Table Topics Master
Introduction: This is a guide for the Table Topics Master at Toastmasters club meetings. It relates the role of the Topic Master to the purposes of Table Topics and covers conduct of the Table Topics session, and selection of topics.
The Roles of Table Topics: Tables Topics is an integral part of Toastmasters. Many clubs include sessions at every meeting while others insert sessions when scheduled speakers fail to appear. Some schedule occasional all -TT meetings.
This Guide is directed primarily at clubs that hold TT sessions at every meeting. For these clubs, Table Topics serves at least the following purposes:
Allow those members who are not otherwise scheduled for a speaking role to actively participate in the meeting.
Actively involve visitors and guests in the meeting and give them a "hands- on" flavor of Toastmasters.
Provide a change of pace from the formal, well-rehearsed structure of the other speeches presented at the meeting.
The Role of the Topic Master: The Topic Master explains TT for the guests, selects the topics and participants, and conducts the ballot for "Best Table Topics Speaker" if the club presents such an award. A successful TT session depends critically on skillful selection of topics and speakers. These selections should be made keeping the purposes of TT in mind.
Here are some guidelines for selecting speakers:
Select a club member as the first speaker rather than a guest. This provides an example for the guests to see how it is done so that they will feel more comfortable when offered an opportunity to participate.
Select club members not otherwise scheduled for a major role in the meeting. Involving additional club members in the meeting and insuring that nobody gets left out is a major reason for having TT.
Offer an opportunity for visitors and guests to participate, but be sure to emphasize that they are completely free to decline if they feel uncomfortable. After one or more club members have demonstrated how its done, involve the guests. They will usually enjoy the opportunity, but some may not be ready quite yet. Remember that some people come to Toastmasters to overcome a great fear of public speaking. We need to ease them into the process through our mentoring program. We do not want to scare them off by trying to push them too fast. Remind each first-time speaker that the time limit is 1-2 minutes with the green light at 1 minute, the yellow at 1:30 and the red at 2 minutes.
Here are some guidelines for selecting topics:
Select topics or themes that do not require specialized knowledge. If you hit someone with a topic such as "who is your favorite character in the movie Godzilla and why?" then you risk embarrassing the speaker and making the rest of the audience uncomfortable if the speaker never saw the movie. Better to ask "who is your all-time favorite movie character and why?" since essentially everyone has seen at least one movie. Also remember, not only must the speaker understand the topic -- so must everyone in the audience.
Be very careful with controversial topics. You do not need to completely avoid things like religion and politics, but these are dangerous areas and must be handled with great care. In posing a topic, the Topic Master must consider not only the effect of the topic on the audience, but also the effect of reasonably foreseeable answers.
Consider sometimes using open-ended topics. Table Topics contest topics are frequently extremely open-ended. For example, "I have a feeling that . . ." or "I wish I had . . .". Contrast these with "What is your opinion on repeal of the Federal Estate Tax?" The more open-ended question gives the speaker more opportunity to select an approach they feel comfortable with (serious/humorous, concrete/philosophical, general/specific) and to have some fun. Open-ended topics at one meeting and specific ones at another provide variety and keep TT fresh. Mixing open ended with specific topics in the same session may not work as well.
Take topic selection seriously and prepare. Toastmasters International publishes some materials on selecting effective topics. These can be used to stimulate your thought process. Make notes as things occur to you in your daily life. If an idea crosses your mind while you're driving, write it down as soon as you get where you're going. Think about possible answers to each candidate topic. Can anybody effectively speak on it, or is some special experience or knowledge required? Does it (or potential answers to it) have a significant risk of being offensive to club members or guests? Remember -- the better the topics, the better the responses are likely to be. Great topics lead to great responses that contribute to great meetings.
Summary: Table Topics is an important part of your club meeting and your Membership Building Program. The Topic Master can enhance the effectiveness of a Table Topics session by considering the functions of TT when selecting topics and speakers.