Having Fun With Table Topics

by Monique Hodgkinson

How to Make Table Topics  Fun and

Still Reap All The Benefits

When I first joined Toastmasters, I thought, “Aha, I will learn how to deliver an effective speech.” Little did I know that Toastmasters would teach me so much more—from listening carefully for filler words to delivering a joke and running club meetings. Pathways and functionary reports have helped me conquer various foibles, but Table Topics ® have proved to be one of the most valuable tools available for improving my public speaking.

Let’s dig a little deeper and examine why Table Topics are so important for public speaking skills.

Table Topics  build impromptu speaking muscles, such as:

Thinking on your feet

Since Table Topics ‘ questions are not known in advance, they encourage speakers to think on their feet, deciding what they will share as their response within seconds.

 Organizing thoughts before speaking

Sometimes a second feels like forever, especially when you are standing in the spotlight to give a Table Topics speech, but a second, or two, or three does not seem as long to an audience as it does to a speaker. Take a deep breath and organize your thoughts before you start answering your Table Topics prompt. You’ll be amazed at what a tiny fraction of time can do to help you deliver a better speech.

Improving confidence

Remember the first time you had to do a Table Topics speech? Did you have butterflies in your stomach? Did it get easier to do a Table Topics speech over time? Practice brings familiarity and helps toastmasters become more comfortable with impromptu speaking. Practice also allows toastmasters to become more confident in their abilities to speak off-the-cuff.

Letting go

We are all our own harshest critics. Table Topics provides us with opportunities to practice our public speaking skills and offers a safe environment for trying out new speaking techniques. Even when we stumble, we can learn from it and silence that inner critic. The beauty of Table Topics is that there will be another opportunity coming up soon.

Keeping focused

Two minutes often feels like a very long time to speak while at other times it seems way too short. Table Topics teach us to gather our thoughts and deliver a response to the prompt within a limited amount of time. We learn to use our internal clocks (and the timer’s cues) to deliver a cohesive, structured reply.

Speakers who tend to speak for shorter amounts of time learn how to deliver their speeches using the time available to strengthen their stories. Others who tend to run long learn how to make their speeches more impactful by focusing on the point and avoiding rambling.

Toastmasters have the opportunity to cycle through the role of Table Topics Master. For some, coming up with prompts can be a struggle. Even if this doesn’t apply to you, here are tips you can use to liven up your Table Topics sessions and encourage both members and guests to participate:

Choose a theme

The theme of the meeting, holidays, special events, and regional celebrations are excellent sources of inspiration. Select your theme and come up with a list of related questions. For example, Independence Day is just around the corner. Table Topics questions for a Fourth of July themed meeting might include:

  • How are you planning to celebrate the Fourth of July this year?
  • Do you have any family traditions that are part of your Fourth of July celebration?
  • What does Independence Day mean to you?
  • If there is one food that you must have on the menu at a Fourth of July BBQ, what is it?
  • What one food should never be on a Fourth of July menu?

Make it enjoyable

For some club members, responding to Table Topics  may feel stressful. Take the pressure off by adding an element of fun. Keep it light and encourage participation.

Don’t ask questions that might feel uncomfortable, too personal, or extremely difficult to answer. Table Topics  are meant to give the speaker time to practice their impromptu speaking. Questions that stump other Toastmasters do not add to the enjoyability factor.

Gamify Table Topics

Using the “Wheel of Names” can add an element of fun to your Table Topics session. Enter in a list of prompts, choose a speaker, and spin. The wheel determines which prompt the speaker gets. Select speakers by entering their names into the wheel and spin to determine who gets the next prompt. Or, randomize the game even more by running two wheels to match up speakers to topics.

Why not play a game of Jeopardy using the template created by Eric Curts? Just enter questions into the slides, and you’ll be ready to go. Divide your members into teams to add a little friendly competition.  Adding in games makes Table Topics really fun and exciting!

 Pick a card, any card…

Table Topics  card sets are available online. These entertaining, icebreaker decks include over 100 cards with random questions that are a fun way to mix it up when conducting Table Topics. There are also many online resources with lists of Table Topics  questions, like:

  • How do you feel about clowns?
  • Which wild animal would you like to tame and keep as a pet?
  • What’s something most people don’t know about you?
  • What could society do without?
  • If you were a doctor, which specialty would you choose?

 Let’s get visual!

For a bit of an added challenge, try PowerPoint Karaoke. All you need is a slide deck with numbered categories and five images to go with each theme. The speaker picks a category and then has 2-3 minutes to make up a story using the slides.

Another variation is an abridged version. Assign a number to an image and have the speaker pick a number. Next, show them the image they will use as the inspiration for a 1-2 minute Table Topics speech. My home club recently used this game in a meeting that also served as an online Zoom baby shower for one of our members. It was a lot of fun!

Table Topics is an art, one that is worth mastering as a Toastmaster. It takes practice to put together a response to a prompt, whether it be a thematic question, a game that you play, or even a visual cue. As Toastmasters, we strive to improve all of our speaking skills, from rehearsed speeches to impromptu Table Topics questions.

I encourage all Toastmasters to take on the challenge of participating in Table Topics. Toastmasters clubs are a safe and friendly environment for practicing impromptu speaking, a skill that applies during meetings at work or even every day, off-the-cuff conversations. Mastering the art of public speaking while thinking on your feet will pay dividends. Even if Table Topics make you nervous, practicing will serve you well.

The next time your Table Topics master calls your name to speak or asks for a volunteer. Take that deep breath, gather your thoughts, and jump right in. In the long run, you will be glad that you did. I know that I am. Keep practicing, and you will soon be a master at Table Topics.

Written by: Monique Hodgkinson District 101, Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters, Surf City Advanced Toastmasters, and Carmel Improv Toastmasters clubs