Month: September 2010

Fill-er Up!

For Toastmasters Ah-Counters, what, exactly, is an “Ah” that you are to count?

I think the intention is to count and report on usages of fillers and other verbal tics that speakers may not be aware of, and if you notice any patterns provide suggestions about what the speaker can try to be aware of.

For example, at recent meetings, one Ah Counter noticed that one speaker was moving their hands just before a ‘pause … Um.’
I have already made the case in this blog for trying to avoid saying a leading “THEE” for “THE” … [ HERE ] since we rarely the “the-uh”, but we do say “thee-uh”

There are several unofficial classes of “Filler words” (and tics)

1. Pause filler words – uhm, er, ah, em

2. Bridging filler words – and, so, now, but, ok

3. Useless filler words – actually, literally, basically, really, like, you know, basically, (I) personally, as a matter of fact, honestly, truly, at the end of the day
(Not all of the above are always fillers, sometimes they are appropriate…)

4. Repeats of words

5. Restarts of sentences

6. Physical speaking tics – lip smacking, etc.

Drive carefully and please, don’t Fill-er up!

DRAW! Choosing Contest Speaking Order – Rules, Myths and Good Practices

In Toastmasters clubs and areas and on up, sometimes ‘customs’ get in the way of following the rules and being as fair as possible to the contestants.

As Joe Friday of Dragnet said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”**

1. There is NO Requirement to attend the contestant briefing
Contestants are NOT required to attend the contestant briefing to compete. Contestants are required to be “present when the person conducting the contest is introduced“.
When there are 2 different contests held in the same venue, one after the other, the second contest is not opened when the first contest is opened.

2. The rules call for “a draw for speaking order”.
The draw for speaking order should not put any no-show automatically first, last or in any other pre-specified position in the order.

My comments and recommendations.
Since the rules do not require that a contestant attend the briefing, there should be no penalty for skipping it.
An easy way to do a fair draw is to take playing cards Ace-2-3 … up to the number of contestants. Shuffle them and lay them all out on a table/floor.
Invite all contestants to “select a card and go get it”. If any contestant/representative is not present, the chair will then select a card for each missing contestant and assign that speaking position to them.

3. There is no rule that specifically restricts contestants from trading or exchanging their drawn speaking order before the chair records the final speaking order.

My comments: This could be done for a variety of valid reasons and should be allowed if any 2 contestants mutually agree to change drawn speaking positions.
One example is perceived competitive advantage where both speakers feel they get an advantage with the switch. Another valid example is if one speaker in a prepared speech contest would like to hear another but is too nervous to listen to the other speakers before they present.
A third example is an evaluation contestant who would like to hear more of the other contestants’ evaluations and prefers to go earlier than their draw.
If they want, let them switch!

Here are the relevant sections from the Toastmasters 2010 Contest Rulebook:
Before the contest, contestants and the contest sergeant at
arms are briefed on the rules by the contest chairman. Judges,
counters, and timers are briefed on their duties by the chief judge.
Contestants will then draw for their speaking position with the
contest chairman.
C. If a contestant is absent from the briefing, the alternate
speaker, if present, is permitted to attend the briefing in place
of the primary contestant. If the primary contestant is not
present when the person conducting the contest is introduced
to conduct the contest, the primary contestant is disqualified
and the alternate officially becomes the contestant. Should the
16 Speech Contest Rulebook
primary contestant arrive after the briefing but before the person
conducting the contest is introduced, the primary contestant
is permitted to compete, provided the primary contestant:
1) reports to the contest chairman upon his/her arrival, and
2) has all required paperwork in good order before the person
conducting the contest is introduced to begin the contest.
The primary contestant waives the opportunity of a briefing.

** Yes, I know he never actually said it! Wikis’ take: ttp://

2013 Speech Contest Judges briefing …


Many people recommend “judges training” for anyone judging in Toastmasters contests. Some organizations even unofficially require it.

I have participated in and conducted several judges’ training workshops in various roles.

A simple 2-minute briefing / training might be most effective. It can enable anyone to have an informed go at judging. Judging is easy: be fair, have an opinion. Anyone can do that.

If you are the chief judge, print out these training materials and have all the judges read them with you.

Overview: The speech contest rulebook changes every year. Judges eligibility and requirements and paperwork changed for 2013

0. Know your audience: Ask every potential judge: ” What experience judging this or other types of Toastmasters contest do you have? At which levels? How recently?”


1. You must be eligible to be  judge.
For Area+ (area or higher) contests, by rule you must have been a member in a club for the past 6 months without any lapse in membership dues to TI (grace period counts OK). You must have completed 6 CC manual speech projects. At the Intl convention, there are more requirements.

1.1 At Division+ contests, if you are a member in the same club as any contestant, you cannot judge this contest.
1.2 If you have any issues with any contestants which would affect you in any way so that you would not be 100% fair to al contestants, you cannot judge this contest.
1.3 You must compete form 1170 (Judge’s Certification of Eligibility and Code of Ethics) and sign it.

2. Your #1 job as a judge is to select the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. If you are the tie breaking judge, then rank ALL speakers. Ignore the timing lights,signals and ignore any concern if a contestant is over/under time.

3. You must be as unbiased and fair to all contestants as you can be. Pretend they are all your mother (or someone else you care about)

4. The scoring guide on the ballot is a guide. Please review it. If you don’t understand, don’t agree with it or don’t like it, pick another method that you apply to all speakers fairly and evenly. See #2.

5. Prepared contest speeches must be original (at least 25%). If you think a speech isn’t, tell the chief Judge.

6. Sign your ballot

7. After the contest: Keep your judging decisions private, destroy and throw away your scoring notes. Don’t tell the contestant or anyone else how you voted. Like any other Toastmaster, feel free to tell the contestants what you liked in their speech.

8. Finally, are there ANY questions?

Building a Better Sandwich

New research shows that the traditional Toastmasters sandwich evaluation method, as it is most often implemented, needs a makeover.

In the book, “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop (What Machines Teach Us about Human Relationships)” authors Clifford Nass and Corina Yen
present “Counterintuitive insights about building successful relationships-based on research into human-computer interaction.” Nass’s research shows: “Mixing criticism into praise – a popular tactic for managers – is a destructive method of evaluation.”

Don’t panic! The Toastmasters evaluation sandwhich method of ‘praise – suggest – praise’ still works. To be most effective, it just needs a bit of an emphasis shift.

What we do now:

  1. Some praise and specific examples of what the evaluator liked
  2. Then a suggestion for improvement and
  3. finally some encouragement or another positive comment.

Unfortunately that is an ineffective way to communicate the suggestions and praise.

What works:

  1. A single, specific positive praising.
  2. The the suggestion(s) then
  3. as much praise (again, specific and believable) as you have time for

Why it works best: Several aspects of how we listen and what we remember work together to make the new sandwich “taste better” and be “more (ful)filling”.

  1. What we hear last we remember most – and most strongly. Therefore lather on the specific praise and encouragement AFTER the suggestion (or criticism.)
  2. We remember criticism (or perceived criticism – even if it is portrayed as suggestion) no matter if it is early in the feedback. Putting it towards the front won’t make the evaluatee forget it!

That basically means: put the good stuff at the end, and put most of it there. It will be remembered most if it is AFTER the suggestions/criticism.

Of course, the research shows what we all know already: Specific, concrete suggestions work best. The same goes for praising. Be specific, saying “you are good” is far less effective than saying what it is, specifically, that you liked.

It’s not my theory, it’s the advice of communications experts after studying the effectiveness of various evaluation/feedback approaches.

Will you adapt to new expert advice and remake your sandwich?