What is Table Topics?
If you are searching for this, chances are, you've been invited to speak at a Table Topics session and you wonder what it is. Table Topics is the impromptu speaking part of a Toastmaster's club's meeting. In this blog post, we are going to talk about what to expect during a Table Topics session, how to answer a given topic and what are the benefits of participating.
What to expect?
According to the official Toastmasters club meeting agenda templates, the Table Topic session is conducted after the prepared speech session where speakers come prepared with their speech. There are clubs that put the Table Topic session before the prepared speech session to better manage their meeting flow. During the Table Topics session, there will be a Table Topicsmaster (Yes, that's how Toastmasters spells that role) who will read out the topics. After that, one of the three following scenarios will happen. The room will be full of raised hands, the room will have one or two raised hands and the room will be full of people trying not to make eye contact. If it is the last scenario, the Topicsmaster will choose someone from the meeting to answer the topic. If you are chosen, you are expected to express your thoughts about the topic for one to two minutes. The topic given can be anything. It can be a question, a statement or even a picture. Expected the unexpected.
How to answer a Table Topic?
Just like a normal speech, your Table Topic response will need to have an opening, a body and a conclusion. The district I am from has a good technique with a good mnemonic for this. It is called the AREE technique.
- Answer the topic - You answer by stating your position. This gives your audience a bearing of where you are going with your impromptu speech.
- Reasons for your answer - It is paramount that you explain why do you take your position. This will help your audience know where you are coming from and you might stand a chance of changing their views.
- Example(s) - Humanity is built on stories. This is why if something is explained through a story or example, your audience can understand it easily. This is evident from the Wason Selection Task mentioned in the book, You Are Not So Smart.
- Ending - We tend to remember the last thing that we hear so it will be useful for you to either succinctly restate your main point(s) or have a call to action. This will linger in your audience's mind after you've ended your impromptu speech.
What are the benefits of participating in a Table Topics session?
Giving an impromptu speech is hard, yet we often need to do it at a moment's notice. Our boss might ask us what do we think about a certain topic during a meeting. It could be a question from an angry customer. We might've been asked a particularly challenging question after our presentation. The only way to be good at something is to practise it and Table Topics is a safe and constructive place for us hone our impromptu speaking skill. The more you participate in Table Topics session, the better you can think on your feet.
Bonus: Why is it called Table Topics?
When I was researching this article, one of the things that bugged me was the name. Why is it called Table Topics instead of just impromptu speech? The answer I found surprised me. According to this blog post, the reason why it was named Table Topics has been lost to the sands of time. There was a joke saying that it was called Table Topic because whenever a topic is given by a Table Topicsmaster, everyone will be staring at their own table. What I encourage everyone to do is not to stare at your table to avoid answering the topic but to stand up, walk away from your table and give the topic a go. The only way for us to learn and improve is to try.