Every year Toastmasters rise to the challenge of running competitions. The competitions are held in 4 categories currently; Humorous, Evaluation, Table Topics and International (Prepared). The purpose of these events is not to establish any sort of superiority as such but rather to provide Toastmaster members with a suitable forum to showcase their skills and stimulate new, higher levels of speaking achievement.
Every established club usually devotes one meeting per year per type of competition and often precedes that with a workshop to make members aware of what is involved with each event. This can comprise up to 8 meetings out of approximately 23 per year for a club meeting fortnightly, one third of the club year. Some Toastmaster clubs take this very seriously.
The winners of the club competitions compete at an Area competition convened by the Area Director. An Area is a grouping of 3-6 clubs.
Winners at Area level compete at a Division Conference held annually. Divisions usually are geographic groupings, New Zealand has 7 Divisions each comprising 25 to 50 clubs (up to 8 areas in each Division)
Winners at Division level compete at the annual District (national) conference. as you can imagine, competition at this level is usually of a very high standard indeed.
The winner of the NZ Prepared Speech competition, known as the International Competition, represents NZ in the competitions that determine the annual World Champion of Public Speaking. Serious stuff? Yes, some take it very seriously indeed. Some World Champions and winners at other levels become professional speakers and trainers. A successful public speaker can make significant money although as always, the scope is much greater overseas.
What is involved? Nothing you havent seen already, 7 minute speeches for the two Speech competitions, 2 minute Table Topics and 3 minute evaluations in the Evaluation event.
The Evaluation contest uses a test speaker from another club who delivers a manual speech (level unspecified). Each evaluator then delivers an evaluation using the normal format. The evaluators dont get to hear the evaluations that precede their own. Three judges then determine a winner by submitting a ballot slip to a Tally Counter who does the requisite sums.
This same judging procedure is used in all competitions, the only real difference being that the higher the level of competition, the more judges are employed.
The Humorous, Table Topics and International competitions are as their names imply. To compete beyond club level in the International event a competitor needs to have completed 6 manual speeches from their C&L Manual, but this need not deter anyone from trying their skills at club level. This restriction applies to the International Competition only. Typically a successful International speech is of a motivational nature and nowadays has an element of humour. Humour is obviously a necessary ingredient of the Humorous event and often is a big help in the Table Topics Contest.
It is embodied in the great Toastmaster myths that the Evaluation Contest and the Table Topics Competition are a doddle because they require no preparation. This might be true if you are a seasoned veteran Toastmaster but it isnt the case for the newer arrivals, quite the reverse. Evaluations are seldom successful if the evaluator is careless with criteria or format and successful Table Topics rely on a knowledge base from which the speaker can draw. But then, if youve done a Table Topic you already know that.
Before participating in a competition, indeed before delivering any speech, ensure that you study the objectives first. As Stephen Covey puts it; start with the end in mind. Read the judging criteria thoroughly and ensure that your entry will measure up.
It is possible to combine a contest entry with a manual assignment providing the content meets both sets of criteria, the objects set out in the manual and those of the individual competition. Most C&L speeches are of 7 minute duration, so give it some thought. If you go down this route, ensure that you receive a written evaluation in your manual at the time by arranging in advance for a suitably qualified Toastmaster to do this for you.
New members will be unfamiliar with competitions. Indeed a number of members have only given one or two speeches and may find the whole competition scene complex and even daunting. Rest assured, the events can be a lot of fun and great entertainment.
For those in two minds as to whether to enter or not, just remember that Toastmasters is all about personal growth through the continual exercise and flexing of your speaking skills and you should seize every opportunity to do this.
It is not about winning so much as the thrill of the chase - just doing it!