Table Topics is all about revealing the authentic you. It challenges your impromptu speaking skills. Les Brown, someone I respect in the speaking world, has often said, “Once you open your mouth, you tell the world who or what you are.” Sure, you can fake it, but time will take care of that. As honest Abraham Lincoln once said: You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Prepare all you want; however, it all boils down to being in the moment. The more moments you have the better you will become.
If you are passionate about competing to become better at any discipline, you will realize the importance of improving related skills. The first I highly recommend is to become better at listening. Know thy self. Are you an active or passive listener? When you are actively listening, you are fully concentrating on what is said and not passively hearing the speaker’s words. Work on your confidence. It is another required area of development. Although impromptu speaking is quite different from delivering a prepared speech, if you develop the same style you have grown accustomed to using regularly, you will realize there is not much difference between the two disciplines. All speaking is public speaking. They are different but do have a lot in common.
Develop your technique for giving impromptu speeches. Practice adapting rehearsed stories during your five to seven-minute presentations. Keep an active story file. Impromptu speaking is your opportunity to be in the moment. Table Topic questions are usually simple but carefully worded. Remember, all you have is 1 to 2 minutes with a 30-second grace. Practice getting a feel for your 1 to 2 minutes of speaking time. Once you receive the question, do a quick analysis. Does the question require a singular or plural response? Keep it simple don’t overthink the question. What are the KEY words in the question? Be aware and prepared to adjust to the audience you are facing. Take a moment to decipher if you were asked a question or given a statement for comment. That you should do before you utter your first words. Silence is your prerogative.
Clarify your understanding of the question by paraphrasing what you heard, then immediately begin your answer. That should take no more than 30 seconds. Stalling with pleasantries is not going to earn you any points with judges. The judging items in a Toastmasters contest are Content 55pts, Delivery 30pts, and Language 15pts. The point’s distribution clearly shows your Content is critical. Your challenge as a contestant is to make your fewest words go the furthest. Make your audience experience the words you choose. Your comments should target not just the ear but in their hearts. Soundbites are most effective in this segment as they are memorable and they resonate with audiences.
Once you have answered the question, or have stated your position, be anecdotal. Support your answer with a story or statement relevant to your response. Continue to add Content while focusing on your delivery and language. Help your judges to add points to your total score. You should be somewhere around the 2.00-minute mark – an excellent place to have your magic moment. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is where you must deliver your 11. Ask your audience to do something. Challenge them to take some action. You are no longer speaking to their hearts, you are speaking to their hand and feet. You now have roughly 20 seconds to wrap-up or, to summarize and close the deal.
Tell your audience and judges you are about to summarize. Of the many ways to telegraph you are wrapping-up, one of the best I have heard is – In conclusion! said with confidence. Remind your audience of your answer and your position. Don’t use exactly the same words you used initially, vary them a bit. Recall no more than three of your points. Resist the temptation to add additional information. That will only confuse your audience and judges. When you close STOP speaking. It’s over! Develop your own method for handling Table Topic questions with style and authenticity, and you will master not just Table Topic but impromptu and all speaking in general. All speaking is Public Speaking!