Dear Toastmasters .. please close your eyes, and try to remember the most fun speech contest you’ve ever been to. Now open your eyes and read on..
How did the room look? How many people were there? Was there any additional activity, like a workshop or keynote speech? Were there many judges? But most of all .. were there many participants? Do you really remember the quality of the speeches, or was it more important that the competitors just did their best to outperform themselves? Was the audience any larger than the usual Toastmasters club meeting? Did people bring guests and friends that specially came for the contest? What was it that you especially liked about this great contest you once attended? Or did I forget to mention what are your reasons to make that contest into such a memorable one for you?
Can you now think of any single thing that every really great speech contest must have? One single quality without which you will never be quite satisfied that is was a really great event?
For me, that most important ingredient is to have a sufficient number of competitors! Once you have those, the size of the event has some critical mass. With enough competitors it is worth the trouble to look around for a good number of judges. You can dare to ask people to bring guests, because you just know one of these speakers will be excellent, and all the others will put in the effort to exceed their usual performance. The expectations are heightened, and adrenaline will flush through the veins of the speakers, as well as the contest masters, the chief judge. And if there is an evaluation contest, the test speaker will try as hard as anybody else. And the audience will sit there, hoping for them all to succeed, and exceed. But if any one of the speakers doesn’t live up to these high expectations, they will still get a thundering applause, for daring, and doing their best. My belief is that any really great contest event starts with having a good number of contestants.
But how many is enough? How many would be too much? My personal feeling is that it is difficult to have too many contest speakers, as long as they fit in the available time. I do not feel quite satisfied when there are only 3 competitors. At 4, it is so-so. With 5 competitors I feel satisfied. But with 6, 7, 8, or even more, I really enjoy the abundance of speakers.
So what is the most important ingredient .. if you want to organize a really great speech contest? My opinion is that you must try to find 5 competitors, or more. This will include those one or two most excellent speakers that want to win and continue to the next round. But it must really also include those brave people for which competing itself is already a heroic deed.
And once you have a good number of competitors .. then you’ll find the motivation to search for enough judges, if possible also from neighbouring clubs. And you may even need to find a somewhat larger room than you normally would have used. And you will prepare all the people involved in the event well, and in advance. And the room will be nicely prepared, and decorated. You’ll find a great presenter for the evening. And it will be fabulous!
.. that is how a really great contest should be. But that is my opinion. What is yours?