Toastmasters Contest Organization: Chair and Contest Master

Toastmasters Contest organization Part 2 Toastmasters 101

Toastmasters Contest Organization requires three people.

Ever been to a circus?  Back in the long lost days of traveling circuses, there would be huge tents with three staging areas called rings and each would have an act going at the same time.  The smart the circus company used one tent to cover everyone, but no one was too far away from the action on one of the stages.  Besides, there were peanuts.  Who can hate an event with peanuts?

Contests are like circuses.  There’s a whole lot going on that the audience is oblivious to and that’s a good thing.  They are there to be entertained.  They don’t want to know about who’s cleaning up after the animals or how the clowns get into the car.  But without that organization in the background, the show won’t go on.

Toastmasters Contest Guidelines

Contests don’t just happen.  It’s not like we say, “Oh, today, let’s have a contest that may send a member to the international convention .”

In fact, there’s a pretty rigorous organization to contests from club to convention.  We have a set of guidelines called the Toastmasters Contest Rule Book.  These rules are so important that there worldwide arguments about them.  You think I’m joking?


Are you interested in public speaking or leadership?  Then Toastmasters is for you.  Welcome to Toastmasters 101, a podcast about Pathways, the education of program of Toastmasters International.  I’m Kim Krajci.

I don’t know the history of Toastmasters speech contests.  I know that all the districts are required to hold one contest per year  – the international speech contest.  But there are several other options – I talked about them in the last episode.  Someone spent some time figuring out the details to make the contests as fair as possible.  Every few years, we have to update – because somebody discovers some way to challenge the rules, do something that no one ever expected, or, let’s be honest – cheat.

The contests are structured to divide the workload.  In general, there are three major leaders in the project.

  1. Contest Chair
  2. Chief Judge
  3. Contest Master or Contest Toastmaster.

Toastmasters Contest Chair

The chair of the event is the person who recruits the chief judge and contest master.   this person might take on of those roles, but they cannot do both.

Ok, the chair is the big boss of the event and by recruiting two people, you might think the job is done.  Oh no no no!  There are several other important tasks.  The first and probably the most important – after recruiting the right people to be chief judge and contest master – is to secure the venue.

At the club level, most clubs hold their contest during a regular meeting.  At the area and division levels, the challenge is probably more difficult.  Area contests in District 10 are usually better attended than division contests.  I think it’s because the club members will turn out to support their representatives.  At the division level, only one club will be represented and people just don’t show up for it.  So the room size for the contest is critical.  Stuffing 50 people in a room that barely holds 25 creates a lot of stress on the competitors and the audience.

Another thing to consider is the sound of the room.  For the club contest, it’s not going to be an issue, but at the area, division, and district levels, you need a good-sized room and that means a sound system. Even a small room stuffed with a large number of people is going to be a challenge for the speakers to be loud enough.  If microphones are available, use them.  If you can get lavalier microphones, then that’s the best solution of all.

Registration and Food

The chair also might arrange for food – either a food chair, a team, or provide it themselves.  At the club level, this usually isn’t an issue.  I’ve seen some clubs put out a snack spread for the contests.  At the area levels, especially if the contests are in the evening or if the contestants have to travel, a  casual dinner might be provided.  It’s all about the funds available.  I’ve seen a few meals where people were asked to bring food to share – we call that a potluck around here – and those have been fun.  The food chair was creative and asked clubs to bring specific dishes so we didn’t have 1 pot of soup and 4 boxes of cookies.

Additional staff should be recruited for the registration table.  District 10 has a Dignitaries Sign-in sheet so they can be recognized during the contest.  The registration table will also have the contest programs and welcome everyone to the event.  We sometimes see family members show up or bosses.  I like to invite people to Toastmasters contests – they show the best of Toastmasters to potential members.


The chair also needs to co-ordinate some paperwork.  Toastmasters contestants are asked to fill out some forms in order to compete.  Sometimes the chief judge manages the paperwork.  Sometimes the contest master does it.  But the chair needs to be sure that the papers are there to be filled out.

TI offers a contest kit for every contest because the judges’ ballots are different for each contest.  The kits are good for every level of contest – club, area, division, district – and have everything you need.  What’s more – you don’t have to buy the kit.  You can download the entire packet and print out what you need.   Save yourself the purchase price and the shipping.

Rule Book Rules

The single most important document you need is the Toastmaster Contest Rule Book.  Seriously, this book is vital to running a contest.  There’s no way to run a contest without reading it – several times.

No matter how many contests you may have attended or competed in – read the contest rule book.  Rules get changed.  Local traditions do not trump the rule book.

This year – 2019- a major rule regarding judges was changed at the international level.  This change was roundly condemned by the membership who understood that the rule change was going to do serious damage to the area contests in particular.  Fortunately, the rule was discarded at the International Convention in Denver before it could become a problem.  But that’s what happens – rules change and change again.  Read the Toastmasters contest rule book.

Contest Program – Not Optional

Finally, the audience and the contest master require a paper copy of the contest program with a list of the competitors and the contests.  I’ve tried to do a slide on a screen – it didn’t work.  People want the program and the names.  District 10 provides a basic program that allows the contestants’ names to be entered – usually alphabetically.   No club affiliations are added, no awards or levels listed.  Just names.

If there’s an evaluation contest, the test speaker might be listed – or might not.  I’ve seen both.  Again, no distinctions listed.

Should the contest chair recruit the test speaker?  I think the contest chair and the contest master can determine who’s going to recruit the speaker.  At the district level,  in District 10, the Program Quality Director often has imported a new speaker from outside the district – and it’s usually a really good speaker.  At the club level, it’s sometimes a guest from outside the club or a member of the club.

What order should the contests be?

This is my opinion.  Remember that, because everyone has their own and all of us know ours is best, right?

I think the long speeches like the International Speeches should be done first.  That way, if a contestant is in both contests, the important one gets judged first.  If they crash and burn in the Table Topics Contest, the judges don’t have that in mind when they come up for International Speech.  Don’t make it hard on the judges by polluting their minds before the one contest that determines who has the potential to go all the way to the international convention in August.  The order of the contest doesn’t have to be the order of the announcements of the winners.

Like I said, my opinion.  The woman whom I believe is the best Toastmasters contest chair in the district completely disagrees with me.  She says she’s saving the best for last.

It’s all opinion.  If your district has a traditional way to organize a contest – you’re playing with fire to change it unless the rulebook says otherwise.  Then again, you might find a better way to hold a contest.

Two Ring Circus? Double Area Contests

You want to run a two-ring circus?  I mean, a double contest?

In a heavily urban community, you may find multiple areas overlapping geographically.  Cleveland is a prime example.  We have had times where there’s a group of lunch clubs in one area and the evening clubs are in another area – and sometimes they meet in buildings just down the street from each other.  So we have a number of double area contests.

This is smart to do when it’s tough to get enough judges for both contests, or one area only has one contestant but must host their contest anyway.

There are a few tricks to making this work.

Each contest must be completed before the next one starts.  If Area A leads off with their International Speech Contest, all of their contestants must be finished and the contest master announces the end of the contest before starting the next contest for Area B.  This does give the judges time to get their next ballot out.

This does save judges for the division contest – a constant challenge for division directors.

The drawbacks to double contests?  Judges have to get the previous contestants out of their heads before the next area’s contests begin.  Sometimes that’s hard when you’ve got one great speaker in one area who already presented.  Maybe a break between?  But these contests can really go long if you’ve got a lot of contestants.

The other dilemma is that the contestants who win each of the area contests will compete against each other at the division level contest next.  Does that give anyone an advantage?  It does make for a less attended division contest – after all, everyone’s already seen these 2 competitors.

If your district has areas which traditionally hold joint contests, the area directors need to talk about how they’re going to arrange their contests and agree about the  Toastmasters contest chair, contest master, and contest judge.

Should the Contest Chair take on another role?

This is strictly my opinion.  The higher the contest, the more important it is to have all three of these roles filled.  Certainly at the district level, asking someone to double up is asking for trouble because the contest is held at the district conference and… people are crazy busy already.  We have three roles because the tasks need to be done in a timely fashion and unless one is a circus ringmaster and can do three things at once, it’s just less stressful to have the three roles filled and the tasks divided.

But if you must take on a role – take on Toastmasters Contest Master.

Toastmasters Contest Master

The Toastmasters Contest Master is the face of the contest.  He’s got to manage the contestants, the crowd, the equipment, the SAAs, and props.

And some paperwork.  If you can fill out the participation certificates in advance, that’s cool.  Just remember, sometimes people don’t show up or another person takes their place.

I highly suggest that you take my friend Debbie’s advice: use file folders.  Put every piece of paper every contestant needs into a file folder for each competitor.  Don’t label them with names – just “CONTESTANT.”  Because you can use these folders again and again.


Briefing the contestants takes some time, but because we have a script for that, you can cover the material quickly.  Just make sure that everyone understands the timing signals and the rules concerning originality.

Each contestant has several forms in their files.

  1. The Rule Book – of course
  2. the contestant bio info form
  3. the Speaker Certification of Eligibility and Originality.

Get the speaker certification form signed immediately upon arrival.  I know smart contest masters who send the bio info form ahead of time and ask for these forms to be filled out and emailed back.   You should have those available at the contest for the contestants to fill out there – because sometimes the contestants are not who you think they’re going to be.  Especially at the upper levels – contestants drop out, can’t show up at that time/date, get sick, kids get sick – whatever – and the second-place winner will step up.

When I’m a contestant, I can’t personally do that because I don’t have the technology to scan them and return them via email. The likelihood of me forgetting to print them out and bring them as to the contest is pretty high.  When I’m contest master, I just avoid the aggravation and have the forms there.

Contest Master Details

The speech title and the contestant’s name should be clearly written out.  When you’ve got last names you don’t know how to say, make sure you’ve got the correct pronunciation.  I write it down the way I say it, not the way it’s spelled, just to be sure.

If there is an evaluation contest, there are official evaluation notes forms that may be required to be used.  I have not seen this year’s rule book but I know this was a hot topic when the forms were first introduced.  Mandatory?  Exclusive?  Use 2?  Use your own notebook?  If they are going to be used, make sure that each evaluation contestant has an equal number of pages.  I’m a 2-page evaluation user myself and have been limited to a single page, which led to me ripping the page in half.  Ugh.

This is the other virtue of the file folders.  If a desk is not available for the evaluators, at least the file folder is a little bit rigid to make it easier to write on the evaluation page.  If I could, when I don’t have desks, I’d love to provide clipboards.

This is another place where I think that the 21st century is going to intrude soon.  Can someone take notes on their tablet or smartphone?  I can already hear the angry, heavy breathing starting for that battle.

The Contestant Bio gives some interesting content for interviews while the ballots are being counted.

The Contest Master and the SAA

The SAA has to be the Contest Master’s right hand.  Managing the contestants outside the room has to be done fairly.  Access to the contest room has to be controlled.  The SAA or team of SAAs literally guard the doors to keep anyone from coming in or out during the speeches.

The speaker’s props?  Under the control of the SAA.  And sometimes – once – we had an evaluator’s cell phone go off in the middle of another speaker’s presentation – while the cell phone owner was secluded outside.  The SAA grabbed the purse and took it out.  The contestant had an alarm set that went off even if the cell phone was turned off.  You know, things happen.

Things Happen

The number one thing you have to be is prepared to be a contest master or a chief judge.  The number one thing you have to be is flexible to be a contest master or a chief judge.  Yes, that’s 2 number 1 things.  You just have to be both.

The more organized and prepared you can be, the easier your job is.   Sometimes it feels like herding cats.  I’ve been one of those cats who is particularly difficult to herd.  If a contestant can’t scan a form, they can’t email it to you.  If you have a problem with a judge, you can replace them if you’ve recruited enough.

One of the things that happen is challenges.  Only contestants and judges can challenge on grounds of originality.  That’s a thing that happens that can really blow up.  If a contestant is telling a story that she read and giving a speech on her reaction to it, is it original enough?

Challenges are managed according to the rule book, but as contest master, a challenge will suddenly hand you an extended challenge to fill the time while the chief judge works it out.  Can you tap dance?

Once, the challenge took half an hour to resolve.   People were leaving.  I couldn’t blame them – it had been a long night.  What else could we do to fill the time?  Announcements were made.  Invitations to future events extended.  Dignitaries invited up to speak.  Things happen and hopefully, you’re up to the challenge.

Being the contest master means leading the show.

Calling up contestants and introducing them correctly – including working very hard to properly pronounce their names.  Maintaining silence during the minute between contestants  – if there is one thing that shows a great contest master, it’s the ability to keep quiet during that time.

Toastmasters Contest Done

After the contest speakers are done, it’s time to wrap it all up.  But we’re not done yet.  Who won?

Remember the Contestant Bio forms they filled out before the contest? Pull those out while the ballot counting is going on.  I try to interview everyone in speaker order.  I give out the participation certificates then as well.

The End of the Toastmasters Contest

After all the speakers are done, the ballots are collected and given to the chief judge to tabulate along with her ballot counters.  The timing sheets are consulted to be sure that everyone spoke within the required time allotments.  Then the winning certificates are prepped.  The speakers are lined up.  Third place is announced.  Second place is announced.  First place is announced.  Thanks are given and now the final bit of paperwork is needed.

The Notification of Contest Winner goes to the next level contest chair – area director, division director, or district contest chair.  This is the chief judge’s last task – except to get her file folders back.

Hey, I’ve got them color-coded!  I’m not giving those up!

Wrap it up

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Toastmasters 101