How To Excel At Table Topics

This is an Educational Speech, by Richard Morley, CC, from Standing Ovation club

A table topic is a quick, impromptu presentation on whatever subject has been thrown at you. In the judges’ guide for TT contest you will see that the content gains the most points with 55%, the delivery comes next in importance with 30%, and the language you use will get you a possible further 15%.

It is just like a mini speech, that must have ideas that make sense, an opening, middle and a conclusion, a coherent message, and a claim to support your point or a call to action.

How can you prepare an impromptu speech? Let’s look at something called PREP:

P – Point (Main starting point)
R – Reason (Why you making the speech in the first place)
E – Example (An anecdote or ex to demonstrate your point)
P – Point (Concluding point)

If you have attended a few Toastmasters meetings, you will have heard several Table Topics themes and I am sure that as you listen to the “Chosen One” give his or her response you have been thinking about what you would have said. This is a way of preparing for your turn. It exercises the brain. You are doing it in your mind even if you are not using your voice. Whenever you feel an opinion coming on, brainstorm your responses. Think how you would answer.

But when faced with a real table topic you have to give in real time, how should you go about it?

First, think. However, you can give yourself time with “Robotic Responses”. A sequence of automatic gestures and words that allow you to think. The walk to the speech area, the handshake of the Table Topics master, and the liturgy of “Mr Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests”.

Follow that with a slight pause then repeat the question. This gives you the opportunity to make sure you have actually understood the question, and even more time to clarify your opening remarks.

So…how to start:

  • First thought – Best thought. Go with that thought. Don’t censor yourself.
  • Why – Explain to your audience why you think this. Hopefully this will make them be interested in what you have to say.
  • Related thoughts. Associated ideas – but keep them short.
  • Audience – Don’t talk about yourself. Engage the audience. Instead of “me me me” say “you you you

Get the audiences’ agreement. Try one of these phrases: “If you’re like me…”, “Do you ever feel, like me that…”, “Imagine…”, ”Picture this…”, “If there’s one thing we can agree on…

In this way, you can get the audience on your side even if you conclude with something controversial.

Now, supposing you do not actually have the expertise to answer the question if, say, the topic is on genetically modified food, you probably don’t have the expertise to answer knowledgeably. So what do you do?

Bridge. Rephrase the question. You might have no idea about GM foods, but you might have a strong opinion about what you put into your body, or those of your family. Rather than talk about the science of GM Foods you could talk about educating the public, having trust, consumer choice, … So, you can change the original question with a “sidestep”. You have not ignored it, but you can talk “around” it.

There are other ways to present the topic:

  • Make it dramatic! Exaggerate the effects. Be an actor.
  • Moderate: Debate calmly both sides, but leave your audience to come to their own conclusions.
  • Play the extremes. Have fun with the worst and best possible scenarios. Debate with yourself. Act out being two different people having a discussion. What are the pros and cons.
  • Play devil’s advocate. Deliberately challenge the popular opinion. “Yes! I think all taxes should be raised. Maybe as high as 75% …but then I would expect everything to be free: Healthcare, Education, State property insurance etc.

But remember… you must come to a conclusion.

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