Chief Judge and the High Performance Leadership Project

Toastmasters Contests Chief Judge High Performance Leadership project HPL

Toastmasters Contest Chief Judge

Do you love paperwork?  Then the role of chief judge is yours.  Because there is a boatload of paperwork that the chief judge has to manage.

I guess they called this organizer the Chief Judge because she is – wait for it – in charge of the judging and the judges.  And the ballots.  And the ballot counters and the timers and… all that paperwork.

The chief judge is technically not a judge.  They have no votes in the contest at all.  I tend to think of the Toastmasters contest master as a ringmaster in a circus – the one out front, directing the audience’s attention to the next attract.  The Chief Judge is more like the backstage manager – handling the logistics.

The Chief Judge Needs Help

Along with the contest chair, the first task after the date time and location are set up is to recruit judges.  This is not a light task.  Finding volunteers who you believe can be impartial and do the job well often takes a lot of phone calls.  At the club level, bringing in outside judges is not necessary, but I’ve done a lot of contest judging for different clubs because they don’t have enough people.   I’ve run contests for new clubs when they don’t have enough experienced Toastmasters.  Judge recruitment is not a task you leave to the end and expect to pick up some people at the door.  That’s the last thing you want to do.

I learned from one experienced contest chief judge that the key to managing your judges is to tell them to get to the contest at least a half hour before the contest is scheduled to start and… to use file folders.

Why File Folders Matter

There are dozens of pieces of paper that have to be managed to complete the contest by the book.  By creating a file folder for every single person who is involved with the contest, I know if they’ve been briefed because I don’t have the file any longer and I know they’ve gotten everything they need.

Pretty much everyone gets a copy of the rule book.  Yes, that gets a bit expensive to print – 28 or 32 pages per book – but at the area level contest in particular, it’s a critical document to get in as many hands as possible.   As of right now, the only option on the Toastmasters website is to download – there are no copies for sale outside of the kits.

Since it’s now a downloadable PDF, it may be that you can ask people if you can send it to them and they can read it on their phones or tablets or laptops at the contests.  Welcome to the 21st century.

I now have a set of file folders I reuse with the various roles on the tabs:

  1. Chief Judge (for my papers)
  2. Judges – one per judge
  3. Tie Breaker Judge
  4. Timer
  5. Ballot Collectors/Counters
  6. Sergeant at Arms.

I also prepare a file for the Contest Master just in case they need one.

Why?  Because I have to brief every single one of these people about their jobs.  Even if they’ve done it a dozen times in the past, the briefings must be done and the files, once they leave my hands, tell me that I’ve completed that task.

Chief Judge Toastmasters Contest Briefings

I start with the SAA because they may have some work to do and I want to get them out there to do it.


The Sergeant at arms file has a

  • list of all the contestants’ names and which contest they are entering
  • note to check with every contestant about their need for assistance with props
  • map to the location where contestants will be secluded (if necessary)
  • set of instructions for the timing for the contest
  • signs for the doors that say PLEASE DO NOT ENTER HERE.

I also provide tape or some approved adhesive to hang the signs and tell the SAA to put chairs where they want to sit, since they are guarding the doors.  Ideally, there are several people serving in this role because not only do the doors need to be protected during presentations, but the other contestants need to be supervised.  I’d say a minimum of 2 SAAs at the club level, and more at the area/division level based on the number of doors.

And then I send them on their way.  The contest master might also want to brief them as well and introduce them to the contestants if there is an evaluation or Table Topics contest and to determine the props placement.


Their file includes the timers sheets for each contest.  I review the times for each contest and make sure that they have a timing device, a set of 3 colored cards (red, yellow and green) and whatever other timing device that will be used.  The backup cards are mandatory – stuff happens at contests, like the lights don’t work.  It happens!  Make sure they know how to use the devices and how to do the timing.  This seems elementary, but I had a 20 year Toastmaster who didn’t know how to do it.  Don’t let that happen in your contest!

Ballot Collectors/Counters

I’ve seen this role split into two – maybe to increase the number of participants and make them feel like part of the event.  If the collectors and counters are different, I take care of the counters first by explaining the technique of ballot counting – a first place speaker gets 3 points, a second place speaker gets 2 points and the 3rd place speaker gets 1 point.  EVERY SINGLE TIME I MESS THIS UP.  I always recruit someone good at numbers at this role and get another person to check the work.

Ballot collectors need to know who the judges are and where they choose to sit.  This is the least responsible role – all they have to do is bring the completed judges’ ballots to the chief judge (me) at the end of each contest.  We try to keep this as low key and unnoticeable as possible as the identity of the judges is supposed to be secret.  Yeah – that doesn’t happen when the first ballots are collected.

This file folder includes the counter’s tally sheets.  One per contest, but I generally have extras because math is hard.  It’s easier to start again on a clean sheet.

Tie-Breaking Judge

This is the one person who is especially secret.  No one – not even the other judges  – is supposed to know who this is, but the briefings are essentially the same.  What’s different is the ballots.  While regular judges have the top 3 slots to fill in, the tie breaking judge lists all of the competitors in their winning order.  If we have a tie between contestants, the tie breaking judge’s vote breaks the tie.  Otherwise, the ballot is not used.

Remember that rule book – how the tie-breaking judge’s ballot is used is laid out in there.


The number of judges is based on multiple factors.  It is a huge issue in area and division contests – so recruit a lot of judges.  Check the rule book for the requirements for a judge.  For example, they have to have been a paid member for at least 6 months.  They can’t be competing for another club if this is an area, division, or district contest.  This means I can judge at another club level contest, but not another area, division or district contest if I’m competing.

Getting well-trained judges shouldn’t be hard… but it is.

Toastmasters has good training online for judges – covering potential biases, position of the speaker, the pity card… Ok, they don’t call it that, that’s what I call it.

Judging is inherent biased.  I know what I like and I know what I don’t.  I’m very unlikely to vote for a speaker whose topic offends me.  That speaker is going to have to be extraordinary – truly fantastic to win me over.    Is that fair?  It’s a matter of taste.  And personal taste influences a judge.  I’ll say it again:  judging is highly subjective.  I’m not alone.  I’ve talked with others who have said the same.

Talking about talking to judges:  oy.  There’s a very strict rule that a contestant cannot ask a judge about their rankings.  You can’t ask a judge who they voted for or why.  You can’t get an evaluation from a judge to figure out what to do better next time.  Pretty much the only thing a contestant can say to a judge is, “Thanks for judging this contest.”

Yes, contestants will ask.  Judges should be prepared to say, “I really can’t answer any questions – but you can ask anyone else in the room for an evaluation.”  As chief judge, I like to reiterate that during the briefing.  Because… well, I’ll admit it.  I’ve done it.  I didn’t mean to!  I kinda forgot she were a judge… she was my friend whose opinion I respected.

A few times, when a judge was being questioned by an unhappy contestant – because happy contestants never ask – I’ve intervened with a few comments of my own.  “Oh, he can’t answer you  since he was a judge, but I thought you did a great job when you…”

Ethics and Training

The other thing that I do if I know I’m going to be judging is to ask for my signed judge’s ethics form back.  The district director offered to laminate mine for me since I was going to be judging a lot of contests that year – that’s what happens when you’re a division governor.

Back to the judge training.  As chief judge, I would probably send an invitation to my judges to partake of the Toastmasters International online training.  You can finish them very quickly – I don’t think the videos all together all more than 30 minutes.  Or I might give a club speech that covers the most important parts – the week before the contest.

Judges’ file folders have the rule book,  the ballots for all contests, and the Judge’s Certification of Eligibility and Code of Ethics.  Get the signatures on the certification forms right away and put them into your folder.

District 10 has a script to handle the judge briefing.  It covers all the details and the latest updates.  This year’s script has updated so go ahead and get it.

All I’ve just said has to be done – BEFORE the contest starts.

As you can see, there are a lot of people needed to run a Toastmasters contest.  You have a big population to recruit from.  All those toastmasters who aren’t competing can participate.  Some will be very open to helping, others won’t.  Ask around.  Judges have a membership requirement, but ballot counters don’t.  Sometimes the reason people don’t participate or have any interest in the contests is because no one asked.


Have you heard about the High Performance Leadership projects in Toastmasters?

I personally thought that the High Performance Leadership material provided by Toastmasters under the classic program was one of their best products.  In fact, I’ve used that model for several projects over the years in and out of Toastmasters.  I’m sure there are just as many who agree with me as disagree – I’m okay with that.

Essentially – and this is in my own words – the HPL is a project where you get to boss other people around.  Nicely, of course, but that’s the key.  You’re the leader.   You get other people to do the work while you supervise.

Under the classic program, pretty much everything that you might consider a project fit into the HPL project.

HPL Pathways

With Pathways, the project description made me laugh a bit.

The High Performance Leadership Project (HPL) can be almost anything. The primary aspects you would need to think about when deciding if a project would be eligible as a High Performance Leadership Project are below.

The project must be:

  • Legal
  • Ethical
  • Socially Responsible
  • Your activities are not represented as being endorsed by Toastmasters International.
  • A project where you can lead a team.
  • A project that is not created by Toastmasters International such as the Youth Leadership Program or SpeechCraft.

While the role of Area or Division Director would not in itself qualify as an HPL project, a member can certainly create/lead a project while also serving as Area/Division Director.

​A few ideas that members have previously used for the project include:

  • Chairing an area, division, or district level speech contest
  • A membership drive for their club 
  • A project to improve their community
  • A project for their work.

I’ve seen a huge range of projects from people.  One friend managed a division-wide recruitment event.  Another managed a one point four million dollar hotel renovation.  For my first HPL, I managed a series of dinners at my church over 16 weeks.  I think I’ve heard of half a dozen brides or mothers of the brides organize weddings as an HPL.

Chief Judge as HPL Project

It’s my opinion that being Chief Judge is a worthy High Performance Leadership project.  No other position in a contest – especially at the area, division or district level – requires the level of leadership that the chief judge takes on.

An HPL does have several required meetings and speeches to be given to the club.  You must create a guidance committee and meet with them several times.  You will present your final findings to your club – a kind of “what did I do and what did I learn” report.  Don’t just say “this is my HPL project” without getting the materials from Pathways and studying them.

My suggestion?

If at all possible, get at least one advanced Toastmaster who has already done an HPL on your guidance committee.  If you’re doing a project outside of Toastmasters, you can recruit people who aren’t Toastmasters to be on your guidance committee – but an experienced Toastmaster will be a big help because they know what’s coming next.  In my first HPL, I gave my recruitment speech to my club – weeks after I’d already recruited my team for my project – because I hadn’t read ahead.  Now when I’m a member of a committee, I always advise members to prepare for speeches at the 2nd stage of the project and at the end.  You might think that’s obvious – but sometimes projects outside of TM move at a different pace than the HPL dictates.  Practicing the recruitment speech at the club before you give it in real life is smart – if you know what to do and when to do it.

You can’t have a contest without a chief judge – or a contest master.  When both roles are filled with people who are committed to following the rule book and rolling with the punches, contests give everyone a great experience.

Wrap it up already

Next week, instead of talking about contests, I think I want to talk about the changes in the Pathways and I hope the new changes to Base Camp will be released by then.  If not, I’ll find something to talk about.

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