Warning! International contestants beware

How you dress may be the deciding factor in WA contests

I have listened with amazement at various Area Contests in recent times as Chief Judges have singled out formal dress as one of or even the most important factor for International Contestants. Where does this approach come from? It certainly isn’t from the Judging Criteria published by Toastmasters International. I’ve published the full text below. You will see that Content is allocated 50%, Delivery 30% and Language 20%. The only reference to a speaker’s appearance is in the Delivery section, and that is in one sentence of three sentences in one section of three sections. This is that sentence.

The speaker’s appearance should reinforce the speech, whether profound, sad, humorous, instructional.
There is no actual reference to a contestant’s clothing, and certainly no instruction to take into account whether it meets the judge’s idea (or prejudice) of what appropriate clothing would be. There is simply nothing in the guidelines to support a widespread belief among certain very experienced judges that dressing formally is the most important, or a very important issue, or even any kind of relevant issue in arriving at a proper judgment in assessing contestants.

Check it for yourself. Look at the the full guidelines. In particular read the Delivery section. Of course appearance is important – it should reinforce the speech, and that reinforcement should be relevant to the style of the speech. Appearance is important, but so are many other factors. It is one of many and its relative importance should be assessed in terms of the whole Judging Criteria.

But look out!

If you are an International contestant at Area or Division level in WA, think carefully about this advice. There will be judges in your panel who pay little or no attention to the Toastmasters International Criteria. So dress very carefully, and very formally.

Oh, and put a bit of effort into the speech itself – things like the content, your body language, your voice, your manner and your language. Hopefully it may influence the result.

Have your say on this important subject

You may or may not agree with what I have written above. Leave a comment – go to the end of the file and put in your opinion. This will help mould opinion and judging action in WA.


Content (50%)

SPEECH DEVELOPMENT is the way the speaker puts ideas together so the audience can understand them. The speech is structured around a purpose, and the structure must include an opening, body and conclusion. A good speech immediately engages the audience’s attention and then moves forward to a significant conclusion. This development of the speech structure is supported by relevant examples and illustrations, facts and figures, delivered with such smoothness that they blend into the framework of the speech to present the audience with a unified whole.

EFFECTIVENESS is measured in part by the audience’s reception of the speech, but a large part is your subjective judgment of how the speech came across. You should ask yourself such questions as “Was I able to determine the speaker’s purpose?” “Did the speech relate directly to that purpose?” “Was the audience’s interest held by the speaker?” “Was this speech subject appropriate for this particular audience?”

SPEECH VALUE justifies the act of speaking. The speaker has a responsibility to say something meaningful and original to the audience. The listeners should feel the speaker has made a contribution to their thinking. The ideas should be important ones, although this does not preclude a humorous presentation of them.

Delivery (30%)

PHYSICAL presentation of a speech carries part of the responsibility for effective communication. The speaker’s appearance should reinforce the speech, whether profound, sad, humorous, instructional.  Body language should support points through gestures, expressions and body positioning.

VOICE is the sound that carries the message. It should be flexible, moving from one pitch level to another for emphasis, and should have a variety of rate and volume. A good voice can be clearly heard and the words easily understood.

MANNER is the indirect revelation of the speaker’s real self as the speech is delivered. The speaker should speak with enthusiasm and assurance, showing interest in the audience and confidence in their reactions.

Language (20%)

APPROPRIATENESS of language refers to the choice of words that relate to the speech purpose and to the particular audience hearing the speech. Language should promote clear understanding of thoughts, and should fit the occasion precisely.

CORRECTNESS of language ensures that attention will be directed toward what the speaker says, not how it is said. Proper use of grammar and correct pronunciation will show that the speaker is the master of the words being used.

Have your say.  Leave a comment.

David Nicholas

David Nicholas DTM

8 Responses to “Warning! International contestants beware”

  1. David,

    I am amazed by this revelation. Whilst I can accept that appearances are important this is a speech contest not a Beauty Pageant! Maybe I’m being a little harsh here as personal appearances probably don’t count but we all know that someone who looks ‘attractive’ will immediately gain attention.

    For a while I acted as a Magistrate back in the UK. The appearance of the defendant in the dock made an immediate impression. The gum chewing youngster with hands in pockets and baseball hat was never off to a good start. However someone who was smartly dressed and paying attention would be thought of as being respectful and aware of the situation.

    Now the important point I’m trying to make here is dressing appropriately. To make a Toastmasters speech I can not for the life of me think why it should be necessary to dress formally. OK maybe not shorts and thongs or a heavy metal T-Shirt, but having said that if that is appropriate to your talk, why the hell not? I gave a speech at work concerning Main Roads WA and consequently turned up dressed ‘jokingly’ as a road worker wearing a hard hat. It went down a storm (as did the can of VB I brought in with me).

    I see the way you dress as a non-verbal form of communication but why should you have to dress formally, it just doesn’t make sense. However if there are points to be won or lost it is all good advice! Thanks David.

  2. Avatar for Gladys Lavell Gladys Lavell says:

    I agree with David. Obviously, if your speech is how to be a successful CEO your speech will not be enhanced if you appear in your gardening clothes. If your speech is on gardening, your gardening clothes will enhance the speech. Even so, this is just a small part of the 10% given to all the physical.
    My gripe is the emphasis given when the chief judge says “USE THE STAGE”. You often hear this comment, the reason being that the winners at International level move all over the stage. I cannot see in the criteria where you must move all over the stage. Some speeches lend themselves to using the whole stage, especially if it is an action speech. Then again, in front of a large audience you may need to change position to be in eye contact with all the audience, but our area and club contests are not in front of large audiences generally. We should be judging on the current circumstances, not on what may happen at district or international level. Lord Spencer’s eulogy to Princess Diana would have lost all effect if he pranced around all over the place while delivering it. Often the message you get from movement about the stage is “Look, judges, I AM using the stage.” This is because contestants know that some judges put a lot of weight on this. I have included movement in speeches for only that reason and I am sure I am not the only one. But why should we when it is not stated in the criteria. What of the blind or the athritic or paralised. Are they to be marked down for not moving all over the stage when the criteria doesn’t require it.
    “Body language should support points through gestures, expressions and body positioning.” Where you position your body is just one part of 10 points. If it is a serious speech, what is wrong with remaining in a small area so long as you can see all of your audience. Surely your gestures and expressions must hold some weight. If your speech calls for action, then by all means enhance it by using the stage.
    My advice to contestants is to use all of the stage because there is a tendency to place undue importance on it.
    In my opinion, how you move about the stage seems to be more of a deciding factor in WA contests than how you dress. If contests are won at TMI level by the way you use the stage, then I think the judges at that level need re-educating. What weight is given to the rest of the criteria?

    • Avatar for Eric Davies Eric Davies says:

      Thanks Gladys for your comments, but as Chief Judge in the recent P30 contest I mentioned movement about the speaking area and I think that perhaps I am being misquoted, or maybe I did not make my point clearly enough.

      What I said was that in all the International Finals I have seen the contestants always use the whole of the stage. I believe I used the words ‘dominate the speaking area’ and I suggested that speakers try to emulate that approach. I suggested that if they reach the later stages of the contest they will then be able to compete equally with other contestants because it seems that judges there consider that dominating the speaking area important.

      What I did NOT say was that movement about the speaking area was considered in reaching the result in that contest. As far as I am aware none of the judges did consider this, judging from the comments made by them while discussing the contest.

      From a personal perspective I believe that moving about the stage to be of little importance in speech making. What is important is how much impact the speech has on the audience and great impact can be achieved without movement. But contestants who want to progress in contests should be aware that there is a tremendous variability in judges and while there are judges who consider that speakers who strut around the stage appear more confident they should consider this.

      Eric Davies

      • Avatar for Gladys Lavell Gladys Lavell says:

        I wasn’t singling out any particular person for this comment, or any particular contest, as it is often made and has been over a period of time. It is for some years that I have been aware of it, and not just recently. I don’t even take note of who makes the comments – it’s just the comment that sticks with me – not who made them. Even in evaluation contests, where physical is NOT even in the criteria, the comment has been made that better use could have been made of the stage by the contestants.. Eric, I hadn’t even remembered that you were one of many who have made the comment. Although a few have clarified by mentioning that higher up the winners may be judged on how they use the stage and suggested contestants include movement as they go to the next level , some have stated that not enough use was made of the stage in a particular contest. This gives the impression that it is considered important by at least some of the judges.

  3. Avatar for Gawain Simpson Gawain Simpson says:

    David is correct. There is nothing in the rules or the judging criteria about how a contestant should dress. It should be appropriate to the speech – which includes your clothing being a visual aid to a speech.
    For instance, I gave a speech about my lack of sporting prowess and wore rather scruffy sporting gear as my costume for the speech.

    Another incorrect assumption of judges is that contestants must acknowledge the contest chair during the speech. Again this is not in the rules or the judging criteria yet time and again contestants are marked down for not acknowledging the chair and toastmasters.

    If you are going to be a judge, then you should know the criteria and judge using these and these only.
    Otherwise it’s like an olympic sprinter being disqualified for not wearing the right shoes!

  4. Avatar for Charles Fisher Charles Fisher says:

    My comments:

    “Appearance” appears under the “Delivery” category of the ballot form and 30 marks are allocated for “Delivery”.

    “Speech Value” appears under the “Content” category and 50 marks are allocated for “Content”. I understand “speech value” to be a topic which is highly relevant to any member of the audience and one which will change their thinking in some way.

    My feeling is that it is important to look the part if you are trying to get across to the audience an important message. If you are well dressed then this will capture the attention of the audience from the moment you come to the lecturn to deliver an International contest speech. Non verbal messages are very powerful and the way you look will make your audience listen more closely to what you have to say. If they are listening more closely then they are more likely to comprehend what you are talking about.

    Appearance may only be in the 30% delivery category, but how you look will contribute to your success in the 50% content category.

  5. Avatar for Liz Sheridan Liz Sheridan says:

    Some very relevant and useful comments here – and kudos to David for opening up such a can of worms!.
    Though not a very experienced judge myself, I have sometimes been surprised at the “reading” of the rules and of the importance given to one’s appearance, one’s use of the stage, use of the lecturn, and also how one acknowledges the judges and the audience.
    It is very easy to take certain points mentioned in the “judges comments” at the announcement of the winners – and also in the backstage discussion of comments, as more than general guidelines – or indeed, more than the judge’s “interpretation” of the rules ”
    Over a period of time, if these “general comments” appear to be reinforced, then they can become part of the “psyche” of (especially of a “new or inexperienced”) judge and may subconsciously influence the results… and ultimately be passed along.
    The Chief Judges comments at the presentation of winners should be taken seriously by all concerned, however, it is again, a representation of the body of judges opinion’ (albeit knowledgeable and experienced) and should be taken as that – and not be “written into lore”
    Personal opinion is just that, and one’s individual perception of a speech and the “interpretation” of the judging criteria should not, but will almost inevitably, colour the marking of a speech, its just the way we are.
    However, on the matter of dress, I wholehearted agree with Charles when he says
    “it is important to look the part if you are trying to get across to the audience an important message. If you are well dressed then this will capture the attention of the audience from the moment you come to the lecturn to deliver an International contest speech. Non verbal messages are very powerful and the way you look will make your audience listen more closely to what you have to say. If they are listening more closely then they are more likely to comprehend what you are talking about.”
    And finally, if there are points to be had, then ones arsenal should contain all the “tricks of the trade” and we should Dress for Success and be the Best we can be! .. Liz Sheridan, Mandjar Speakers

  6. Avatar for Gawain Simpson Gawain Simpson says:

    Just found this on TMI website. There ARE minimum requirements to be a judge. I thought any member was eligible:

    Q: What are the requirements to be a judge?
    A: To be a judge, one must be a member in good standing, preferably since the previous July 1. One must also have completed at least six Communication and Leadership Program manual projects. To be a judge at the regional or international contests, judges should be at least an Able Toastmaster or Advanced Toastmaster Bronze and have previously judged a Toastmasters speech contest at the area, division, district, or regional level. At area, division, and district contests, judges should be selected from a club or area not represented by the speech contestant. Please note that there is no requirement for a judge to have attended a Speech Contest Judges Training Program, but it is strongly recommended by World Headquarters.

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