So You Lost a Toastmasters Speech Contest?

A Toastmaster and blog reader wrote to tell me:  I was in a Toastmasters Division speech contest and the judging was totally messed up.  My speech, to quote the District Governor, was “the obvious winner.”  I got third place.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by speech contest judging…join the club.  It’s a big one.  You’ll meet lots of friends.

Here are some factors to think about the next time you’re unhappy with the results of a speech contest:

It’s subjective.  Judging is not a precise science.  It comes down to the subjective opinion of the judges.  The opinion of each judge is as good as the opinion of anyone else in the room.  Any one judge will not likely agree with the opinion of every audience member, nor will he or she agree with the opinion of every other judge. 

The job of the judge.  The judges don’t pick the best speech or speaker.  They pick the winner.  Sometimes the winner is the best speaker.  Sometimes not.  That’s life.

Bias exists.  So be it.  A judge may have a favorite speaker or a bias toward the content of a speech.  But then so do the speaker’s friends and family.  I was chief judge for a non-Toastmasters speech contest with nine speakers.  After the contest a spouse came up to me and shared the disappointment that his/her spouse didn’t win but that the spouse certainly must have been in second place (which was not announced).  The spouse was, in fact, in ninth place.  Dead last.  I did not share that information!  A problem of judging?  Or a problem of bias on the part of a family member?  As a speaker, your bias or opinion of your own speech will quite likely blind your objectivity when it comes to analyzing how you did.  We tend to love our own speech.  The judges may have a bias, but so do you.

Good intentions.  I’m a firm believer that most judges honestly try their best to be objective and fair.  If their vote is swayed by bias or favoritism, it’s not normally intentional.  Believe in the goodness of people.  It’s easier to be happy.

Growth.  The primary goal of entering a contest is to grow.   If you lose and grow…it’s been a good contest.  If you win and don’t grow…you wasted your time.  My slogan is that I learn more when I come in second place.  It’s true, you tend to think you were pretty good when you win.  The analysis goes deeper when you lose.

Amateur or professional.  Let’s face it, your average contest is being judged by volunteer amateurs.  Quite likely, the judges probably couldn’t do what the contestants are doing if you pointed a gun at them.  Take, for example, a District Contest where contestants are trying to win the fourth level of competition.  How many judges are past-District-Contest winners?  Probably none. If you’re lucky, maybe one judge.  That doesn’t make their opinions less valid, it’s just a perspective to help you not to take the results too seriously when you lose…OR when you win.  It’s simply a subjective opinion of a small group of people on a given day.  If the same judges voted on the same speakers the next day, the results could likely be different.  Different moods, different alignment of the stars.

Let it pass.  If you feel frustration with the contest results, that’s normal.  I’ve been there.  I’ll be there again.  And if you compete, so will you.  The key is your bounce-back-ability.  Your resiliency is a measure of your strength and character.  Be disappointed and then get over it.  There’s another contest just around the corner.  And if you were truly the best speaker, you don’t need to announce it to anyone, most people already know it. 

Have fun.  Enjoy the experience.  The goal of the contest is to get better…not to get bitter.  If you’ve grown in the process and have become a better speaker, you’re a winner.  The only losers are those who never entered the contest in the first place!