Photo credits: Toastmasters International

How to be a chief judge

In our previous post, we covered how to be a contest judge. This post is where you find out how to be a chief judge. Now, the role of a chief judge, is completely different from that of a normal contest judge.

To be precise, the role of a chief judge is NOT to judge any of the contestants. No as Toastmasters International describes role of the chief judge is to appoint and advise the judges, counters, timers, and tiebreaking judge. The chief judge also conducts the judges’ briefing before the contest, collects the time record sheet from the timers, collects the ballot from the tiebreaking judge, handles protests, and delivers the list of winners to the contest chair at the end of the contest.

But how does one carry out the duties of a chief judge properly? Just like with our previous post, here’s a few tips that TM Niroshan Nadarajah shared with us at the Judges Training Program on the 26th of July at the Sri Lanka Tourism Board auditorium.

Finding judges

A crucial task a chief judge has before a contest is to find judges. How many judges does a chief judge need to find before a contest? Well that depends on the contest.

Contest Level Number of judges required
Club Five voting judges and one tiebreaker judge
Area An equal number of voting judges from each club in the area, or a minimum of five voting judges. There should also be one tiebreaker judge.
Division An equal number of voting judges from each area in the division, or a minimum of seven voting judges. There should also be one tiebreaker judge.
District An equal number of voting judges from each division in the district, or a minimum of seven voting judges. There should also be one tiebreaker judge.
Semi-finals for the International Speech Contest An equal number of voting judges from each district, or a minimum of nine voting judges. There should also be one tiebreaker judge.
World Championship of Public Speaking One voting judge representing each region, five qualifying judges and one tiebreaker judge.

Each contest has a specific number of judges it needs. The table above shows how many judges a chief judge needs to find for a contest in the 2015/2016 year. This of course is subject to change in the coming years. As such we recommend all chief judges, check the rulebook before contests to confirm the amount of judges required for a contest. If you’re a chief judge looking for judges, then you can always check out the Judges list we have.

The judges briefing

Once a chief judge has found judges, he/she has to do a judges briefing.  Now a judges briefing isn’t just a simple explanation of the rules. This where the chief judge gives a brief introduction and hands all the necessary forms which the judges must sign. Once that is done the chief judge must inform the judges of the following:

  • To sit in a place where a judge can easily hear the contestants
  • To ensure all protests made have proof and are based on originality and eligibility
  • To keep all ballots secure
  • To inform the chief judge if anything is out of place
  • To not ask a contestant to repeat his/her name if the judge didn’t hear it
  • To not wave at the ballot counter

Code of ethics

As a chief judge the importance of your role can not be understated. As Niroshan highlights, this means a chief judge should follow a strong code of ethics. According to Niroshan, a chief judge with such ethics:

  • Should not skip role players briefing. Especially Briefing judges.
  • Should not do judges briefing in the open
  • Should not let contest start without ensuring all judges, role players and contestants are in the meeting hall.
  • Should not let judges occupy the 1st or 2nd rows
  • Should never reveal the tiebreaker judge
  • Should maintain their control when things go wrong

The confidants of the chief judge

No chief judge works alone. During every contest, a chief judge leads a team which consists of two types of people. These people are:

  • The timers.

There are two timers. One timer notes down the times while the other operates the timing device. With a poker face, they must ensure there are no gaps in timing. They should should start timing at the speakers. The timing details they note down must remain confidential.

However, a chief judge may discuss the timing details of a contestant, with them in private after the contest. Finally, if a timing device fails, then they must grant a speaker an additional 30 seconds.

  • Tally counters

Arguably, the luckiest people at a contest. They must keep the identity of all judges a secret and collect their ballots. Afterwards they tally the results from the ballots. Once that’s done, they must cross any contestants disqualified due to timing before deciding the winner.


A chief judge can make disqualify a contest on certain reasons. What are these grounds? As Niroshan shared with us, these reasons are: eligibility, timing and originality. Wait, originality? Yes originality. Plagiarism is a serious offence everywhere, even in Toastmasters.

According to the rule book, 25% of a speech can be paraphrased content that is referenced. This rule only applies to copyrighted content and not content publicly available.

The tiebreaker judge

The tiebreaker judge as the name suggests, is a judge whose role it is to break a tie.Like all judges, the identity of the tiebreaker judge has to be kept a secret. However, the ballot of a tiebreaker judge may only be given to the Chief Judge. Due to the secrecy involved, a tiebreaker judge should always be briefed in private. If any when there is a tie, then and only then can a chief judge take out and use the ballot of the tiebreaker judge.

That’s it!

Those are some of the basic topics of being a chief judge, from TM Niroshan Nadarajah. If you’re a chief judge and have more questions: you can reach out to TM Vijayalakshmi Soundarajan, District Chief Judge at to get them clarified.

2 replies
  1. Hingston Lovell
    Hingston Lovell says:

    Thanks Mazin for bringing this detailed article on Chief Judge. This has addressed many queries we had with related to this responsibility.

  2. Dora Chiu
    Dora Chiu says:

    Should the chief judge announced or point out to the floor about the originality, timing, eligibility of the contestants or just leaved it to the contest judge to announce.


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