As a long-time member of Toastmasters, I’ve had numerous opportunities to participate as contestant, organizer, or judge, at speech contests at the club, area, and division levels.
According to the speech contest rulebook, these events are considered important to the Toastmasters educational program, providing for participants “…to gain speaking experience, as well as an opportunity to learn by observing proficient speakers”. Indeed, many accomplished speakers and leaders over the years have been involved at one time or another with Toastmasters, some achieving high levels of contest performance.
In my own case, I have been a contestant in speech evaluation and humorous speech contests. I’ve had interesting, if uncomfortable, experiences in both categories.
In my second evaluator event, I made it to the division contest level, which was held in Brockville, a town about one hour drive south of Ottawa. During the evaluation I made a point of noting the stammering of the speaker, observing this was likely a nervous attribute which could be improved. To my chagrin, I found out afterward that this gentleman had stammering as an ongoing affliction, an issue which my better graded competitors may have known in advance.
In representing my club in an area humourous speech contest at the converted upstairs residential locale of the Manotick club (on the southern outskirts of Ottawa), I was unlucky enough to be the last of five contestants. Moreover, the waiting area was on the floor directly below the meeting room, so the reverberations of audience response easily transmitted through the old floors, adding to attendant nerves. On top of that, the luck of the draw also put me right after a local area comic performer, who was making extra income by adding his flair to corporate parties and affairs, and therefore going into this competition at a heightened performance standard. Thus, when I finally appeared, with my Bob Newhart like imaginary phone conversation, the bar of audience laughter was tough to reach.
On the organizational side, I have had opportunities to be master of ceremonies and contest chair. One of the most engaging locales for a contest I ran was hosted by the downtown Ottawa Singles club. As the name suggests, this club combined another venue for Toastmasters with the underlying current of hope or expectation that a ‘singles’ focused club would suggest.
Last evening I was a judge for a contest run by the area governor, a member of my own club. Due to the limited number of contestants – three for Table Topics and two for International Speech – it was mercifully over in about two hours. As is often said by officials on occasions such as this, those of us there were able to bask in the atmosphere of learning and growing as communicators. Also typical of my judging, the order in which I selected the contestant performances mirrored that of the overall adjudications when unveiled at award winner times. (One aspect which could be improved is the time given for judges to do their work: one minute to translate what we’ve heard into marking our ballot scores in at least six categories, each with a wide range of potential scoring, totalling in one minute.)
The winners were invited to the next stage being held later this month in another town an hour’s drive south. It’s an inviting country inn facility. I trust they’ll do O.K. without me.