As some of our members prepare for the upcoming Toastmasters Regional Speech and Table Topics Contests, we offer the following “Table Topics Strategies”.

These strategies were compiled by our Toastmasters member Elodie, based on an article by Craig Harrison in Toastmaster Magazine entitled Turning the Tables On Table Topics. Elodie won the annual English Table Topics contest at our club in 2010.

Here is the article prepared by Elodie:

In addition to belonging to a specific Toastmaster club, Toastmaster members also belong to a larger network of public speakers, Toastmaster International. The organization produces supporting material and events to help members in their various public speaking needs. As a fairly new member of the St-Lawrence Toastmaster club, I take great pride in actively participating in the weekly meetings. However, sometimes, members may find themselves in search of some guidance or inspiration. For these purposes, I found a multitude of interesting information in the Toastmaster monthly magazine. The condensed issues often contain short and playful, yet informative strategies on how to tackle public speaking in everyday situations. In Toastmaster’s February’s 2010 issue, an article, by Craig Harrison entitled Turning the Tables On Table Topics, caught my eye as I was preparing my notes to host the table topic portion on a meeting. In sum, the article proposed 12 strategies one can refer to as they briefly prepare to answer a table topic question. This is a recapitulation of the tactics.

  1. Bridging: Go from what you don’t know to what you know. Its easy to speak about something we know or are passionate about. Bridging your topic to something you are familiar with can put you at ease rapidly and help you master your improvisation.
  2. Reframing: Redefine the topic, as you would like to answer it. You don’t have to change the topic, but you can play with the subject.
  3. Dialogue: Sometime you need to do some thinking out loud to get the ball rolling. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself or the audience questions. It can be entertaining to watch a speaker engage in a conversation with his or herself.
  4. Quotes, Jokes and sayings: Table topics is a fast pace exercise, usually it all happens under 3 minutes, that being said, if the topic reminds you of a quote or joke or saying, it can be a great tool to use this information as a launch into your improvisation.
  5. The Melodrama: Don’t be afraid to exaggerate! Delivery is everything in table topics. If you feel being dramatic will help your crowd engage in the experience and relive it with you, then go for it!
  6. The Far Side: Take your topic to the extremes. Sometimes, exaggeration can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to utilize sarcasm and made up scenarios, often time hypothetical situation help see things in a different light.
  7. Moderator: A playful way of acting out two different points of view. This technique is also called Point/Counterpoint and it can open a window a multitude of hypothetical situations, you can tell a story from different perspectives.
  8. You Came From Outer Space: Try answering the question in a completely different character. In a setting, like your club, were members know each other, this angle can be quite comical. Table topics are free game; think outside the boxes and take one a split personality.
  9. Transcend Time: This is a creative way of answering a question with a different time frame or period’s perspective. You could be yourself in the future looking back on the present question.
  10. Play Devil’s Advocate: Take what you’re given and argue the complete opposite of what is either expected or natural to you. This can also be an excellent exercise for debate purposes and to broaden your arguments in general.
  11. Everyone Loves a Mystery: Sometime being on the tip of your chair can be most nerve racking, however, it can keep your audience captivated from beginning to end. Often time during table topics, even the speaker doesn’t know where the story or train of thought is going and the build up can be crucial to buy up some time to think of a twist or punch line. Shock value can be the heart of your improvisation!
  12. When All Else Fails…Say Nothing (at Length): Lets face it, sometime we just have nothing to say about a subject. It happens, no inspiration what so ever!! In that case, you may want to work with body language or facial expressions, just have fun with the lack of substance, use clichés. Don’t worry the time will run out eventually.

Hopefully these strategies can guide you through you table topic sessions and get your creative juices flowing. Implementing these various techniques can help you feel more at ease and in control, thus, delivering an entertaining improvisation.