Why Prepared Speeches Should Always Come Before Impromptu
I firmly believe, for both regular meetings and contests, that prepared speeches should be scheduled on the agenda before impromptu events.
For club meetings, this generally means you should have prepared speeches, then table topics, then the evaluation segment of the meeting. (In advanced clubs, I think there’s an argument for giving evaluations as immediate feedback right after speeches, but that’s another story.) For contests, this means that prepared events—International Speech, Humorous Speech and Tall Tales—should come before Table Topics or Speech Evaluation, which are impromptu.
Some Toastmasters disagree with me on this, but I have yet to hear a single effective argument to hold impromptu events first.
In a regular club meeting, table topics should be held as late in the meeting as possible, simply because they are the most flexible portion of the meeting. If the meeting runs long, have fewer topics. If the meeting runs short (perhaps a speaker didn’t show up) then have more table topics. The later the table topics section occurs, the better it can adapt to keep your meeting on schedule while providing as much useful meeting content as possible.
For both contests and club meetings, there is another argument to be made. The majority of speakers are stressed when they are preparing for their speech (whether for a meeting or a contest performance). They sit in the meeting, anxiously awaiting their turn. They are unable to relax or think about anything else until they have done their part. Only once they have performed can they pay attention to the rest of the meeting. In a contest, this is particularly disastrous; a contestant can be completely focused on their prepared speech while called upon to give an impromptu performance, impairing their focus. However, when they give their speech early on, then they can relax. They can then engage in impromptu events, watch other speakers and learn from the meeting, able to pay full attention.
(You might think you are doing prepared speakers a favor by giving them a few more minutes in the meeting to think about their lines. Some of them might even feel that way, but it really is best for them to just get it over with. This relates to another tip: inexperienced speakers should precede more experienced speakers, so they can get the jitters over with and to avoid being intimidated by “having to follow that.”)
Remember: schedule speeches first, THEN table topics and evaluation, whether you are running a meeting or a contest. Do you disagree with me? If you have a convincing argument otherwise, I would love to hear it in the comments!