Q1. What’s all this about speech contests?
In order to provide for people who enjoy competitive speaking, and in order to showcase the best, Toastmasters clubs hold speech contests as many as five times a year. Each contest starts at the club level and works its way up through Area and Division to the District. Three contests go on to Regional and one goes on to the World Convention each August. The contests are:
- Table Topics – 1 to 2 minutes in length. Impromptu speaking. All contestants are taken out of the room and brought back in one by one to speak on the *same* topic, which should be general in nature and not require specialized knowledge which some contestants might have while others might not. Since no contestant hears the topic before his turn to speak on it, you can judge their impromptu speaking abilities by the way in which each person’s effort stacks up against the others. Goes as far as the District level in most Districts.
- Evaluation – 2 to 3 minutes in length. A target speaker gives a speech which all the evaluation contestants are to evaluate. The contestants are taken from the room and given five minutes to prepare their speeches and make notes. Then, their notes are taken away and they are brought back into the room one by one (at which time the contestant gets his notes back) to deliver their oral evaluation of the target speech. Since no contestant hears what another said about the target speech, the judges can compare the analytical abilities of the contestants. Goes as far as the Regional level in most Regions.
- Humorous speech – 5 to 7 minutes. Humorous speaking, which must be original. Year after year, people hear the rules read to them and then stand up and present Bill Cosby routines and then act puzzled when they’re disqualified. It’s supposed to be a *speech*, not a monologue, and it MUST be original. It should also be “clean.” So-called “blue humor” will get you zero points in the “appropriateness” column of the judges’ forms. In other words, it should be a five-to-seven minute speech with a lot of humor value, but ALSO displaying good speechmaking abilities. Goes as far as the Regional level in most Regions.
- International Speech – 5 to 7 minutes. Any topic at all, so long as it’s original. Can be funny, serious, whatever. It should be the best speech you can give, and it must be original. Did I mention that it must be original? Don’t do what so many speakers do and crib at length from someone else’s works and then expect that no one in the audience will smell a rat. The reason this contest is called “International Speech” instead of “General Speech” or “Miscellaneous Speech” is because it’s the only one of the five contests that goes as far as the World level. Each August, winners from the eight Regions and the Overseas clubs (9 contestants in all) compete at the World Convention in the World Championship of Public Speaking.
Q2. How do you pick the winners?
Each contest has a set of rules which mandate originality and lay down the procedures. If you go over your time limit by thirty seconds, you’re eliminated. If you go UNDER your time limit by thirty seconds, you’re eliminated — except in Table Topics, where you must speak at least one minute, no less. Out in the audience, there’ll be a set of judges, scattered among the audience, each with a points form that they use to rate you against what a winning effort should be and how you stack up against the others. There’s a different form for each contest, since each contest involves different skills.
Q3. Who gets to compete?
Any member in good standing (i.e. you’ve got your dues paid) can compete when the contests come around — except for current District and International officers and candidates for same — except for the International Speech Contest. To compete in the International Speech Contest, you must have joined on or before the previous July 1, and you must have given at least six manual speeches towards your CC. This requirement is intended to prevent professional speakers from joining Toastmasters out of the blue solely to compete toward the World Championship of Public Speaking. District and International officers are barred so the judges won’t be swayed by their titles.
Q4. When do the contests take place?
It varies from District to District. Some Districts have two contests in the fall, one in the winter, and two in the spring. Others have two in the fall, two in the winter, and one in the spring. All that matters as far as Toastmasters International is concerned is that all Districts must have held their Evaluation, Humorous, and International Speech contests by the time the Regional conferences roll around in June.
Q5. What do I get if I win a contest?
At the club level, sometimes all you get is a handshake and some applause. By the time you’ve gotten up to Division and District levels, you’re getting some fairly impressive trophies.