It is tradition at Toastmasters that, whenever possible, everyone at a meeting is given an opportunity to speak. The Table Topics session is the part of the meeting which maintains this tradition. The Table Topics Master (TTM) calls on members with no roles, or with very minor roles, to speak impromptu. Table Topics speakers have 1-2 minutes to answer the question put to them by the TTM. The TTM prepares and issues the topics; originality is desirable. Each speaker may be given an individual subject or a choice of subjects may be presented from which the speaker can draw at random.
Prior to the meeting
- Find out who will have a large speaking role at the meeting (TME, GE, Evaluators, Grammarian) so you can call on others first.
- When choosing your questions, select those that will inspire the speakers to expand on them, give their opinions, etc. Don’t make the questions too long or complicated. Phrase them in such a way that the speaker can clearly understand what you want them to talk about.
- Keep your comments short. Your job is to give others a chance to speak, not to give a series of mini-speeches yourself.
- Remember that Table Topics has two purposes: (1), to give everyone a chance to speak, especially those who do not have a role, and (2), to train people to speak extemporaneously.
Upon Arrival at the meeting
- Be certain that the Timer knows the timing protocols for this part of the meeting. After the 2 minute limit is reached, the speaker is afforded a grace period of 30 seconds to finish.
During the meeting
- Before launching into the TT questions, briefly state the purpose of the Table Topics session and how it is conducted.
- Remind the audience that pausing at the front for 10-30 seconds before beginning a response is not only acceptable, but encouraged, to allow them to formulate a coherent statement. It is common TT contest practice.
- Set the scene for your topics program. Keep your remarks brief but enthusiastic. Encourage the speakers to use the “Word of the Day”.
- Keep the program rolling. Be certain everyone understands the maximum time they have for their response.
- State the question briefly, BEFORE calling on a respondent. This serves two purposes: (1) it holds everyone’s attention as each one is thinking of a response in case they are called upon, and (2) it adds to the value of the impromptu element by giving everyone an opportunity to improve their listening and thinking skills.
- Call on speakers at random. Avoid going around the room in order. Give each participant a different question. Don’t ask two people the same thing unless you ask each specifically to give the ‘pro’ or ‘con’ side. (Or unless you are approaching it as a TT contest practice session.)
- Watch your total time frame. Check the printed agenda for the total time allotted to Table Topics and adjust the number of questions to end your session on time. Even if your session started late, adjust the number of questions so that the meeting is back on schedule.
- Only if time permits at the end of the session should you call on members with meeting roles.
- At the end of the session, ask the timer to report on those eligible for the Best Table Topics speaker award. Provide a quick summary of the eligible speakers and their individual responses. Then ask attendees to vote. Make sure that votes are passed to the vote counter.