Say YES to Contests: Ways to Improve Judging

In my mailbox, I have at least three clubs asking me to judge contests in the next week.  I’m looking at my schedule to figure out how to say yes to all of them. This isn’t a complaint.  I might even feel complimented – if I hadn’t filled out a judge referral form at the judge training back in June. I like judging. I know that’s not a common thought.  Judging has a bad rap – and you can improve your judging and your opinion about it.

  1.  Judging means examining yourself and your mindset first.

Toastmasters International has a lovely training session online.  I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.  The investment of time – about 10 minutes – was minor compared to what I got out of it.  After viewing it, I saw some judging errors I had fallen into.  I recommend that e-learning session for anyone about to judge a contest because it makes us aware of our own biases and the natural tendencies we have to focus on the first or the last speakers. I’m egotistical enough to think that as the JUDGE, I’m a big shot in this affair.  Think Simon Cowell. Ok, don’t think about him – he’s got an air about him that makes me cringe.  Maybe he is the star of all those talent shows – but the judges at a speech contest are not the stars.  We are like cogs in a machine, a necessary part of the process, but that doesn’t make us more important than the timers or the ballot counters.

  1. Judging takes listening skills.

Judging may or may not be like being a grammarian on steroids.  It takes a concentration and focus that we ask our grammarians to develop, and then go one step further and look outside the grammarian constraints.  The judges must also take into account body language, speech organization and delivery.  How do you keep track of all? Here’s my judge-y confession.  At some point during the speech, I’ll make a determination about body movement.  If by that point, I feel that the speaker has succeeded in their use, I’ll note it – and move on.  I don’t even consider it again, unless they fall off the stage or something appalling.  Same with vocal variety – I can’t even say at what point I put a check on the ballot and move on, but I will.  This is the only sane way I’ve found to be able to concentrate on listening, evaluating content, and judging. I’m sure other people have their own methods.  I’d like to know them – my method does tend to support my biases rather than ignore them, so learning a new method is something I’m seeking out.

  1. Judging is scary.

A judge might just disagree with the final tally.  Was the judge wrong?  Did they miss something critical or worse, was the judge biased? Judging is not evaluation, so we’re not really well trained in Toastmasters for it.  Judging is making a value decision which is better than the other.  Toastmasters provides a nice matrix that helps the judge make determinations numerically… if you’re numerically challenged, it’s less than ideal, but it is a nice list that a judge can keep on hand to consider while the speaker presents. At Judge Training, which was held after the district TLI in June, there was a lovely discussion about how people manage the numbers issue.  Adding up all those numbers in 1 minute is hard for me.  Debbie Curtis, our Immediate Past District Governor (IPDG), had a suggestion – everything is done in fives.  A speaker doesn’t lose one point in her estimation – the speaker loses 5.  Debbie can count quickly by fives and get her totals done in the time limit. Another person said she subtracts instead of adds points.  Speakers might lose a point or two for poor body language, but instead of adding 8, this method subtracts 2.  I suspect accountants and math teachers like this method.

The Problem and the Glory of Judging

My personal opinions should not cloud my ability to assess a speaker – but those opinions will.  The glory is when we can overcome our biases and be as impartial as we would ourselves want to be judged. And if we get to the end and our preferences were not the winners – were we wrong?  No.  Just different.  As long as we tried to be impartial, recognize our own biases and account for them, and be confident in our decision, then your opinion is as valid as any other.

Now it’s up to you.  Are you willing to say, “Thanks for the offer!  I’d love to come and judge!” when you get that call?

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