Tackling Table Topics

4667269_sWhen Eleni Hasapis-Chiapetto asked for advice about challenging Table Topics, she received an overwhelming response from the members of The Official Toastmasters International Members Group on LinkedIn.

After offering my own suggestions, I reflected upon the comments from other toastmasters. Impressed and inspired, I decided to share their collective wisdom.

Remember, no one knows what you are going to say, so say what comes to mind. This holds true for speeches as well. Every time we say, “I made a mistake, audience attention moves from what we are saying to wondering what we had planned, hence missing what we really say. Gordon Hill

Just don’t stop… you freeze when your brain devotes too much RAM to what you will say next as opposed to what you are saying now… Just keep talking… the CPU will work out what is coming in 5 or 10 seconds time… Trust your processor… it is only when you doubt yourself and start thinking … “I can’t answer this… I have no idea what to say next ” and that becomes the most important thing to process so you stop talking and start processing that… That then becomes a self fulfilling prophecy…Remember the most important thing is to remember the acronym… R.A.T…. Relax Attack Talk. Rod Neucom

Be easy on your self and your expectations. A past world champion of public speaking came from my home club years before I joined. When he attended the next meeting after his win, he froze during Table Topics. If it can happen to a brand new champ, it can happen to anyone. The point is to do your best, laugh, and get psyched up for the next time. Steve Piet

Over time I’ve learned that it’s best to take a few minutes to think about the question or topic before speaking. There is no rule about taking time. There have been times where I have volunteered to speak and freeze up. At that moment, I “re-do” my answer or try to finish my thought as best as I can and sit down. Everything comes with practice! Jahnavi Utukuri


Take a deep breath, smile and make eye contact with different members of the audience. Some will smile back at you, encouraging you. This will give you confidence and help you free some stress, while you think of something. Gustavo Espinosa Tavitas

Focus on your topic, I think that’s what works best. When I’ve had an issue with freezing, it is not about what I’m going to say but I’m worried that I look stupid. But here’s the deal: In a Toastmasters meeting everyone is pulling for you in TT and when you give a speech. They don’t care how you look, they don’t care if you do poorly, they are pulling for you to do the very best that you can do. Now I don’t worry as much about how I look, I simply try to do the best that I can. Timothy Elliott

Humm. My advice is to stop and THINK, and then continue. “”Freezing” is usually a brain lock for me – the mind is working faster than my mouth and the two lock up. I’m not good at BSing while I think of something else to say. And there’s nothing wrong with taking a nanosecond or two to collect one’s thoughts before continuing. Silence is golden! Don’t be afraid of silence. If all else fails, I might say, “Well, nothing is coming to mind at the moment…” or “Gee, I guess I don’t have much of an opinion on this topic…”, or in our club you’re allowed to do what politicians do and skirt the question: answer another question or talk about another topic you find yourself able to wax on about instead of the TT question given to you! What the hey? Why not? Jody Iona Palm

A number of Toastmasters in my group always begin by saying “Thank you Table Topics Master for asking me” and repeating the question. This both creates a decent introduction and gives them time to think of something to say. And remember, too: You neither have to answer the question directly nor tell the truth, so you always have any direction to take your response. Kae Bender

To be continued…


Table Topics for Valentine’s Day


During the Table Topics segment of today’s meeting, I decided to steer away from the conventional questions: What is your most memorable Valentine’s Day? What are your plans for the weekend? Instead, I asked my fellow toastmasters to comment on the following interesting facts and statistics.


In South Korea and Japan, women give candy to men on Valentine’s Day. What type of candy would you like to give or receive?

Nine million people purchase Valentine’s Day presents for their pets. What type of gift would you give a pet (yours or a special friend’s)?

According to a recent survey, 32% of consumers plan to do their Valentine’s Day shopping online. Would you shop online for that special gift?

Colleagues don’t get much love: In 2013, consumers spent an average of $3.41 on co-workers. Should colleagues exchange gifts and cards on Valentine’s Day?

Some of the top romantic comedies of all time are “Annie Hall,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Pretty Woman,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Sleepless in Seattle.” What is your favorite romantic comedy?

In 2013, 34.3 percent of Valentine’s Day gifts were flowers. What type of flowers would you like to give or receive?

In 2015, two popular Valentine’s Day gifts were enrollment in Chocolate of the Month Club and Wine of the Month Club. Would you prefer receiving one pound of specialty chocolates or two bottles of premium wine each month for an entire year?

Some of the top love songs of all time are “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, “Silly Love Songs” by Wings, “Endless Love” by Diana Ross, and “How Deep is Your Love?” by the BeeGees. What is your favorite love song?

In 2015, dinner cruises, helicopter rides and tandem skydiving were popular gifts. What type of “experience” gift would you like to give or receive?

Tackling Table Topics

toastmastersDuring the Table Topics session of each meeting, I take note of all well-crafted responses. While most toastmasters use personal anecdotes relevant to the topic, others like to start with a quotation that touches on the theme.

I enjoy reading and collecting inspirational quotations, but I don’t think I could come up with the most appropriate one in the space of forty to sixty seconds. And truthfully, I don’t want to waste precious seconds trying to recall a specific quotation.

When I expressed this concern to several seasoned toastmasters, they advised me to memorize a few short, all-purpose quotations that could be used to begin almost any impromptu topic. And not to worry about the author’s name. Simply start with “This reminds me of my favorite quotation…”

My List

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. Maya Angelou

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

Don’t wait. The time will never be just right. Napoleon Hill

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt

Tough times never last, but tough people do. Dr. Robert Schuller

Change your thoughts and you change your world. Norman Vincent Peale

Keep your face to the sunshine and you can never see the shadow. Helen Keller

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Neale Donald Walsch

Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you. Margaret Thatcher

Do you have a favorite quotation? Please share…

Tackling Table Topics

toastmastersTable Topics threaten our composure more than any other toastmaster activity. We are given a prompt and expected to deliver a well-crafted answer that can easily stretch between forty and sixty seconds. As one guest commented: “You are thrown into the deep waters and expected to swim or sink.”

For the most part, I am pleased with my ability to speak extemporaneously. But I can vividly recall one less-than-stellar Table Topics experience. Several years ago, while visiting a toastmaster club in another community, I actually froze in the middle of a session.

The theme of the evening was VROOM! VROOM! VROOM! The Table Topicmaster had prepared a series of pictures depicting different modes of transportation. Each participant was asked to select a picture and comment on how he/should would use the suggested mode of travel. Buses, planes, trains, all types of cars—these were the pictures that had been selected prior to my turn. I felt very relaxed and confident as I selected a picture from a large envelope.

innertubeboysAnd then I panicked.

I had selected a picture of two young children sitting in an inner tube. At the time, the only word that came to mind was “raft” and I knew that wasn’t the correct term. Why I chose to focus on that aspect of the picture still remains a mystery. I did manage to speak for a short while, but it was far from my finest toastmaster hour. Afterward, I paid close attention to the remaining speakers.

One toastmaster ignored the downhill skier in his picture and talked at length about the scenery and a recent trip to Banff, Alberta. I was impressed by his skillful use of bridging, a key strategy that belongs in every toastmaster’s toolkit. Bridging gets you from where you don’t know to what you do know through the figurative use of a bridge. In this case, the scenery allowed the toastmaster to talk at length about one of his favorite travel destinations.


Another toastmaster shook her head at the extreme sport in her picture and said: “I would never consider traveling in this way. Instead, I will talk about traveling by train in Europe.” Hit with a topic that she didn’t like, this toastmaster chose reframing as her primary tool.


Driving home, I rehashed my Table Topics. If I had chosen to use bridging, I could have ignored the inner tube and chatted at length about the lovely lake in the picture. “This reminds me of the many lakes in my hometown.” Or I could have reframed the entire experience and said, “Whenever I’m on a lake, I like to travel in style. Motor boats only!”