Every year, we have four contests at Casterbridge Speakers: in the spring, we have the International Speakers contest (where an inspirational speaker can progress through the rounds as far as the worldwide Toastmasters convention) and the Evaluation contest (where a guest speaker is evaluated by several different people); and in the autumn, we have the Humorous Speakers and Table Topics contests.

These aren’t the only contests a Toastmasters club can run, though. The website also lists ‘Tall Tales’ as a possible category. As the last meeting in December is generally a good place to try something new, and as Christmas itself is full of far-fetched stories (seriously, who sends 40 gold rings?), we decided to run one of these at the end of 2015.

A tall tale — for the purposes of the contest, at least — is an exaggerated, usually humorous story, told as if it were true, a description that leaves an awful lot of wiggle-room, and which our contestants exploited fully.

First up was Bev Hepting, whose speech Never Be Awake When Santa Comes To Call explained the real story of Santa — that is to say, Santandino, a destroyer of worlds allowed out only once a year. Bev took the brave decision to accept the Anya Challenge in a contest and give a speech sitting down. Carefully crafted and strongly delivered, Bev’s speech put down an intimidating marker for those who followed.

She was followed by The One That Got Away by Andrew Knowles, who interpreted the thought process of a fish called Verity as it came to terms with a stupendous idea, following sidetrack after sidetrack, pursuing the meaning of words and quite closely mirroring my process when I have a good idea. Andrew’s passion for etymology and the structure of language shone through in a neatly-packaged speech with some great comic moments.

Dave Smith‘s speech, A Walk On The Wild Side followed a family trek on a day so windy one might get blown away. For me, one of Dave’s greatest strengths is his animated style, and his vocal variety added a great deal to his story.

Finally, Rosie Barfoot told a story of the grim industrial north, with fishermen on the canal watching a hat go back and forth. I don’t remember ever seeing a better speech than It’s In’t Hat (other opinions may, of course, differ); from the sheer poetry of Rosie’s language to the magnificent punchline, the room was hooked. What topped it all (for me) was that she managed to make the entire absurd situation completely believable — an absolute masterclass in storytelling.

The judges — who, in this case, were the whole of the room — voted that the top two were:

  1. Rosie Barfoot
  2. Bev Hepting

It’s harsh when you have more than one excellent speech in a contest, because they can’t all win (and if anyone ever mentions Star Wars to me again, I’ll tell you all about it). It’s also harsh when there’s no Area contest for winners to go on to: I’d have backed the winners to go all the way.

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