Top Table Topic Tips
by Paul R Carroll, London Athenian Speakers, TM Club 7365
Preparing for Table Topics:
Follow current events – as Topics are frequently topical – ask yourself of the various headlines: What do I think of that? And, what would I say if somebody asked me what I think of that? This forms the habit of Table Topic thinking.
Treat all questions to you as Table Topic questions, so that you’ll think in the order of Introduction (Statement); Body (“Why”, with examples) and Conclusion (Statement recap).
Remember that Table Topics are not delivered under oath, and your reply doesn’t have to be absolutely true. Of course, this does not apply in the case of non Table Topic questions outside Toastmasters…!
In Table Topics, it is perfectly fair to attack the question, or any of the underlying assumptions of the question. This can be profitable in Table Topic contests.
If possible, watch professionals in action: Prime Minister’s Questions, televised every Wednesday while Parliament sits (BBC Parliament); the interview shows ‘Question Time’ (BBC1); ‘Any Questions’ (Radio 4); ‘Just a Minute’ (Radio 4, humour); even ‘Newsnight’ with Jeremy Paxman, although Table Topics is somewhat different, in that you do get 90 seconds uninterrupted to answer the question put to you.
Medium Term – (i.e. day of a Toastmasters’ meeting):
Give a glance to the news of the day so you know what is topical. One good source is the free newspaper on the Tube – ‘Metro’ – since it covers a broad range of the day’s stories, and not in great depth. You can thus familiarise yourself with what the stories are. Also bbc.co.uk homepage has a list of the top stories in headline form.
Short Term – (i.e. during a Table Topic session):
Listen closely to ALL questions, thus getting a feel for the theme of the session. Formulate in your head the response that YOU would give had the question gone to you. After all, the NEXT question just may do!
- TAKE YOUR TIME GOING UP TO THE STAGE TO ANSWER. This will give you valuable extra time to think about your answer. In a contest, everybody starts from the same spot in the back of the room.
- GO WITH THE FIRST THING THAT OCCURS TO YOU. There is a reason why this is what came immediately to mind when you heard the question: it is the theme most suitable for YOU to expand.
- FEAR NOT THE PAUSE! No matter how long it seems to you, it is a fleeting moment for the audience.
- REMEMBER THAT TOPICS NEVER GET EASY. However, they do get EASIER as you do more of them. The only way to make them easier is to do more Topics. Circular, but true!
- REMEMBER YOUR FELLOW TOASTMASTERS WANT YOU TO SUCCEED AT THIS. Everybody in your club has felt the way you do. Everybody has made mistakes before an audience.