Organising a Speech Contest

As a rookie Vice President Education (VPE), one of the most challenging tasks facing me was organising my first speech contest. I had in fact attended a contest the previous year, and even entered the Evaluation contest, but I still had only the vaguest of ideas of how the event was actually organised. My liveliest recollection of taking part in the Evaluation contest was of having to wait my turn in the freezing cold of the dark church above our old premises in St Paul’s church hall. How the event was actually put together was not of the slightest interest to me at the time. Now, however, I found myself wishing I had been a little more observant of what had been going on around me!

Contest season was fast approaching.  Very quickly we had a full quota of contestants. All I had to do now was put the event together. No problem, I reasoned to myself, clubs run contests every year. Toastmasters is such a well-oiled machine of an institution there is bound to be a template somewhere that sets out how these things should be done. Well, I found this was true, up to a point; there was plenty of guidance out there, except, as it happened, when it came to the actual agenda for the evening.

As good regular attendees of Toastmaster meetings, you will all no doubt appreciate the value of the agenda in keeping us on the straight and narrow path of perfect timekeeping. I knew how much we would go astray during a contest evening without the right agenda to guide us. But could I find a Humorous Speech and Table Topics contest agenda among the many templates squirrelled away on the website? No! I would have to put one together myself. Eventually, after much consultation with our webmaster Moira Beaton, and many attempts later, we finally produced The Perfect Contest Agenda. We were back on track again.

Now I had to come up with names to fill all those empty boxes on the agenda. I had to find a chief judge, contest chairs, timers, counters and sergeants-at-arms. As for judges, this year the clubs in our area are experimenting with swopping judges among clubs so recruiting judges was one responsibility I could delegate to Neil Maclure, our Club President. Two weeks before the contest I sent out a call for volunteers and had a terrific response from our members. In fact, for me, this was one of the most positive aspects of organising the contest, the wonderful spirit of co-operation from our members. All of the roles were filled in no time.

Contest night came and all went smoothly. Our contest chairs, Ritchie Brown and Neil Maclure, were well prepared. Our chief judge, David Dick, took matters expertly in hand, and our visiting judges were slotted in seamlessly. Thanks to all our willing volunteers, we had a very enjoyable and successful contest night. And we have an excellent template to work from for next time!

Aideen O’Malley, Vice President Education

First Time: Speaking Outside The Club

2-28-2014_005Having volunteered to give the Test Speech for Haymarket Toastmasters’ evaluation contest on 3rd  March, it came as something of a surprise to find myself being asked to give my speech at Capital Communicators (CapCom) on 25 February!

It turned out that through some complex trade-off (OK it wasn’t that complex – Haymarket had found a speaker, whilst CapCom had not) my services had been bartered like “a poor man’s Juan Mata” – moved from club to club in search of a first team game.

After shouting down my first thought on being asked to move my speech forward almost one week – my default position of “I’m going to say no. I’m can’t get prepared in time” – I was left with a double challenge. Firstly I was going to be speaking to an audience of relative strangers and secondly it was CapCom!

The first issue is an interesting one.

I’m sure to a greater or lesser degree we all join Toastmasters to get over a fear of public speaking.  Then, as our Toastmasters journey progresses, we are presented with a bit of a paradox.

We begin to get more comfortable at public speaking, but the particular “public” we address at our regular meetings also becomes less daunting. This is particularly true in a club as welcoming as Waverley, where we can soon find ourselves addressing a group of friends.

Of course, it’s great to be in an environment where we can try things out and not be petrified of failure. But if there is a downside then it is that it might not prepare us as well for the “being thrown in at the deep end” scenario that is certainly my biggest fear.

The second challenge?

Well you see, CapCom and I have some history.

Around 8 years ago, when I was really struggling to come to terms with public speaking anxiety, a well meaning friend directed me to a CapCom meeting.

I wasn’t in a particularly good place at the time.  And it’s probably fair to say that I left their meeting place, the Theosophical Society in Great King Street, that evening convinced that the prospect of me ever being able to deliver the sort of speech I had witnessed as a guest that night was about as likely as me being asked to take the place of Robbie Williams in the recently reformed Take That (it was 2006 remember!).

Anyway, the point is that I was being asked to return to the site of one of my lowest moments in the very long chronicle that has been my phobia of public speaking.

Of course, a lot had changed since these dark days: not least, over 3 years, I had experienced the best Waverley Communicators encouragement, helpful evaluation and occasional cajolement.

Much to my surprise, although still nervous at the thought of addressing an audience of relative strangers, I found myself excited too.

I was repeating a speech I had delivered at Waverley a few weeks before and that I felt could have gone better on the night (don’t you always?).

It was a speech I had taken a while to put together and the chance to dust it off and re-cycle it with, hopefully, a bit more polish was a great opportunity.

On the night, the members at CapCom was very welcoming and did their best to put me at ease.

My speech went reasonably well. It was still far from perfect, but then I did hear Chris Evans of all people philosophise only this morning that “perfect is the enemy of good” – and I get his point.

In my opinion, the opportunity to speak to a different audience is a very important step in the Toastmasters journey and one that should be grasped when it presents itself.

Guest post written by David Dick

Member of Waverley Communicators, Edinburgh

First Time: Evaluation

evaluation 01_Evaluations_LR

Guest post written by Alex Nuth, Member Waverley Communicators

First Evaluation

After being a member of Waverley Communicators for over a year, I have given my first speech evaluation.

I probably waited much longer than many members, but the more speeches I gave at the club, the more I appreciated the value of the evaluation and feedback that I received.

In the last few months I was pleased to realise that many of the points I was writing on my evaluation slips for other members’ speeches, were also mentioned in verbal evaluations by more experienced club members. That gave me the confidence to do my first evaluation.

My first evaluation on 23rd January was for Gopal Lama who was delivering speech 3 from the Competent Communicator (CC) manual. His speech was called Volunteering in Nepal.


I re-read the speech project in the manual to make sure I knew the objectives and I read the Toastmasters Effective Evaluations booklet .

I also thought about Gopal’s previous speeches, and what I had enjoyed about them and previously recommended.  I emailed him to ask if he had anything he would especially like me to concentrate on, and I made contact with my mentor to run some thoughts past her.

I felt quite confident and prepared when I arrived at 6.45pm. I divided my sheet of paper into two columns, one for commendations and one for recommendations and sat back to enjoy the  meeting.


Then, when Gopal began his speech I realised how hard it is to look, listen and write all at the same time!


The time seemed to pass in a flash and  it was time for me to take to the floor; give a 3 minute mini-speech without rehearsal; and remember the Toastmasters ‘sandwich’ of commend, recommend and commend at the same time trying to read my own handwritten notes.


I hope I did OK in conveying my personal opinions on how Gopal’s speech met the objectives.

I hope the audience followed my thinking and that I didn’t speak down into my notes too much.

But most importantly, I hope that Gopal took something positive from my evaluation to carry forward to his next speech.