How To Organise a Unique Area Contest (even if you’re pressed for time)

Toastmaster Area Contest, Sep 14The Area 21 Humourous speech and table topics contest was held on 27th September 2014. First of all huge congratulations to all who competed and our winners, Steve Catchick of Wokingham and Chris Boden of Maidenhead. If you came along, thank-you, you really helped make the event special! And I’m collecting feedback here.

From the feedback I’ve received so far, everyone has commented on how unique an event it was. I wish I could take the credit for this but it was really down to our formidable contest chair Mell Sheppard who pulled it all together. It was great working with her, as well as the whole team and here’s what went into making it happen (and a little behind-the-scenes insight too)

1. Tap into your network

We had a special warm up from mentalist Ian Souch. Ian is a friend of Mell and she asked him to perform at the contest for us. He was simply breathtaking as he performed magic and seemingly read the minds of our brave Toastmasters who “volunteered”. One highlight was making a signed Scottish 20 pound note from the audience magically reappear in a kiwi! Ian tailored his event for the crowd and it really was great to see a professional speaker at work. I’ll definitely try and borrow ideas from his act, especially how he won the crowd over with his humour and banter.

2. Delegate and work with a talented team

Mell was keen to draw in all the different clubs and make sure they all felt a part of the day. To that end she assembled a hand-picked team with representatives from different clubs to help out with roles like Sergeant@Arms and Chief Judge. Organizing a contest involves a lot of work so spreading the load definitely helps.

3. Aim to create a good atmosphere

Even though we were at the same venue, this time we went with a smaller room. OK, so part of this decision was costs. But also, we wanted an intimate, friendly atmosphere. On the day the room was packed with the 40-50 attendees and the room was buzzing. I hope our contestants agree we gave them a great environment in which to compete. What I do know for sure was that the quality of the speeches was excellent, they were four very different, very funny speeches. Polling people on their favourites in the break I got votes for each and every speaker. And tabletopics was no different – I really didn’t envy the judges.

4. Expect things will NOT go to plan

With two minutes to the start of the contest, people started to take their seats. Mell was outside the room on the phone – one of the contestants for the contest was running twenty minutes late. If they missed the briefing they wouldn’t be able to compete. If there was any thought of panic, I certainly didn’t see it. After a little bit of deliberation Mell made a decision, then executed. The plan was to break from the preset agenda and swap the order of contests around.  It meant the start was slightly delayed as the change was communicated through to judges, contestants and our warm-up act, but no-one really seemed to mind. In fact most didn’t even notice. The contest proceeded without a hitch and finished on time

5. Don’t stress it, Toastmasters always take the initiative

There were a few things that were not ideal, details which slipped through the cracks. For instance, the day before the contest we realised nobody had secured the timer lights. Or the timers for that matter. On the day of the contest there weren’t enough chairs set out. The room was getting hot. We ran out of tea cups (seriously this last one was the most important!) In all these cases Toastmasters stepped up to help out whether it was picking up the lights, taking on a last-minute role, getting in extra chairs and tea cups or propping open the door. It made such a difference. We’ll always aim to make things better for next time, but not stress too much, as we know help will be at hand.


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