Contests: Trial run vs. the real thing

Rob Christeson, DTM
Lt Governor Marketing

I’d be shocked if I saw anyone pull off a perfect contest their first time out the gate. The first time I ran an Area contest, I had already ran two club contests in the last 18 months, and I still felt out of place throughout the event. There is a different feel to that next level of contest, and it does take a little getting used to.

Even with the advice of seasoned contest masters and DTMs, it was still a trying effort the first time. There were some  things that helped me get through the process:

1. Contest Rulebook – also available as a PDF online
2. Contest Master checklist – one version is at our D22 Website
3. Experienced help – nothing to click here…work required (make phonecalls – talk to humans)
4. My own experience – visiting other contests (and helping others – see #3)
5. Contestants – yes, you should stay on top of this up to and through the contest

This list is by no means all-inclusive, but it’s not far off. Especially counting the D22 link that has a very comprehensive checklist. The biggest deal is planning. Experience doesn’t hurt, but over the years I’ve watched some very experienced contest masters try to get by on just experience and talent. WRONG answer. Proper planning is what makes it work.

So, what did I mean by trial run? Simply put, if you feel that your Area or Division contest wasn’t what you wanted it to be, treat it like it was a trial run for the spring contests. Specifically?

1. Make a list of lessons learned that you noticed. Take that list and devise solutions for the spring.
2. Solicit feedback from experienced members who attended your contest. Even if it hurts a little, it’ll make your spring more effective.
Note:  You can ignore or ask others for clarification on advice. Just because a more experienced toastmaster says it doesn’t mean it must be right.
3. Solicit feedback from the contestants. Yes, they’re people too.
4. Create your own checklist. NOT REQUIRED. This is just an idea for those who like to do that sort of thing.
5. Create a script.
6. Run a mock-contest about a month before the real thing. Just a few fellow governors, run it like the real thing, but just shorten the simulated speech time to about a minute.

These are just some thoughts and ideas for the coming contest season (~5 months away).  I suggest doing steps 1-3 right away, since the contest is still fresh in people’s minds. You can work on steps 4-6 after the holidays.

Final thoughts: Remember that the contest is not just an educational event, but also a marketing opportunity as well. If you’re fortunate enough to have a local corporation allowing you to use their space for the contest, take the opportunity to publicize that fact to the employees. Believe it or not, but some folks have decided to visit a club meeting for the first time after seeing a Toastmasters contest.

Whether you had a great fall contest, an event you’d like to forget, or anything in between, use this opportunity as the learning experience that it is, and make your next effort an event to remember.

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About Rob Christeson

Talk to the Human
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