Tips for the Topicsmaster
Members Share Table Topics Successes
By Paul Sterman
When leading a Table Topics session, have you ever used office supplies to elicit responses? Or written a stack of letters from fairytale characters? Or brought in photos of food to trigger a culinary discussion?
These are all tools that members have used to produce creative Table Topics programs and creativity is an important part of the exercise. Clubs need to mix things up to prevent their Table Topics sessions from stagnating.
“‘Regular’ Table Topics is a great learning experience, but it’s fun to do something different occasionally,” says George Marshall, DTM, of the Star Search Toastmasters in Newark, California.
If you’re the Topicsmaster, be imaginative and resourceful. Here are just a few ideas shared by members whose experience spans several clubs each:
- Bill Malthouse, DTM, a member of three clubs in Virginia, recommends this tactic: Bring in some common office supplies – a paper clip, a stapler, a pen, even a doorstop. Then put them all in a bag. When Table Topics begins, a member fishes blindly in the bag and pulls out an item. Let’s say they snag a stapler. The Topicsmaster then poses this question: “Please describe your daily life as a stapler.” The next member pulls out another item, and the same pattern is repeated.
- Susan Carroll-Clark, DTM, a member of two clubs in Toronto, Canada, says photographs are a great catalyst for Table Topics responses, evoking all sorts of images and ideas for the speakers. She brings in photos to reflect a specific theme. “I’ve used [photos] for a food theme, a vacation theme, a sports theme and so forth,” she says.
- George Marshall says “hardware” topics are always a big hit. In a recent turn as Topicsmaster, he brought in very old tools from his kitchen and workbench. The members’ Table Topics challenge: Pretend to sell the object to a customer, describing its function (which can be made up, if need be) and purpose.
- Darla Nettles Edwards, a member of the TRC Toastmasters club in Charleston, South Carolina, enjoys a little tabloid in her Table Topics. She suggests this scenario as a fun exercise: The Topicsmaster tells members, “You’re all staff members for an outrageous supermarket tabloid. As the chief editor, I need to know what stories you are working on this week.” Then, says Nettles Edwards, the Topicsmaster calls on members, asking for a report from “the sports editor,” “the beauty editor,” “the Hollywood reporter,” “the crime reporter” and so on.
Keep in mind a few fundamentals when planning a Table Topics program. Several days before your club meeting, ask the Toastmaster if the meeting will have a particular theme. If so, prepare topics that tie in to that theme.
In addition, choose questions or subjects that allow speakers to express their opinions. Don’t pick complicated topics that require specialized knowledge to understand. Use ones that are broad and general enough for anyone to talk about without preparation.
Pamela Winter, DTM, a member of four clubs in New Jersey, says she learned to take a more flexible approach when serving as Topicsmaster. “I used to be very structured with Table Topics, which required [members to have] some in-depth knowledge in history, physiology, current events or other fields,” she says. “I thought my questions were pretty good, but I would get a lot of complaints from other members after the meetings.
“About two years ago, I switched tracks, and my Table Topics have become less esoteric and thus more fun.”
Winter cites as an example a recent Table Topics program she led. She let her imagination run wild, writing brief letters from popular fairytale characters addressed to the popular American newspaper columnist “Dear Abby,” in which the characters ask for advice about their problems. For example, Little Red Riding Hood seeks help in dealing with a “crazy stalker.” Table Topics speakers were asked to respond to the letters – in essence, to serve as Dear Abby and dole out advice to the characters.
The program, says Winter, “had guests and members alike laughing up a storm.”
The Toastmasters International online store also has some excellent resources to help you with planning Table Topics programs:
- Think Fast! Table Topics Handbook (Item 1315)
- Stand Up and Speak! Table Topics Game (Item 1316)
- TableTalk (Item 1318)
- Chat Pack (Item 1319)
- Penny Stones (Item 1321)
- Master Your Meetings (Item 1312)
Paul Sterman is an associate editor for the Toastmaster magazine.