Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Being second in my first Toastmasters speech contest

On February 16th I was a contestant for the International Speech Contest at The Capitol Club. I didn’t win, and didn’t really expect to. The other contestant was our club President, Mike Thornton, who had lots more contest experience. It was an interesting experience though. Speech contests are a formal ritual conducted based on detailed rules that are updated annually. This year they are in a 19-page Speech Contest Rulebook.

I spoke on Timing Tiles (for Toastmasters club meetings), a subject that I have blogged about here before. The challenge was to explain this concept clearly within the 5 to 7 minute time limit.

My talk began by pointing out that we have the Timer signal the speaker using the 90 year-old idea of a green-yellow-red traffic light. That idea is in the contest rules. I used a 7 x 18” foamboard prop showing a traffic light. For the first four to six minute Icebreaker speech, feedback only begins with the green light at four minutes, or 2/3rds of the way through the allotted time.

Then I discussed the newer idea of a progress bar display on your computer. I flipped over my prop to show an example, with the traffic light idea also added. It provides continuous feedback on a slow operation, like defragmenting your hard drive, or downloading a large file. You always know exactly where you are.

Finally I discussed how the ideas of a traffic light and a progress bar could be simply combined using an enlarged version of the square letter tiles and holder from the game of Scrabble. My props were a wooden holder and the five-inch square foamboard tiles. I began by holding up one giant Scrabble tile with a letter W on it. Then I illustrated how three plain white tiles would go into the holder, followed by the green, yellow, and red tiles.

I pointed out that the same sequence for placing the tiles shown above for an Icebreaker speech could also apply to both the Evaluations and Table Topics section of a meeting. All that would change was the time interval between placing the tiles. Now there would be twice as much feedback, and it would begin much earlier.

I finished by noting that the Timing Tiles are like training wheels on a bicycle. Some might consider them an unnecessary crutch. However, other people need that kind of help at first. Anyone who wanted to stay with just the traffic light signals (contest style) could tell the Timer to quit providing more feedback.

One of the rule changes for 2011 was to finally explicitly give each contestant the responsibility for setting up and taking down his props. Previously this detail had been ignored in the rules, so by our local option the Sergeant-at-Arms handled the props. Our Contest Chair instructed me to follow that old rule. That update is buried in the very last section of the Rulebook near the bottom of page 19.

The cute image of a bicycle with training wheels is from David Maisel.


Rich Hopkins, Speaker, Author, Coach said...

Love the concept of timing tiles, though timers seem to have enough trouble keeping up with the lights sometimes. Still, it would help a speaker track their pace quite well.

On the prop rules, I believe the contestant being 'responsible' for setting up props can still be interpreted as 'the contestant is responsible for finding someone to handle their props' and that could be the SAA, or anyone else they trust. In 2006, my District Governor handled my props at the Championship, which took a great deal of pressure off of me.

Richard I. Garber said...


I agree that "the contestant" can be read as meaning "me and my crew". The SAA did just what I asked, and it was simple enough that it wouldn't have mattered much. I mentioned it as an example of a change.

I was suggesting the tiles for regular club meetings, not contests. By the time people get to contests they usually are excellent at time management.