Impromptu Speech Contests – organisation

This article is a handout for an educational session I gave at my Toastmasters club on the Impromptu Speaking (Table Topics) contests. In this article I talk about the organisation of the contest and in a later article I help you do your best as a contestant.

Table Topics Contests – does that phrase make you feel nervous? Many of you have had a go at Table Topics – thinking on your feet but what about contest? There is no prize money involved – but a contest helps you improve as a communicator being in a different environment and to see other great speakers in action.

The Table Topics Contest is an impromptu speech contest where each contestant shall receive the same topic which will be of a general nature. The topic does not require detailed knowledge and will allow you to speak comfortably.

Speaking time is 1 to 2 minutes. You will be disqualified if you speak for less than one minute or more than two minutes and thirty seconds. The timing lights will show a green light on one minute, yellow at 1’30 then red at 2 minutes. The red light stays on until you finish speaking and there are no warnings if you speak over time. When you see the red light, finish up quickly then sit down.

Here is a diagram showing the timing lights and the passage of time going from left to right.  At the bottom of the diagram you can see roughly where you should be starting the body of your speech and how you should start concludiing around the 1’30 time.  Click the diagram to show a larger version.

Timing Lights







Speaking order is determined by random selection of playing cards before the contest starts. At the beginning of the contest, all contestants except the first are taken out of the room by the sergeant at arms. This ensures that no contestant has an advantage of knowing the topic.

The contest toastmasters will introduce you by saying your name, giving you the topic, repeating the topic, then your name. The topic is written on paper so you can refer to it later, but I recommend you listen carefully to the topic when introduced!

Who can compete? Any financial member of the club may compete in this contest. No prior experience is required.

How is the contest judged? There will be several judges at each contest and they give their choice of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place to the chief judge who tallies up the scores with the assistance of the counter. The chief judge will announce 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the contest.

The first and second place getters will compete at the Area 60 contest. The winner of that contest goes on to Hawkesbury Division, with the winner of the division contest competing at the District contest which is part of the District conference.

How do the judges decide? They use a judging form with Judging Criteria (link to the form at the end of this article)

  • Speech Development (35) – Opening, Body, Close, Organization, Smoothness
  • Effectiveness (25) – Logic, Directness, Enthusiasm Audience Response
  • Physical (15)- Appearance, Body Language, Speaking Area
  • Voice (15) – Flexibility, Volume
  • Appropriateness (10) – To Speech Purpose And Audience
  • Correctness (5) – Grammar, Pronunciation, Word Selection

Further Information


Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

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