5 minutes will be disqualified.

  3. One of the main challenges I faced while presenting these speeches during contest time is usually trying to achieve a balance between funny, and meaningful, while completing it within the 7 minutes allowed.

C. Speech Evaluation Contest

  1. This type of contest is different, because there is an additional role player involved, a Test Speaker. This person will prepare and deliver a 5-7 minute speech, usually taken from one of the Project Speeches from a Competent Communication Manual.

  2. The contestants will then listen and watch the speaker and take notes.

  3. After the speech, the contestants are all led into a separate room to prepare their evaluation speeches.

  4. After a short time, one by one will be led back into the contest hall. Each will then present his/her evaluation to the test speaker, whom will be sitting somewhere in front of the audience.

  5. The contestants are given 2-3 minutes to present their evaluations, with anything above 3.5 minutes and below 1.5 minutes being a disqualification.

D. International Speech Contest

  1. This contest is similar in timing to the Humorous Speech contest. However, the messages and content of this contest are usually more serious and somber, many are touching and with plenty of meaning and learnings. Some contestants are good at tugging the emotional heart strings of the audience, causing some to to cry too.

  2. I found this to be the toughest contest type for me when I was a participant in the first 3 or 4 years as a Toastmaster.

What I learnt from Contests:

As a participant/contestant

  1. To gain confidence, you just need to try and participate;

  2. To gain experience, you just need to, yes, participate, again and again

  3. To learn perseverance, you also need to try and participate, and then, when you first don’t succeed, you try again, and again, and again

  4. To gain humility, you have to lose, after you have won (for me, I won some club contests, then was thoroughly beaten in area contests, again and again)

  5. To continue learning the art of getting better, you need to learn from your fellow contestants

  6. To grow, you need to do all the above with a cheerful heart and a joyful smile

As a Contest Organiser

  1. Event planning teaches us organisation, step by step planning

  2. Nothing totally goes as planned, so we need to sturdy our hearts and take last minute changes with a smile on our face and peace in our hearts

  3. Your committee is not your workforce, they are your team mates that should be treasured and cared for

  4. You cannot plan or organise contests without networking with other people, so if you are an introvert, like I am, you will need to step out of your shell for a while to get things done, but trust me, it is always worth the stretch

  5. You get better by planning and organising more and more events.

Discussion Point: If you are a Toastmaster, what were your personal learnings during contests?

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