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Speech Contest Faqs

At World Headquarters, we get hundreds of speech contest questions each year. Here you can find some answers to the questions which we are asked most frequently. As we get more questions, we’ll add them to this page, so check back to see if we’ve answered your questions! If you don’t see your question here, you can email us at Click here to send an email.

Please scroll through the headings below. Click the heading to reveal the answer. Alternatively you can search by entering a search into the search query box. If you can’t find the answer you are looking for please complete the ask a question section at the end.

What are the different types of speech contests?

Toastmasters conducts six types of speech contests:

  1. International
  2. Evaluation
  3. Humorous
  4. Table Topics
  5. Tall Tales
  6. Taped – for members of:
    1. undistricted clubs
    2. clubs in provisional districts

Does a district have to hold all contests?

No. The only contest a district must conduct is the International Speech Contest. Districts may conduct up to three additional contests, which must be chosen from the list above.

What is the order of advancement from one round to another?

All contests start at the club level. The club winner then advances to the area contest. The area contest winner advances to the division contest. The division winner advances to the district contest. The only contest that advances beyond the district level is the International Speech Contest. For the International Speech Contest, the district winner advances to the International Speech Contest Semifinals held at the International Convention. Winners of the semifinals compete in the World Championship of Public Speaking.

Are contestants required to have completed a minimum number of manual speeches to participate in a speech contest?

The only speech contest with a minimum manual speech requirement is the International Speech Contest. To participate in any level of the International Speech Contest, a full member must have completed at least six speeches from the Competent Communication manual prior to the club contest. A charter member of a club chartered since the previous July 1 may compete without having completed six speeches in the Competent Communication manual. The club must be officially chartered before the area contest.

Who is ineligible to compete in speech contests?

The following are ineligible to compete in any Toastmasters speech contest:
a) Incumbent international officers and directors
b) Region advisors or region advisor applicants
c) District leaders whose terms expire June 30:

1. District governor
2. Any lieutenant governor
3. Secretary
4. Treasurer
5. Public relations officer
6. Division governor
7. Area governor

d) International officer and director candidates
e) Immediate past district governors
f) District leaders or announced candidates for the term beginning the upcoming July 1
g) Presenters of education sessions at the event at which the contest will be held, including area, division, and district events, as well as the International Convention
h) Judges at any level of a contest in which he/she is still competing
i)Winners of the World Championship of Public Speaking can not compete at any level in an International Speech Contest.

At what point does a candidate for district office, director, or international officer, become ineligible to compete in a speech contest?

The moment you announce your candidacy, you are no longer eligible to compete in a speech contest. Any firm declaration of intent to run for district office, director, or international officer for the coming year may be construed as an announcement for these purposes.

What qualifies as an education session?

Any speaker, presenter, or trainer at the same event as a speech contest is considered a presenter of an education session at that event.

What does it mean that a member can’t judge at any level of a contest in which he/she is still competing?

A member can’t judge a contest where the contest result could lead to the member competing against the contest’s winner.

Example: John Smith won Area B's Evaluation Contest. He has been asked to judge Area C's Evaluation Contest. If he judged at the Area C' Evaluation Contest, he would be ineligible to continue competing in the district's Evaluation Contest. John Smith was disqualified from Area B's Tall Tales Contest. Since he is no longer competing in the Tall Tales Contest, he could judge Area C's Tall Tales Contest. Similarly, if John Smith had lost Area B's Tall Tales Contest he could judge Area C's Tall Tales Contest.

What does the rulebook mean when it says a speech must be “substantially original”?

The majority of a speech must be your own original material. Citations can be used as long as you reference the original source. If quotes are used too often in a speech, the majority of the content is no longer your original work and you can be disqualified on the basis of originality.

For Table Topics™ speech contests, referring to topics, what does “general in nature” mean? Are current events general in nature?”

A topic of a general nature is broad enough for any contestant to answer without previous or detailed knowledge. Current events are not considered general in nature. They require a contestant to have previous knowledge of a specific subject in order to state an opinion.

Examples of non-general topics:

  • What are your thoughts on the president’s State of the Union Address?

(This requires the contestant to have watched or read the transcript for the State of the Union Address in order to answer.)

Examples of general topics:

  • What is your happiest memory?
  • Describe your least favorite vacation trip.
  • A guest is coming to visit you next week. What activities do you have planned to entertain your guest?

(Any contestant can answer these questions based on personal experiences.)

What happens if I paid my dues on time, but my club treasurer did not submit my dues to World Headquarters by November 30?

You would unfortunately be ineligible to compete.

In order to compete in a speech contest, you must be a member in good standing of a club in good standing. The only way to maintain your good standing is to make sure your club treasurer submits your dues to World Headquarters before the grace period expires (by November 30 for the October renewal period and May 30th for the April renewal period) for continuing members, or by the date of the speech contest for new, dual, transfer or reinstated members).

Is a member allowed to act as contest chair in one speech contest and compete in another?

Yes, as long as the contest where the member is competing and the contest where the member is serving as a contest chair are not at the same event.

Example: Jane Doe is competing at Area G's fall conference in the Tall Tales contest. She cannot serve as a contest chair for any contests at Area G's fall conference. Jane is not competing in Area F's fall conference. Jane Doe can serve as a contest chair for any contest at Area F's fall conference

Can a member compete in two area speech contests if the areas are in different divisions or districts?

No. A member can only compete in one area contest of a given type.

What happens if a speech contest winner is not available to compete at the next level?

The next eligible, highest-placed contestant as noted on the official contest report may advance.

Example: Jane Doe won Area B's Evaluation Contest but is unable to attend the division contest. John Smith placed second at the contest. He is unable to attend as well. Brian Who placed third and is available to compete. He will represent Area B at his division's Evaluation Contest.

When can a contestant be nominated to move forward in a speech contest?

Only at the club level.

A contestant may be chosen by whatever means a club desires, therefore, a club may nominate their contestant to the area level contest.

If a club decides to nominate a contestant, a club speech contest cannot be held.

If a club holds a speech contest and all competitors are disqualified, can the club nominate a contestant to advance?

No.

In the event that a club contest is held and all contestants are disqualified, no member may represent that club at the area contest.

A Toastmasters speech contest is meant to be conducted with integrity and adherence to the rulebook. Once a club holds a contest, it must uphold that decision no matter what the result.

If there is only one contestant does a speech contest still have to be held?

Yes, for all contests above the club level.

The contest still must adhere to all the rules. Every speech contest must follow the provisions of the rulebook, even if only one member is competing.

If the single contestant is disqualified no one will represent that club/area/division/district at the next level of competition.

If there are only two contestants in a speech contest, and the first place winner is unable to attend the next level of competition and the other contestant was disqualified, can we nominate someone else to attend the next level of competition?

No.

You cannot nominate a new contestant to compete at the next level of competition, nor can you allow the disqualified contestant to compete.

A contest had five contestants. One was disqualified for time. What place winners should be announced?

The first and second place contestants only have to be announced at any contests.

If a chief judge feels announcing a third place winner would undermine the confidence of the remaining contestants the contest chair does not have to do so.

Who can lodge a protest at a speech contest?

Protests concerning eligibility and originality are limited to judges and contestants.

What are the requirements to be a judge?

To be a judge at a Toastmasters speech contest, you must meet all eligibility requirements identified below.

  1.  All judges shall be members in good standing.
  2. All judges at area, division, district, semifinal, and International speech contests shall have been a Toastmasters member in good standing since the previous July 1 and have completed at least six Competent Communication manual projects.
  3. All judges at the semifinal and International contests shall be at least an Advanced Toastmaster Bronze or Advanced Communicator Bronze and have previously judged a Toastmasters speech contest at area, division, district, or semifinal level.

Should judges remain anonymous?

Yes.

Judges are not known to the contestants and no judges' names or contact information are provided in any contest materials.

Judges’ decisions are confidential. Their identities should be confidential as well. If judges were announced, it could lead to confrontations with contestants or audience members who do not agree with the contest results. Anonymity helps the judges be more effective. Since it is less likely they will be confronted by contestants after the contest, they are able to be more objective with their decisions. This is why judges are not known to the contestants and no judges' names or contact information are provided in any contest materials.

Do we have to use ballots provided by Toastmasters?

Yes.

The General Procedure section of the Speech Contest Rulebook (Item 1171) lists the official used for speech contests.

The rulebook states that two timers are required for speech contests. Should both be timing simultaneously?

No.

One timer is provided with a stopwatch and the other with a signaling device that displays green, yellow, and red colors.

What happens if there is a problem with the timing equipment?

In the event of technical failure of the signal or timing equipment, a speaker is allowed 30 seconds extra overtime before being disqualified.

What happens when there is a tie?

In the event of a tie, the chief judge will consult the tiebreaking judge’s ballot.

The tied contestant who received the highest ranking on the tiebreaking judge’s ballot will gain the contested place, and any other tied contestants will be ranked in order behind that contestant.

Are contestants allowed to be in the room when another contestant is competing?

Yes, except for the evaluation and Table Topics™ contests.

Evaluation contest participants are required to leave the room after the test speech has been delivered as outlined in the Evaluation Contest section of this rulebook.

Table Topics™ contestants must stay out of the room until the preceding speaker has completed his or her response to the topic, as outlined in the Table Topics™ contest section of the Speech Contest Rulebook (Item 1171).

Can contestants switch their order after speaking positions have been drawn?

We strongly suggest that once numbers are drawn, no changes can be made to the speaking order. Contestants switching positions lacks the appearance of fairness.

At what point in the contest is a late contestant disqualified?

Contestants that are not present when the contest chair is announced are disqualified.
An alternate, if present, can take the contestant’s place.

Can a contestant be disqualified for speaking outside the speaking area?

No.

Disqualifications are limited to eligibility, originality and being over or under on time. The contestant can be marked down on their score by a judge for straying from the speaking area, if the judge felt that it took away from the effectiveness of the speech.

An area with five clubs has one club that is not in good standing. Can the clubs in good standing in that area send two contestants to the area contest?

Areas with more than four clubs, no matter how many are in good standing, cannot have clubs send two contestants to the area contest.

Note: The decision whether or not to allow two contestants to advance from club to area, from area to division, and/or from division to district must be made and communicated throughout the district prior to any club contests being held. Once the decision is made, it must be implemented consistently throughout the district in all clubs, areas, and divisions affected.

Is it permissible to use local dialects or to sing songs in local dialects during a speech?

Speech contests are to be held in English and only English, thus, using a local dialect during a speech would not be allowed. However, music is allowed during a speech contest, which means that singing a song in a local dialect would be permitted.

What are the rules regarding video or audio recording a speech contest?

If you wish to record a speech contest, all speakers or presenters must give their written permission to be recorded beforehand.

Any speaker who refuses should not be recorded.

Upon request, any speaker or presenter is entitled to one copy of the recording at no charge.

Recording should not cause a safety hazard to any in attendance, nor should it be a distraction to a speaker or presenter.

During a district conference, recording of speakers and presenters may only occur with the permission of the Host District Chairman.

Recordings of these events will be controlled by the Host District Chairman or his/her appointed representative.

If one or more authorized Toastmasters provide recording services and tapes are made available for sale, the Toastmaster providing the services may be reimbursed only for expenses and may not profit from the recording nor charge for the use of equipment.

Profits from any recording sales must be deposited in the district account.

Are children allowed to attend a speech contest?

There are no official rules against bringing a child to a speech contest, and having the support of your family when you compete is wonderful, but please practice common courtesy. Make sure that your child is well-supervised. If your child is disruptive or distracting to contestants, please handle the situation appropriately.

Can members be charged an entry fee in order to compete in a speech contest?

No. Requiring members to pay an entry fee is an addition to the eligibility rules outlined in the Speech Contest Rulebook. Rules can only be added through the administrative protocol with the approval of the Executive Director and International President. This provision is found under Speech Contest Policy in the Speech Contest Rulebook.

Example: Contestant A is competing in a speech contest at a district conference and intends to only compete in the contest. Contestant A will not attend any of the other conference sessions. Contestant A cannot be charged a registration fee. Contestant B plans on attending education sessions at the district conference in addition to competing in the speech contest. Contestant B can be charged a registration fee.

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