Monday, September 26, 2011

Toastmasters Monday: Should We Vote For Best Anything?

From Santa Cruz TM's Website - Awarding the Best Speaker Ribbon.

In my very first meeting in Toastmasters, at Titan Toastmasters in Littleton, CO way back in 1995, one of the many cool things I noticed were the awards given at the meeting. Titan awarded ribbons to the Best Speaker, Best Evaluator, Best TableTopics, and the Bone Award - for the biggest faux pas in the meeting (typically given by the previous weeks winner).

This appealed to the competitor in me, and after I rejoined Toastmasters after a 4 year break, my new club in Salt Lake City also voted for the Best's (though no 'Bone Award') - awarding inscribed pencils. After my first two years, I had a ton of pencils, and I loved it! It helped push me to do better week after week, to be more focused on the task. It's just my personality.

Not all Toastmaster clubs do this. Some Toastmasters even hate the fact that any clubs would give any awards, and the concept of a 'Bone Award' is appalling to them. Toastmasters is supposed to be a supportive environment, they argue. How is making one person a winner over others being supportive to all? What about those people who've gotten so good no one stands a chance? And after all, we have contests - if you want to compete, enter those! As for the 'Bone Award' - that's just belittling and hurtful!

All good and valid points.

Other clubs limit their awards to Table Topics - I suppose because there is less personal investment in giving an impromptu table topic answer than a speech, and less chance for hurt feelings.

What does your club do? Toastmasters Int'l doesn't have a policy against awards (though they do have something in writing against awards such as the 'Bone Award'), and they sell them on their website, so one might suggest that's tacit approval for the practice. Without awards, there's no need for the role of vote counter, either, right?

Each club is different, of course. Different cultures and membership makeup. A corporate club may create a bad atmosphere for awards - should I vote for my boss or the mail guy? Some clubs may simply feel they are 'above' giving awards. That's fine - go with that. Doesn't give me much to write about though. For those of you who do give awards, or are on the fence...

"Best" Award Best Practices:

A. Make it clear to visitors and new members that voting is a 'fun' activity, and not meant to be a judgmental situation.

B. When asking for the vote for Best Speaker, explain you are asking for people to vote for the speaker who best met their objectives - not who gave the best or most entertaining speech. Judge them against their goals, and not each other.

B.2. When asking for the vote for Best Evaluator, ask people to vote for who provided the most useful evaluation for the speaker. Some clubs even throw in reports from the Grammarian, General Evaluator, Ah-Counter, etc., into the mix, to encourage stronger reporting.

B. 3. When asking for the vote for Best Tabletopics, ask people to vote for who answered the question best - this will help them at a future, more formal, contest.

C. Train vote-counters not to announce 'how close it was' or 'what a runaway it was' results-wise.

D. Watch your scheduling patterns - mix up the matchups a bit. No one likes to be speaking the same meeting as another speaker too consistently, awards or no.

E. Make award giving fun - and if time allows, let them make an acceptance speech for 30 seconds. Yet another speaking opportunity for both awarder and awardee.

F. Don't let 'guest speakers', such as those folks practicing for contests, be voted for. Let your other speakers go first, call for the vote, then introduce the guest speaker. They don't need to win your ribbon, and they definitely don't want the ego blow of NOT winning your club ribbon!

"Bone" Bonus Best Practices - I actually don't have a problem with this award, but it really depends on the makeup of the club. If you have a laid back culture with members that won't be offended, it can be a fun way of correcting a faux pas, or a light way to suggest a member take a different approach after giving a speech on, say, correct condom usage. (I am not making this up. The award for my first club is actually named after the member who gave this speech...)

Members presenting the "Bone Award" should show good humor and good taste, and be wary of guests in the audience. Is it touchy? Sure. Is it risky? Yep. Can it help us learn comraderie, tact, and appropriate methods of humor? Absolutely.

The polar opposite of the "Bone Award" is an award given to recognize a member or guest who has contributed significantly to a meeting, beyond normal expectations. Come in and given a great guest speech. Brought multiple guests. Made dessert for the group. This award is often called the "Spark Award" or "MVP Award".

Both awards are typically homemade trophies, though I've seen ribbons and paper awards given out as well.

As I've aged as a Toastmaster, I've stopped worrying much about whether I win a ribbon at a club meeting or not. Much :) I do keep all the awards, though, in a little drawer in my office. Don't have any pencils left - the six kids have managed to steal all of 'em...

Awards of any kind are just a measure of a moment. As speakers and Toastmasters, we should continually be evaluating our progress, making sure we are growing as individuals, and contributing to our clubs in a positive way. We evaluate in so many ways in our organization - certificates, ribbons, and trophies are just one method of recognition.

Remember, no ribbon is as important as a member of the audience coming up to you and telling you you made a difference for them that day. I often say 'don't go after the wrong trophy' - but when was the last time you were the voice of the right trophy for someone else? When was the last time you were the person letting the Speaker know they Delivered?

1 comment:

  1. I hate the vote, even if our club do vote, and for the moment the best speech and not the best meeting the criteria, as president I will try to explain it from now, as I was voted down when I suggested not to vote at all.

    Your note is full of useful suggestions and thoughts



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