Table Topics is that session of a Toastmasters meeting where we are given the opportunity to practice impromptu speaking. A Table Topics Master (TTM) is the one who hosts this session. He/she calls upon members (as well as guests) and gives them a topic to speak upon for a minimum of one minute.
The Importance of a Table Topics Master
Table Topics is, in itself, a crucial element of Toastmasters. It allows us to think on our feet and improve our improvisation skills. Honing this ability is important not only for becoming a better speaker but also to help improve our communication in general.
Someone needs to be responsible for moderating this session – for creating topics of various difficulties and ensuring the audience is comfortable and engaged enough so that they actually want to come up on stage and attempt a Table Topic.
That’s where the Table Topics Master comes in! He/she ensures that members and guests both get a fair chance to speak as well as encourage anxious audience members to give Table Topics a shot!
Before the Meeting
Prepare for about 7-15 topics which the audience can speak upon depending on the size of your club and expected audience strength. We’ll dive deeper into what topics to prepare later in this article.
Contact the Toastmaster of the Day and find out the theme of the meeting. Prepare speech topics around that theme for consistency.
Also, ask the Vice President of Education for the agenda before the meeting. This will help you know who all have already taken up a speech slot or a role. Try and not call on these members to speak for Table Topics as they already are being given an opportunity to speak on stage. The idea is to give maximum members stage time.
When you’re called upon by the Toastmaster of the Day, start by introducing yourself and talking about the importance of Table Topics. Then, call upon the Timer to provide the timing guidelines for the Table Topics session.
The timing for a Table Topics session is 1 to 2 minutes. 1 minute is the minimum time, 1:30 minutes is the target time and 2 minutes is the maximum time. Speakers are allowed to speak for a maximum of 2:30 in a Table Topic before being disqualified.
Make sure to mention that this session is open for members as well as for guests. Also, you can reiterate the Word of the Day stated by the Grammarian and encourage speakers to use them in their Table Topic speeches.
Your script could look something like this:
“Good Morning Toastmaster of the Day, fellow Toastmasters and guests!
Table Topics helps members practice the art of improvisation and also helps us think on our feet! This helps us develop four vital communication skills – Listening, Thinking, Organizing and Delivering. The topics that I have prepared for you will hopefully help all of us become better at improvisation. Since we at Toastmasters try and provide a speaking opportunity to maximum audience members, this session is not restricted to members alone. Even the guests can participate!
I hope everyone gives this a shot. I may randomly call anyone to participate or you can volunteer to come up on stage yourself by raising your hand. Before we begin, I request the Timer to call out the timing guidelines for the Table Topics Round.
(After the Timer is done providing the guidelines) Thank you, Timer. Okay, let’s begin! Who will be the first volunteer?”
When you are done with the session, call on the Timer again to give the timing report. Then, thank the audience for participating and hand the stage back to the Toastmaster of the Day.
When you are preparing topics for a Table Topics session, here are few things to keep in mind:
- Keep the topics related to the theme
- Keep the topics fairly simple to speak on. The idea is to encourage people to come on stage and practice improvisation. Giving difficult topics and having members speechless on stage won’t help that much
- One way to determine the difficulty of the topics is to ask yourself if you yourself would be able to speak on the topic for a minute. If you find it doable, include that topic
- The number of topics that you should prepare will depend on the size of your audience. For a large club (40 members+), about 12-15 topics should do. For a smaller club (below 30 members), 8-12 topics should be enough
- It’s always better to have a slightly higher number of topics than you expect so in case you can call on more speakers, you don’t run out of topics. Having extra won’t hurt
- Try and have a few topics which call for humour. This will make the entire session a lot more entertaining
As a Table Topics Master, your job is to ensure that members are feeling comfortable enough to attempt improvisation as it can be challenging. So make sure your approach is friendly and encouraging.
When you call a speaker on stage, shake his/her hand, pick up a topic, announce the name of the speaker followed by the topic while looking at the speaker. Then, turn towards the audience, say the topic followed by the name of the speaker. This is to ensure that both, the speaker and the audience have heard the topic properly.
When you begin, always start out with an experienced member if possible so guests can get an idea of how Table Topics work. After this, try picking out people who haven’t come on stage that particular meeting. The more people go on stage, the better! Having a good mix of members and guests is vital for a successful Table Topics session.
Becoming a Better Table Topic Master and Impromptu Speaker
Being a good Table Topic Master is also about being a good Table Topic speaker yourself.
If you want to learn impromptu speaking in a more structured format, check out this course by Shola Kaye on Udemy:
The course is quite handy when it comes to understanding impromptu speaking at deeper level. I personally like this course for two reasons:
- The instructor makes you practice impromptu speaking within the course framework itself. So you’re practicing AND learning, not just learning
- You get familiarised with various impromptu speech topics and scenarios. This helped be more sensitized to different topics and situations I could face where I would have to rely on impromptu speaking
I really like the instructor, Shola Kaye, as well. Being an introvert herself, she’s quite a relatable instructor.
She’s also familiar with Toastmasters’ Table Topics. So all you TM members out there, this will be a great match! The curriculum is set out for only 7 days. So the content is extremely snackable and easy to watch. Check it out!
Adding a Creative Spin to a Table Topics Sessions
Most Table Topic Masters write down their topics on chits of papers and ask the audience to pick a chit from a bowl or something. This works just fine, but if you want to be different, you can also try some creative approaches to conduct the Table Topics session.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Have audience members pick up a topic from a deck of cards where each card represents a topic
- Have a bag of random props ready. Ask members to pick up any item from that bag and speak on it for a minute or two
- This idea can also be used in the “Sell me this” scenario, where you ask members to try and sell whatever item they picked up within the stipulated time
- Carry a bunch of pictures with you. Ask members to pick up a random picture and speak on it
- Call on two or even three audience members at the same time and ask them to perform a small skit on any given topic
These are just a few suggestions from the several creative approaches you can take when conducting a Table Topics session.