Judge, don’t evaluate!

When you’re a judge in a speech contest, your role is simply to judge the speakers and select a winner.

To be a great contest judge, you must be:

  • Accurate
  •  Fair
  •  Trustworthy
  •  Knowledgeable
  •  Good listeners
  • Objective

How to become a great contest judge

  • Read the contest rules
  • Read the guide on the back of the judging ballot, before the contest, so you know what to judge
  • Sign the ballot as soon as you receive it – that way you won’t forget at the end of the contest.
  • Focus on the speech; take brief notes if it helps. After the speech, enter your scores on the ballot. NB – these scores are to help you choose a winner.
  • At the end of the contest, make sure you have written a first, a second and a third place – if not, the ballot will be discarded.
  • Do not take the speaker’s time (if you know it) into consideration when judging.
  • Beware the Halo Effect – this is when we allow a speaker’s good past performance(s) to influence our judging.
  • Beware the Reverse Halo Effect – this is when we allow a speaker’s bad past performance(s) influence our judging.


Q. What happens if I forget to sign my ballot?
A. The ballot will be discarded and, therefore, won’t count in the final scoring.

Q. What happens if I ‘tie’ 2 contestants on my ballot?
A.  You cannot ‘tie’ 2 contestants for first, second or third place. You must have 3 clear winners.

Q.On what grounds might a contestant be disqualified?

a. originality
b. eligibility
c. timing (over or under time)

Q. Is the speaking area important?
A. Yes. At the beginning of the contest, the Contest Chair will announce the speaking area. On the ballot, the speaking area comes under ‘Delivery’. A speaker cannot be disqualified if they go outside the speaking area but you can, if you want, mark them down.

Q.What do I do if I suspect a speech may not be entirely original?
A. You may protest to the Chief Judge and/or the Contest Chair before the announcement of the winners. After the announcement, the placements cannot be changed.

Q. When is a speech not original?
A. Here is what the rules say:
“Twenty-five percent or less of the speech may be devoted to quoting, paraphrasing, or referencing another person’s content. Any quoted, paraphrased, or referenced content must be so identified during the speech.”

Q. Can a member of the audience lodge a protest?
A. No, only judges and contestants can protest. And only about originality and eligibility.

Q. Does the Chief Judge complete a ballot?
A. No.

Q. Does the Tie-Break judge attend the judges’ briefing before the contest?
A. No. The TieBreak judge is appointed by the Chief Judge, and their identity should be known only to the Chief Judge.

Q. Are the contestants allowed to see their scores after the contest?
A. No. Judges are not allowed to explain to contestants how they voted or give an evaluation of their speech. The judging ballots are confidential and after the contest, judges should dispose of them securely.

Judging a speech contest is not difficult. You need to be a good listener, and have a cool head, clear focus, and impartial judgement.

Post written by Moira Beaton DTM

Moira is a member of Waverley Communicators in Edinburgh and the President of the pre-charter club, Edinburgh Advanced Toastmasters (EAT).