There are several things you can do to assist answering a table topics question, and they don’t involve peeking at the Table Topic Master’s notes!
Perhaps one of the most important preparation tips anyone could provide is to keep up with the news. Buy the paper, read it online, watch the evening news on TV — anything that can help keep you enlightened about current affairs. It’s not a bad habit to get yourself into anyway, and it will help immensely with table topics sessions — especially if your Toastmasters club is like ours; which seems to have a particularly peculiar penchant for local news-based table topics!
Regardless of the theme of table topics, having a repetiore of anecdotal stories on your person is a fantastic way of applying a pre-conceived situation to the question. Particularly for those deep and meaningful (read: awfully vague and uninspiring) table topics questions, personal stories can often be related to just about anything.
Stories can often be hard to remember, so an alternative can be to simply commit to memory a small array of witty or inspirational thoughts, quotes and sayings. Snippets of jokes or puns can add great punch to any short delivery, and unless you have a naturally bombastic and witty personality you may find it very difficult to otherwise inject humour into your table topics response. The best one-liners to use are often vague, non-specific jokes that can be inserted with relative ease — but you have to be careful to ensure your humourous interlude is pertinent and relevant to your subject, otherwise it will stand out like dogs’ paws. Ones that can be used to introduce a story of sorts work remarkably well.
Many Toastmasters have a variety of “stalling techniques” they employ to buy a precious few seconds with which they can construct their table topics response. It is wise to have a think about some techniques you may wish to deploy in these situations; they can be as blatant or as subtle as you wish (although a well-executed subtle staller will very often go undetected.) Some popular ones include:
- “I’m glad you asked me that question, Mr/Mrs Table Topics Master…”
- Walking to the lectern (if speakers normally orate from their chair)
- “It’s funny you should mention that, as I was discussing [topic] with a good friend of mine just three days ago. You see, …”
- Ten seconds’ silence (perfectly acceptable, and in table topics competitions the time won’t start until you do)
Props can also work very well as both a method of stalling response, and to work a theme around. They can produce a spectacular concluding effect if the entire table topics response revolves around the prop, which is then withdrawn from the speaker’s pocket during the conclusion.