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8 Tips for Table Topics

How to look good as a Topicsmaster.

By Allan Kaufman, DTM and Allan Misch, DTM


So you find yourself on the meeting schedule as the Table Topicsmaster. What should you do? Follow our eight success tips for the Table Topicsmaster!

1 Make up a bunch of prompts for Table Topics, more than you expect you’ll need. We suggest 15 to 20 topics. Place each topic on an index card or separate strip of paper.

2 Choose easy topics. Your mission is not to drain the last brain cell out of your fellow Toastmasters. It’s to give them the opportunity for growth—to stand confidently before an audience and give an unprepared yet organized presentation. For example, topics such as these:

  • “Describe your idea of a great vacation.” 
  • “My ideal mate is _________.” 
  • “Driving in rush hour traffic is hard on the ______.” 
  • “Overcoming fear is ________”
  • “I love my _______.”

Avoid lengthy, hard-to-understand-and-decipher descriptions such as:

  • “Pretend you’re a dog and you’re about to be captured by aliens from another planet during a civil war. What are you feeling?” 
  • “You’re in a hotel room alone with an international celebrity. What do you plan to do?” 
  • “You see a lousy TV show. Tell your friends why they should watch the same show.”

3 Announce the time limits for Table Topics. Say, “The green card will be held up at one minute, the yellow card at one minute and 30 seconds and the red card at two minutes. Then the participant will have 30 seconds to finish. The goal is to speak until you see at least the green card, which is the minimum time, and no more than 30 seconds past seeing the red card—the maximum time.”

4 Determine how much time in the meeting you will have for Table Topics. This will enable you to figure out how many people you can call up. Allow about three minutes per person. So if you determine you have 11 minutes, then you may be able to squeeze in four participants, or stop after three.

5 Call up members first before calling on any guests. It’s important for guests to see how it’s done before you call them up. If possible, avoid calling members who already have speaking roles in the meeting.

6 Call up the Table Topics ­participant first and then state the topic. Allow the person to randomly pick the topic (pick a card or strip of ­paper) and then you, the Topicsmaster, read the topic out loud.

7 Call up guests without encouraging them to decline. Before the meeting, talk to your guests and find out their level of comfort speaking in front of a group. If a guest has a public speaking phobia, do not call him or her up to do Table Topics. Call on another guest.

When you call on a guest, say, “Our club likes to give our guests a chance to participate and grow, so let’s welcome to the lectern John.” Then you, as Topicsmaster, lead the applause, encouraging the guest to come up.

Don’t ask, “John, want to come up?” If you do that, John might say “no” and so might Mary, Anita, Fred and all the remaining guests in the room. Your guests will go home worrying about being called up next time they come to visit the club and some will not come back. You will have stolen their chance to grow in public speaking because you thought you were being nice. It’s best for them to do Table Topics and get it over with before they have time to think about it.

8 Give guests very easy topics. Set aside a few easy topics such as:

  • “What kind of work do you do and why did you choose your profession?” 
  • “What do you like to do in your spare time, and why?” 
  • “Describe your ideal vacation.”

The topics should not require a lot of thought. When guests can handle Table Topics, they leave with a sense of satisfaction. They say to themselves, That wasn’t so bad. I can handle that.

We offer this guarantee. If you follow the eight success tips for the Table Topicsmaster, you will have challenging and entertaining Table Topics sessions. And without a doubt, you will look good as a Table Topicsmaster.