Running Contests

Toastmasters International encourages clubs to hold speech contests for three main reasons:

  1. “To provide an opportunity for proficient speakers and those Toastmasters who are interested in competitive speaking to gain contest experience.
  2. To provide an interesting educational programme for Toastmasters and the general public. This programme can create a community awareness of the opportunities in the Toastmasters programme.
  3. To provide an opportunity to those Toastmasters who are not participating in the contest to learn by observing proficient speakers.”

(from the Toastmasters International Speech Contest Manual)


Your Club President or Vice President Education should have received the Speech Contest Rulebook and Speech Contest Manual for the forthcoming year.  These books give all the rules for conducting speech contests, and the Manual has sample forms for the International Speech Contest. (Speech Contest Rulebook)

For a brief summary of the Contest Rules and judging criteria, go to Speech Contests, & Running Contests.

The notes on this page were compiled from various sources.  Please refer to the yearly Rule Book for specific details.

Competent Leadership Projects

There are two Competent Leadership Projects relating to the running of contests:

  • Project 6: Help to Organise a Club Speech Contest
  • Project 10: Chair a Club Speech Contest

Refer to the Competent Leadership Manual for more information.

Successful contests

Speech contests that are successful have the following attributes:

  • They are thoroughly planned ahead. The materials needed are identified. Decisions are made as to whether refreshments/food will be served. Trophies are located and cleaned.
  • They are well organised. Everyone knows what their role and responsibilities are. All necessary ballots, timing sheets and counter sheets are present. The current year’s “Toastmasters Speech Contest Rule Book” is available.
  • The chief judge conducts a thorough briefing of the judges, timers and ballot counters.
  • The Contest Chair briefs the contestants.
  • The contest starts and ends on time.

Questions and Answers

  1. What would you do if there is only one speaker and they went overtime?
    They are disqualified.
  2. The weather was terrible and not everyone was able to make it. What do you do?
    If any one of the speakers turns up, then the contest goes forward. If none arrive, then the contest can be rescheduled. If the weather condition is known early enough, the person responsible for the contest can confer with the Contest Chair and the Chief Judge about whether the contest should/could be postponed. It is important that the decision be made and communicated ahead of the scheduled meeting.
  3. The speaker fell on the way to the podium. What should the timers do?
    IdealIy, the speakers should be asked by the Contest Chair to describe the point at which their speech starts and the Chair advises the timers. lf there are no instructions, the timers should treat it (or any action at the start prior to speaking) as the start of communication with the audience. If they are unsure, they can note the time of a “normal start” and if still uncertain after hearing the speech, give both times to the Chief Judge for a decision.
  4. Whose responsibility is it to chair the contest at the club?
    Usually it is the Vice President of Education, however it could be any Toastmaster if the organiser agrees to the change. (This is one of the decisions made when the contest is being planned).
  5. Can more than one speaker from a club compete at the Area Contest?
    The Speech Contest Rule Book states that Areas with 4 or less clubs can allow the two highest placed contestants from each club to compete. Areas with 5 or more clubs send only one contestant.

Speech Contest Checklist and Tips


  • Determine budget for contest
  • Select place and time for contest
  • Determine contest agenda (e.g. contests to be conducted)
  • Arrange supplies and services (e.g. refreshments, flip-charts, ohp, timing lights, etc.)
  • Select Chief Judge and other officials
    • judges
    • timers
    • counters
    • Sergeant-at-Arms
  • Notify contest officials of time and place
  • Notify contestants of time and place
  • Publicise contest in community
  • Ensure all contestants are eligible

Contest Materials Required

  • Certification of eligibility and originality
  • Time record sheet and timer’s instructions
  • Judges guide and ballot
  • Tie-breaker judge guide and ballot
  • Counter’s tally sheet
  • Speech contestant biographical data sheet (if used)
  • Speech contest manual
  • Speech contest rules
  • Certificates – Winners and Participation
  • Contest Contact Sheet (1 pg pdf)


  • Contest Chair
    • Verify presence of contestants
    • Draw for speaking position
    • Review timing with speakers
    • Review speech contest rules with speakers
    • Acquaint contestants with speaking area
  • Chief Judge
    • Review timing procedure with timer
    • Review judges guide and ballots with judges
    • Instruct judges to sit close to contest area, but spread out and away from contestants
    • Brief Counters using tally sheet

Conducting the contest

  • Open contest with brief introduction
    • “Welcome Fellow Toastmasters and guests to the _________ contest.”
    • Identify contest and state purpose of contest
    • “Please turn off all noise making devices, including pagers, cellphones, etc.”
    • “Chief judge, have all the judges been briefed?”
    • Identify speaker speaking order
    • For Table Topics contest, ask all except first speaker to leave the room.
  • No one is to enter or leave while speaker is speaking except in emergencies. The Sergeant-At-Arms should ensure the entrances are secure.
  • Introduce each contestant in turn
    • name, title, title, name
    • For evaluation contest, introduce test speaker exactly the same way: name, title, title, name. Contestants introduced as name, name.
  • For the Evaluation contest, during contestants’ five minute preparation, you may:
    • Interview test speaker
    • Short announcements from the audience
    • Conduct table topics or general business
  • One minute of silence for ballot completion after each contestant is finished
  • Upon completion, judges complete ballots (give two minutes or until all ballots collected)
  • Interview speakers, while results determined, or continue with meeting agenda
    • Chief judge with tally counters collect ballots and timers sheets
  • Collect contest results from chief judge
  • Resolve disqualifications and protest issues
    • Announce if there were any time disqualifications (but do not name who)
  • Announce speech contest results
    • Start from 3rd, 2nd, then first place.
    • If there are 3 contestants or less, only announce the first place. Notify the second place alternate in private.
    • If there are 4 contestants, only announce the first and second place.
    • If there are 5 contestants or more, top 3 placements should be announced.
  • Close by thanking all who helped
    • Recognise Chief Judge
    • Chief Judge recognize all judges
    • Recognise timers, tally counters and Sergeant-at-Arms
    • Additional announcements from the audience (e.g. time and place of next level of contest)
    • Adjourn contest
    • NOTE: It is NOT necessary to make any motion or otherwise for destroying the ballots. As the contest rule states the announcement of the winners are final, there is also no room for dispute. The ballots should simply be destroyed once the results are announced by the Chief Judge or whoever held the ballots.

Being an Effective Judge


1) Demonstrate objectivity and fairness throughout judging

2) Support the Contest by refraining from public criticism of its rules. Critical evaluations are directed one on one in private with the Chief Judge.

3) Score, ranking and comments are to be handed to the Tally Counters and revealed to the Chief Judge only.

4) Exhibit care and heed the rules and judging standards as specified.

5) Avoid personal opinions or bias when scoring the speaker on the objectives.

6) To Judge is to pick a Winner.

Good Judge Attributes

A) Detach from speaker and subject.

B) Adapt quickly to different speech types.

C) Judge with consistency.

D) Focus on: “Was the speech effective?”

E) Listen intently, and respond quickly on scoring form.

F) Try to focus on being as objective and detached from personal opinions as much as possible.

G) Judges do not discuss the rules.

H) Judges do not reveal their scoring worksheets.

I) Ballots are signed, folded in half and handed to the Tally Counters.


Protests can ONLY be made by a CONTESTANT or JUDGE who has first handknowledge (in other words they have seen or heard it); they CANNOT be based on information from an audience member or bystander.

Protests must be lodged BEFORE the contest results are announced, unless the reading of the results was incorrect, whereby they may be corrected.


A speaker may be disqualified ONLY for the following infractions:

  • Originality
  • Timing – exceeding the allotted time
  • Ineligibility – Must have dues paid as a member and the club must be paid to Toastmasters International* or breach of the Judging rule.

Check the Speech Contest Rules and Handbook for more information.