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Judging a Speech Competition

Judging speech or recital contests is one of those tasks which English teachers are occasionally asked to perform. Here’s a crash course on what to do:

1. Dress formally
It is important to look like a judge. After all, you can be sure that the contestants have done their best to be presentable. This is only fair.

2. Arrive early
The fact is, organizers usually tend to wait until the last minute to explain just what is going on. So, give yourself some time to check for seating arrangements, judging forms, and find out criteria you are expected to use in deciding. Sometimes, as a foreign teacher, you may be a "show" judge, just a decoration; other times, you may be asked to do some serious judging.

3. Pick the winners
A judge's main objective is to identify the prizewinners. If there are 20 speakers and five prizes, concentrate on picking the top five. Careful note taking can help you make your point during your sharing.

4. Understand the judging sheet
If you are given some sort of numbered judging sheet, e.g. "Pronunciation" 10 points, you might make it easier by breaking the 10 points into A=10, B=8, C=6, D=4 and E=2 points etc. Most judging sheets will have a number of criteria: e.g. 50 points total for pronunciation, intonation, clarity, pitch, rhythm, eye contact, gestures, topic idea and overall impression. Therefore, making a worksheet which assigns letter grades to these criteria lets you sort candidates out quickly and accurately. Another quick way to sort them out quickly is to use "contrastive sorting". Take your judging sheets and lay them out by "best speaker-worst speaker, next best-next worst" etc. This will give you a rank-ordered list.

5. Be prepared for unusual demands
Beware, sometimes schools will demand crazy things like a written report for every contestant in a very short period of time! This does not happen usually, but you just never know with Taiwanese managements sometimes. Make sure you use criteria that you can record quickly, explain simply and defend on the spot.

6. You may have to make a speech yourself
Have some general remarks ready and tailor them to the event. They should be very general and upbeat.

7. Practice Taiwanese "stage etiquette"
You may be expected to present the prizes. Basic gestures would be things like using two hands to give or receive the certificates or trophies, bowing, etc.

Typical Criteria for Judge Speech Competition

1. Eye Contact
If the contestants are not looking at their audience (you the judge or others) then they would be scored low. Top scorers should be always aware and engaging their audience.

2. Body Language
Are the contestants acting out their presentation with confidence, or are the students slouched over in obvious intimidation? They should display open body language, with some actions preferably. Also, importantly, the contestants cannot turn their back to the audience for most of the speech.

3. Movement
Check how much or little the students move. When they speak and their hands tend to move in a way that is distracting from the story, they will be marked down for that. If the opposite happens, same thing. The students should not be too stiff but should not move too much either.

4. Voice projection
If the students speak too low where you can barely hear them, then they need to be marked off; if they are too loud, the same thing will happen. Also watch out for overly dramatic, insecure, flat, or uneven tone and pitch in voice.  

Keep in mind you are to encourage the students as much as judging, so be light and uplifting in giving feedback. After all, English is not their native language!

Download a sample oral presentation evaluation sheet