Archive for the contests Category

Ever been dissapointed with the outcome of a contest?

Posted in contests, evaluations on November 20, 2011 by pastajon

I had a friend not place at a Toastmasters District humorous contest. Although she produced more laughs than any other contestant, she didn’t make the top three. Hmmmm. Suspicious. Don’t we like to jump to conclusions when we find ourselves in locations like this? How come the top two contestants happened to be from the same state as several of the speech judges? How come so many people thought she ‘hit the ball out of the park’ and yet the judges didn’t see that? And, the real kicker question, how come we are not allowed to see the judges ballots?

This is a mystery to me. At every Toastmasters meeting around the world, every week, for every speech, we give an oral and written evaluation for a speech. We want to hear and see the observations you as an evaluator have made. Is not a judge an evaluator? How valuable would it be for a contestant to be able to see what areas they need to work on to be as good or better than the other contestants? But, no, we want to protect the judges. But doesn’t the power of evaluation (judging) apply to our contests as well?

I’d also love to see a test speaker at every contest. We do this at my club level to warm up the judges so that have someone to compare to that isn’t even in the contest.  And we will compare…


Too often people talk too much

Posted in contests, evaluations, public speaking, toastmasters with tags , , , , on February 23, 2011 by pastajon

It is possible to say too little, though a rarity.
It is possible to say too much, which is more likely.

I was disqualified from the recent Evaluation Contest because I went over my time limit of 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
Shoot! and I watched the timing light turn red too!

My attempt to fit in my ‘summary’ into my evaluation cost me the chance to be considered to win and, had I won, to go on to the Area contest.
Details. Timing.

It matters in contests.
It matters in speeches.
It matters when we are giving reports at work.
It certainly matters if the preachers long winded and the roast is in the oven.

Rehearse your speeches and time them.
Eliminate the unnecessary, give yourself some cushion to finish in plenty of time, and don’t give in to the temptation to be spontaneous and add material on the fly and lengthen your speech unless you can do it with extreme moderation.

At the club International Speech Competition this February, I WILL be within the time limits! (And was.)

10 Reasons to Get Excited About Contests

Posted in contests, public speaking, toastmasters with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2011 by pastajon

I had to make a decision. I could work and make money or attend my daughter’s volleyball tournament. That should be a no brainer, but I was unemployed and needed the money. We make time for what is important to us.

If you are in Toastmasters and are not excited about speech contests, reconsider.

Why did we join Toastmasters? To become better public speakers. Here are 10 reasons to get involved with speech contests:

  1. Contests force us to the next level. It is easy to get comfortable speaking in our clubs. We get to know people and feel accepted and soon thereafter we stop trying so hard to make our speeches great. We know we can give a lousy speech and people will still applaud our poor effort. We will never win a speech contest and remain comfortable; improvement and winning will cost us.
  2. We learn by competing. Sometimes we think, ‘I could never win so why even compete’. How will we ever win if we don’t try? A few of us may win our first competition, like my friend Andy Cier won the District Humorous Speech Contest his first contest. Hey! That ain’t right! It took me several tries before I even won at a club level. But that is the beauty of contests – they make us work harder and IMPROVE!
  3. We learn by judging. Judging a contest is hard! If judge well you have to pay very close attention and guard yourself from getting caught up in the content alone. The judging ballets have this great list of the nuts and bolts of what makes a great presentation. Judging forces us to pay attention to these great details and we become more aware of them. Next time you evaluate a speech in your club you will be better at it, pay more attention, and know what to look for.
  4. We learn by observing. You have different strengths than me. You have a different style of speaking than me. And I can learn from you. We can learn from observing each other.
  5. We learn by losing. My first speech contest was ten years ago. I’ve entered several speech contests since then and have lost at the club level and area level before ever winning at the District level. Losing heightens our awareness of what we did wrong, what we forgot to do, and what we can do better.
  6. We made a commitment. Becoming a Toastmaster is a commitment we often take too lightly. Being a Toastmaster is a mutually beneficial experience – we get help and we help others. We can help others by getting involved with contests.
  7. We can support our friends. It meant a lot to me when my friends from my club showed up at the Area, Division, and District level to cheer me on. Life is about relationships – as is communication and leadership. Showing up to encourage your friends shows them that you really care for them, win or lose.
  8. We make contests more exciting. Would we rather speak to five people or fifty? Some of us might prefer five, but fifty people creates a whole new atmosphere and speakers feed off of a crowd’s energy. Make the next contest more exciting for your friends by contributing to the crowd.
  9. We can enjoy some great speeches. Yes, some of the speakers will not be so good. But let’s cheer them on for trying. And yes, some speeches will be terrific, inspiring, and terribly funny.
  10. Contests will ‘raise the bar’ in your club. Once my club starting taking contests more seriously it changed the level of expectations at our meetings. Now we have two District Humorous Contest winners, a Division Humorous Contest winner, an Area International Contest winner, a Division Tall Tales winner, and a District Evaluation Contest winner in our club. People expect more at our club now. Our membership is between 40 and 60 people.

Contests are INVIGORATING!

We make time for what is important to us – like improving our public speaking skills and attending our daughter’s volleyball tournament!

Fail to Win

Posted in contests, public speaking, toastmasters with tags , , , on September 22, 2010 by pastajon

I failed to win at a recent Toastmasters Table Topics contest.  Table Topics is an activity where you are called on to respond to a question that you have no preparation for – to speak spontaneously for 1 to 2 minutes.  I can prepare a speech and speak in front of a large audience and love it, but when called on to speak off the top of my head I often fail at composing an intelligent and engaging response.  Such was the case again at the contest.  A fellow member annihilated me; she had composure, humor, gestures, and an intelligent response that answered the question directly.  Bravo!

I need to remind myself to not sit and stew in the remnants of my poor performance.  This exact experience is what will help me learn swiftly and remind me what to work on and do right next time.  Don’t we learn through failure?  I failed to focus on a couple key points.  I failed to utilize the dynamics that I’m normally proficient at (gestures, vocal variety, body movement, facial expressions, etc.).  I failed to end with a memorable or concise statement.  I failed to utilize levity.

I have been thinking about my first evaluation contest – I failed to win.  I failed miserably.  But years later I became the District 15 Evaluation Champion.

Fail to win.

Tall Tales

Posted in contests on February 10, 2010 by pastajon

In 2008 I won the Toastmasters Division D Tall Tales contest and would have gone on to the District 15 contest if it were not for a conflict with the date.

Yesterday, February 9, 2010, I won our club Tall Tales contest.

Here is how to win or at least compete well in the contest:

  1. Always be sure to look over the judging ballot to make sure you are crafting something that the judges will be looking for – organization, exaggeration/humor, appearance, voice, and language.
  2. Your story has got to be TALL.  I was surprised when a couple of my fellow members failed to use any exaggeration, surprise, or twists.  Go big – tell a whopper.
  3. Since organization and flow make up most of the points, make sure your story makes sense and is easy to follow.
  4. Get into character.  In 2008 I became Norwegian (Sven) and used an accent.  Yesterday I used a hillbilly accent to add depth to my character and story.  You don’t have to use an accent, but are you dressed to reflect your story?  Do you have any props to add interest?  Can you do anything with your voice to reflect your character besides an accent?
  5. Don’t be cocky.  My very first Tall Tales contest, back in 2002, I lost.  I figured I could be more dynamic and interesting than anyone else in my club.  I wasn’t.  I want to win, but I need to prepare knowing that everybody has some creativity and they often surprise you with what they can do.
  6. Listen to feedback.  Rehearse your speech in front of family or friends and take their advice.  Get feedback from the club after you compete to discover what you did right and how you can make it better.  I know from my contest yesterday that I need to include more humor and a stronger ending.

I don’t know if I’ll go on to win Area, Division, or District this time.  But I want to win.  I’ll need to keep tweaking my tale to make it better in order to do so.

Keep tweaking your own tall tale.

Feeding the Analytical Beast Within You

Posted in contests, evaluations on January 12, 2010 by pastajon

I wanted to win the district contest, but I did not take for granted that I would win at every stage of the contest.  Anyone of my competitors could have beat me, but they failed to feed the analytical beast within them. An evaluation contest has the following four areas to be judged on: Analytical Quality – 40pts, Recommendations – 30pts, Technique – 15pts, and Summation – 15pts. From what I observed they put too much emphasis on technique and too little on recommendation and summary sacrificing up to 45 points – almost half of their points!

I fed my analytical beast and I’m going to tell you how to feed your analytical beast.  By feeding this beast, you could win an evaluation contest. But more importantly, you will liven up your own skills and breath new life into others.  These skills can carry over into your relationships, work, and volunteering.

So what is feeding the analytical beast? It is putting yourself into a rigorous (careful, attentive, accurate, meticulous) mindset that concentrates on keen (sharp, discerning, astute, perceptive) observations and on invigorating (fortify, rejuvenate, energize, liven up, breath new life into) the person being evaluated.

How and what do we feed the analytical beast?

A Rigorous Raspberry Mindset

  • Objectives – the speech assignment?  Read the manual questions.  What does the speaker want you to look for?  Remind yourself of the objective of an evaluation – to help and encourage.
  • Build a bank of suggestions.  E.g. Can you say it in one sentence?  Rehearse in front of a friend or family member.  Emphasize words – vocal variety.
  • Find ways to be better or different in your evaluations.  I have Googled “toastmaster evaluation” and found websites, blogs, etc. that have offered many good ideas.
  • Stretch your evaluation vocabulary – E.g. instead of ‘good’ use captivating.  Instead of ‘awesome’ (is it really awesome? Bill Cosby is awesome, but is this speaker Bill Cosby quality?) use very well prepared.  Instead of ‘great’ use ‘your dynamics were definitely better than you last speech’.

Keen Kiwi Observations

  • Be attentive.  Posture, listening, focus; don’t get sidetracked.
  • Understand their level. Are they a new speaker or a seasoned one?  How will that affect your evaluation?
  • Good & bad. This is the obvious thing to look for – what are they doing right and where can they improve?
  • Look for what is missing or un-obvious
  • Jot lots of notes in short phrases.  While listening I write a lot of short phrases or quotes that I can return to and refine later on.  I make it a point to make as many observations as I can.  I can sift through them later, getting rid of lesser ones and expanding on more important observations.

An Invigorating Icy Delivery

  • Be sincere: don’t grandstand, flatter, or whitewash.  Show that you care.
  • Don’t offend, attack, or discourage
    • Use “I” statements – these are your observations and not the groups.
    • Don’t use “should” and be careful with the word “you”.
  • Focus on the delivery and not the content; an evaluation is not a chance to share your opinion on the subject; it is pointless to paraphrase the speech.
  • Demonstrate when you can – vocal variety, gestures, etc.
  • Be positive, specific, and constructive
    • E.g. “your content was hard to believe” –vs- “quoting your source can add credibility to your message, like ‘I found this trivia on encyclopedia britanicca’s website’”
  • To invigorate you must use a sandwich
    • Good, Bad, Good – I used this one for years.
    • Good, Improve, Recommendation, Summary – tried this one during the competition and thought I would lose
    • Good, Improve, Recommendation, Positive Summary
  • Commendation (1 or 2 items + why), Recommendation (1 or 2 items + why + how), Commendation (item + why) [By Kim Chamberlain, 2002 District 72 Evaluation Champion…]
    • intro
    • 2nd best commendation
    • 3rd best commendation
    • recommendation #1
    • recommendation #2
    • 1st best commendation
    • summary

Be rigorous.  Be keen.  Be invigorating.  And let the analytical beast come out in you!

Putting It Together

Posted in contests, evaluations on November 18, 2009 by pastajon

Recently I won the Toastmasters District 15 Evaluation Contest.  At each level of competition I faced people with skills and ability.  What winning came down to was the ability to organize your observations and deliver them effectively in a short amount of time – putting it together!  Fortunately I was able to observe a few of my competitors who evaluated after me and I was able to listen to the observations of others to gain my insight of what set me a part to win each time:

  1. Some contestants forgot that evaluations are about the speaker and not the evaluator.  It is not the time to showcase our own flair, it is time to make observations about the speaker.  I witnessed evaluators eat up a fair amount of their 2 to 3 minutes positioning themselves with humor, anecdote, or a superfluous introduction to their content.  This did nothing more than paint them as inauthentic, even though they were intelligent and skilled.
  2. Some contestants only spoke about the obvious and failed to probe just a little deeper.  It takes practice, but we can train ourselves to find what people are doing right and where they can improve their presentations in less obvious areas.  Although we can’t and shouldn’t try to cover everything, we can group some general observations and mention them briefly as we move on to target key areas.  At one of the contests none of the other evaluators pointed out that the source of the speakers content was not cited and it made her less believable.  I wasn’t criticizing her content, only pointed out that with out citing a source it was hard to believe.  That little observation was critical.
  3. Related to the above, I observed a couple contestants slide into nothingness.  They made their initial observations, even skillfully, and then they just starting babbling!  Yes, the content of their sentences deflated – it seemed they were stalling or trying to be eloquent and failing.  It is quite possible, speaking from experience, that they were drawing a blank.  Many of my opponents did not use notes.  I used notes every time! I set them on the lecturn and was free to step away and return.  A pause here and there to scan my outline didn’t hurt my presentation one bit.  Oh I could have not used notes and leaned on my dynamic delivery more, but again, it is not about how dynamic I can be (only) – it is about the speaker and the observations I make about them.  So a simple outline for notes can keep us from blanking out, especially considering that we only had 5 minutes to prepare this presentation.
  4. Some contestants failed to use the contest evaluation sandwich.  Start with what the speaker did right (the top bun), follow it with where they could improve (the meat), then add some suggestions (the lower bun), and end with a summary (put some condiment on this sandwich).  Very few contestants summarized their evaluation and yet this is one section on the judges form.  Whoops!  Forgot to summarize?  You just lots a bunch of points!  We better have a look at the judging form beforehand next time and make sure we are including everything they are looking for.

In summary, remember that evaluations are about the speaker and not you, learn to notice the often overlooked, consider using a simple outline, and make sure you summarize.  Winning an evaluation contest comes down to putting these things all together.

Addendum: ‘putting it all together’ requires that you have your ‘game on’ (focused, clear mind, confident, etc.).  Our first club meeting after I won the District Evaluation contest I failed to win ‘Best Evaluator’ and was toppled by a new member.  Losing wasn’t a big deal, but served as a reminder that it takes focus to put it all together each time you give an evaluation.