Speech Analysis #5: Toastmasters Evaluation Contests
Many of the techniques described in this series of articles were honed during several years of attending and competing in Toastmasters Evaluation Contests. In both 2006 and 2007, I reached the District 21 finals, taking 2nd place in 2007. [Update: I won the District 21 Evaluation Contest in 2008.]
This article, the fifth in the Speech Analysis Series, inspects Toastmasters evaluation contests from several angles:
- How does the contest work?
- Why should you attend?
- Why should you be a test speaker?
- Why should you compete?
- How can you win?
Why have Toastmasters Evaluation Contests?
The official contest rules (PDF) state the following motivation for annual evaluation contests:
- To encourage development of evaluation skills and to recognize the best as encouragement to all.
- To provide an opportunity to learn by observing the more proficient evaluators who have benefited from their Toastmasters training.
How a Toastmasters Evaluation Contest Works
Each evaluation contest follows a simple, standard agenda:
- The contest begins with a short speech given by a test speaker.
- Contestants watch and listen to the test speaker. Most critique the speech with the help of an evaluation template.
- At the conclusion of the speech, contestants are ushered out of the room.
- They are given five minutes to review notes. At the end of this period, their notes are gathered.
- One at a time, contestants are brought back to the room to deliver a two- to three-minute evaluation, with their notes (if desired).
- Judges score each contestant. Scores are tallied to determine the winners.
The contest cycle begins each year at the local club level. Winners then proceed to area, division, and district level contests.
Why You Should Attend a Toastmasters Evaluation Contest
If you are truly interested in improving your speech evaluation skills, I encourage you to attend one or more contests, even if you are not a Toastmasters member (generally speaking, contests are open to the public).
- Contests are entertaining.
- Contests are inexpensive. Generally, a nominal fee is charged to cover the cost of refreshments.
- You can learn from the test speaker (often quite experienced).
- Contestants are generally quite proficient in the art of evaluation. This is particularly true at higher levels of the contest.
- The variety of approaches and analytical observations will surely complement your existing evaluation skills. My eyes were opened the first time I attended a contest outside of my club; the observations made by the contestants were very different from the status quo for me.
Why You Should be a Toastmasters Evaluation Contest Test Speaker
A few years ago, I was invited to be the test speaker for a nearby club contest. Prior to this, I had never visited that club. After delivering the test speech, I then listened with fascination as the five contestants evaluated my speech. I learned a great deal from this process.
- The breadth of comments was much wider than you can get from a single evaluation (or even from a self-evaluation).
- Receiving multiple evaluations really puts a spotlight on any glaring areas needing improvement. When four of five evaluators suggest you have a weakness in a certain area, then you really need to listen with open ears.
- As with areas needing improvement, multiple evaluations will also highlight your strongest skills and techniques.
One word of caution – I don’t recommend being a test speaker if you are a very inexperienced speaker. While some people crave as much feedback as possible, others are not yet ready to be reminded that there are so many things for them to improve. It can be a very humbling experience.
Why You Should Compete in a Toastmasters Evaluation Contest
I recommend that you compete the next time you have the opportunity to do so.
- You will have fun!
- The added pressure of a contest (and perhaps a new venue) forces you to step outside your speaking comfort zone. By doing so, you will grow, not just as an evaluator, but as a speaker as well.
- You might win!
- Whether you win or not, you will learn new techniques from the other contestants.
- Generally, each level that you advance brings a larger audience.
- Stage time, stage time, stage time.
How to Win a Toastmasters Evaluation Contest
If you have dreams of winning, then you must familiarize yourself with the judging criteria:
- 40 points: Analytical Quality
- 30 points: Recommendations
- 15 points: Technique
- 15 points: Summation
Based on my own experience and from conversations with other contestants, judges, and spectators, I think the most common reasons for not winning are:
1. Contestant delivers great “praise” and “areas for improvement”, but neglects specific suggestions to improve. This contestant will score well on Analytical Quality (40 points), but poorly on Recommendations (30 points).
- Tip: Remember the meat, vegetables, and cheese from the sandwich technique.
2. Contestant fails to watch the clock and does not have time to summarize — a potential loss of 15 points.
- Tip: Don’t try to cover everything. Use the five minutes with your notes wisely to pick out only your best points. With my speech evaluation form, I typically capture about twice as many things as I can describe in a 3-minute evaluation.
3. Contestant covers only the points mentioned by other contestants. It is possible to deliver a good (or even great) evaluation, but still score poorly because you will invariably be compared to other contestants.
- Tip: Hone your speech critique skills. Try to avoid the obvious elements of the speech which all other contestants will notice. Instead, aim to analyze elements many will miss.
4. Contestant has marvelous analysis, but poor evaluation delivery. They score low on the 15 points for Technique.
- Tip: Based on my personal experience, I think delivery tends to be weighted even higher by most judges. Particularly at higher levels when many contestants are very strong, the contestant with the most dynamic delivery often wins.
How about you? Are you an evaluation contest champion? A veteran competitor? A first-time contestant?
Share your evaluation contest experiences and tips in the comments below.
Good luck, and happy evaluating!
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