Toastmasters Eastern VA Division Contest

“Thou shalt not conclude a speech with ‘Thank you’ ”

“When homeless people stop their ranting to look at YOU, then you know you’re crazy.”

“Whichever football team is not having such a great season can always take comfort in playing against The Redskins.”

No folks, it’s not stand-up comedy. It’s not Shakespeare. It’s not Broadway either. These quips came from performances at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk on the morning of November 7, 2009.

That was the day that the Toastmasters of Virginia’s Eastern Division took over.

Toastmasters periodically holds speech contests as an interesting component to their educational program. The contest creates community awareness of the Toastmasters program, and gives all who attend the opportunity to learn by observing other speak­ers.

Contest Setup

Each district of Toastmasters is divided into divisions, areas, and clubs. The Fall 2009 Eastern Division Contest gathered together an array of Toastmasters all over Hampton Roads for two contests: The Humorous Speech Contest, and the Speech Evaluation Contest (where all contestants give an original evaluation of the same, never-before-heard “test” speech). Each contest had nine contestants who each represented their clubs all over Hampton Roads.

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Speech Evaluation Contestants
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Humorous Speech Contestants

Before each contestant could reach the division contest, they had to win two previous competitions—first at their own club, and again at the area level. Eastern Division Governor Tim “T.J.” Williams and the Contest Chair, Sharon Wingate of the Toast of the Town club in Portsmouth, organized the contest. Area 9 Governor Andrea Morgan of Titan Mix Masters in Norfolk served as the Chief Judge, and Area 5 Governor Paul Thurkettle was the Contest Master.

Contest Winners

Thurkettle, Williams, and District 66 Governor John Harman presented the winners with their certificates and trophies.

The 2009 Eastern Division Speech Evaluation Contest winners are Keisha Cutler of the Western Branch club in Portsmouth, Danita Fox of the Oyster Point Speakers club in Newport News, and Kathryn Patterson of Yorktown Community Educators in Yorktown (in first, second, and third place, respectively).

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Cutler, Patterson, Fox (l to r)

The 2009 Eastern Division Humorous Speech Contest winners are Ryan Downs from Tower Toasters in Norfolk, John McCarthy of the Virginia Beach Human Services club, and Steve Goad of CBN/Regent Toastmasters club in Virginia Beach (in first, second, and third place, respectively).

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Goad, McCarthy, Downes, Harman, Williams, and Thurkettle (l to r)

The first and second place winners of each contest competed at the district level at the Toastmasters District 66 Fall Conference in Richmond, VA on November 20 and 21. McCarthy won third place there (out of six Humorous contestants), and Fox won second place there (out of six Evaluation contestants).


Between each contest, lucky attendees won prizes raffled off by Cindy Chatham, including certificates for Roger Browns restaurant, The Funny Bone Comedy Club, and tickets to a production by the Virginia Stage Company. All attendees, whether Toastmasters or not, also enjoyed the option of purchasing tickets to see the play Romeo and Juliet, currently playing at the Wells Theatre for half-price ($25 per person instead of $50) during any of the showings for that weekend.

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The Chathams Collect Raffle $$

Stage Fright

Contestants and audience members alike raved about their experiences, which ranged from fear to triumph: “I was terrified at the prospect of speaking on THE STAGE AT WELLS THEATRE,” recalls humorous speech contestant Yvonne Fink, Vice President Public Relations for the Titan Mix Masters club in Norfolk.

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Inside View of Wells Theatre

“To my amazement, it was not scary or threatening. I am pleased to say that I actually enjoyed the experience and would readily consider it again. I was also deeply honored to be among such outstanding competitors.  It was a great contest and everyone involved in the contest did a wonderful job organizing the event.”

Fink was not the only contestant who felt nervous speaking onstage. Danita Fox, President of the Oyster Point Speakers club and second place winner of the Speech Evaluation contest, talked about the supportive environment of coming together to present on a stage with many strange faces in the crowd: “Everyone present; contestants and fellow Toastmasters, and guests, collectively helped create an environment where I could try something I’ve never done before, and not fear the thing that typically hinders me—failure.  I felt like I could get on that stage, speak, and if the worst happened it would not be the end, because I knew that those in the theatre would encourage me, and not belittle me or laugh at me. It was the right environment for growth and improvement. I hope that more Toastmasters will get involved with contests.”

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Audience At Wells Theatre

Support and encouragement are a strong theme of Toastmasters, where you learn to become a more confident and assertive speaker. “As Toastmasters, we succeed best when we live our promise to be encouragers, which was visible throughout the Eastern Division contest,” says Jerry Keast, District 66 Lieutenant Governor of Education and Training.


“I loved the five Toastmasters commandments [given in a speech by second place Humorous Speech winner John McCarthy], especially “Thou Shalt Not Call It A Podium,” says Area 8 Governor Shana Corday.

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The Podium (Oops, I Meant, "Lectern")

“And Keisha [Cutler, first place Speech Evaluation winner] did a fantastic job! She drew the audience’s attention immediately with her bright green sweater, appeared totally confident on stage, and presented a supportive and encouraging critique. She’s a model evaluator.”

Cutler herself was in disbelief. “Wow!  I never thought I would enter a Toastmasters contest much less win a division level contest when I joined Toastmasters three years ago,” she says.  “It’s been a few days and I still can’t believe it!”

Many attendees commented about the ambience of having the contest in the Wells Theatre.  “I enjoyed the contest. The theatre was beautiful and the atmosphere in the room was awesome,” Fox said. 

Full View of Wells Theatre Interior

“The weather was fine, the food was good, and the turnout was wonderful–couldn’t have asked for a better contest,” Corday agreed.  “This huge undertaking was incredibly smooth and well-organized, due to the outstanding efforts of TJ, Sharon, and Cindy.”

SPECIAL THANKS TO those who provided me with quotes, and Lisa Dalrymple and  Sharon Wingate for sending these pictures!

What is Toastmasters International?

Toastmasters International is an organization that promotes communication and leadership skills with club meetings held all over the world (usually biweekly). Toastmasters are people in all kinds of professions and ethnicities, with one goal in common: to develop and hone their communication and leadership skills.

It was 85 years ago when Toastmasters founder Dr. Ralph C. Smedley held the first official meeting in the basement of a YMCA in Santa Ana, CA. The organization that started as a small group of people dedicated to teaching after-dinner speeches to young men has evolved since that first meeting in 1924—more than 4 million people have benefited from the Toastmasters experience, and the organization currently has more than 250,000 members in 12,500 clubs in 108 countries.*

To Learn More…

about Toastmasters clubs near you, please visit and click the “Find a location near you” link on the left.

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