Can We Talk? An Honest-To-Goodness Tale

Turning to tea for Table Topics inspiration. 

by Steve Johnson, CC, CL 

My story begins with bottles of ice cold Honest Tea. I love this product, particularly one of its unique features – the wonderful quotations that are strategically printed underneath the bottle caps. West Creek Toastmasters in Richmond, Virginia, is my home club, and I’ve incorporated those bottle-cap quotes into various aspects of our club meetings to inspire my fellow members.

The quotations served me particularly well during a memorable Table Topics session last year. As the Topicsmaster that day, I presented each participant with a bottle cap and challenged them to give a Table Topics speech related to the quotation listed in the cap.

Here are some of the quotes inspiring Table Topics that day: “As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to love it more and more” (Jules Renard); “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” (Confucius); “The bad news is, there is no key to the universe; the good news is, it was never locked” (Swami Beyondananda).

I sweetened the proposition by offering a bottle of Tea – which was sitting on the lectern at the front of the room – to the Table Topics winner.

Five volunteers stepped forward and each of them delivered fantastic impromptu speeches. They were energized by these pithy pieces of wisdom! I can’t say I was surprised by the members’ enthusiastic responses: Toastmasters provides an environment that puts people at ease and makes them feel comfortable in stepping forward to try something new and challenging.

After the vote was held, two members tied for first place. Since I certainly couldn’t make them share a bottle of tea, a blind drawing allowed for one happy recipient.

But wait, there’s more to the story. I wrote to the Honest Tea company about the Table Topics success and the educational value of Toastmasters. The company was impressed. I was chosen as its August 2009 Consumer of the Month, and the Honest Tea e-newsletter featured a short article saluting West Creek Toastmasters and explaining how I had used the bottle-cap quotations for Table Topics. Great publicity for Toastmasters!

In addition, I was sent a case of bottled tea to share with my club. I chose mixed organic – to reflect the diversity of our membership. I then took the idea even further, and as a result Honest Tea became a sponsor of our District 66 Fall Conference, taking out a full-page ad in the conference program – “Honest Tea Supports Toastmasters Everywhere!” – and donating a bottle of tea to each of the 250-plus participants. 

Make the Most of Table Topics
I point out this whole experience to encourage Toastmasters everywhere to make the most of their Table Topics sessions. Through Table Topics practice, we learn to think and speak on our feet – skills that are so important in real-world situations.

Use your imagination during Table Topics. Be resourceful, have fun and take chances. I challenge members to be creative with the Topicsmaster role, and to be open to ideas that may lead them to new leadership experiences and interactions.

Using bottle-cap quotes to boost Table Topics increased my own confidence about being creative. Some of these classic phrases particularly resonated for me. This is one: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear” (Ambrose Redmoon). Many people, including myself, joined Toastmasters to overcome a fear of public speaking, but after learning skills to help us conquer that fear, we’ve found that a passion for using these newfound skills leads us toward the “something else” that is “more important than fear.”

My favorite Tea quote? “The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.” These words are attributed to actress Shirley MacLaine, and I find them quite fitting. As Toastmasters, we are serious about becoming better speakers and leaders, but there is always laughter at our club meetings as well. We enjoy each other and what we do. And we help each other grow, both as speakers and people. 

Steve Johnson, CC, CL, is a member of two clubs in Richmond, Virginia: West Creek Toastmasters and Chesterfield Toastmasters. He can be reached at