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April 2024
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How to Run a Club Speech Contest

What you need to know as a contest chair.

By Bill Brown, DTM

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Click the play button for encouraging tips on running a speech contest.


Your club president is looking for someone to run a speech contest. What are your thoughts? Oh, no. That sounds complicated. I wouldn’t know where to start. Sound familiar? As it turns out, running a club speech contest is not as demanding as it may seem. A brief review of the basics can help you feel confident volunteering for this project.

As the club contest chair, your first question is, Which Toastmasters speech contest am I running? Each one is unique, and the differences are outlined in the Speech Contest Rulebook (Item 1171). It lists rules and outlines procedures for the International, Evaluation, Humorous, Table Topics, Tall Tales and Video Speech contests. (Note: There is some flexibility at the club level.)

Once you have decided which contest you are holding, your first order of business is to recruit contestants. Although this may seem obvious, it is frequently the hardest task. This isn’t your job alone, however—club officers should be actively involved in recruiting members to compete. Make sure your club is promoting the contest weeks in advance to give participants a chance to prepare.

The rest of your responsibilities can be divided into two areas: personnel and supplies. Which roles do you need to fill? It depends on the contest and how many people will help. You make do with what you have.

You, or another member, must serve as the contest Toastmaster. The timer is also a critical role. Having two is best, but you need at least one. Ideally, you’ll have several vote counters, but if you are short-handed, again, make do with who you have. Two sergeants at arms are helpful when running Table Topics or Speech Evaluation contests, but you can get by with one.

“If no one is experienced, don’t worry, the Speech Contest Rulebook will walk you through it.”

If one of your club members is experienced with contests, assign that person the chief judge role. He or she will ensure that the rules are followed, the ballots are counted properly and the appropriate paperwork is submitted. If no one is experienced, don’t worry, the Speech Contest Rulebook will walk you through it.

You will also need additional judges. In some clubs, all members participate in the judging. Other clubs choose a select group of members for that purpose. That is your call, but make sure the chief judge trains any first-timers.

If you conduct a Speech Evaluation Contest, you will need one additional person: a test speaker for the contestants to evaluate. This should be someone they haven’t heard speak before. Ask your officers and senior club members for help.

Now, let’s consider the supplies you will need:

Forms: It is up to you or the chief judge to ensure that all documents are available, including enough ballot copies for all judges. You can download them from the Toastmasters website.

Table Topics Question: If you are running a Table Topics Contest, you or a key member of your club should create several questions. Having options will make it easier to select the one question you will use for the contest.

Speaking Order: Immediately preceding a speech contest, your contestants will draw for the speaking order. Many clubs use numbered slips of paper. Others use playing cards. Be sure that you or your contest Toastmaster has something available.

Those are the main supplies you’ll need, but depending on your club tradition, you may choose to order optional items—for example, trophies for winners or certificates of appreciation for either the contestants or all the participants. Go to the Toastmasters online shop and click on “Contests” to find awards, ribbons and anything else you may need.

Running a club speech contest may sound like a large project, but it doesn’t need to be. Break down your action points into component parts, recruit a team to help and get to work—one detail at a time. Before you know it, you will be ready to pick a winner.

Watch a tutorial to learn the fundamental principles of a Toastmasters Speech Contest.

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