Table Topics Tips

Top Table Topic Tips for Hamwic Speakers

These notes (originally prepared by Robin Chawner and adapted by Ken Amy) are designed to help those of you who want to improve your impromptu speaking – whether you’ve already started or are yet to make your debut.

Ken Amy delivering his Top Tips for Table Topics on 14 January 2014
Ken Amy delivering his Top Tips for Table Topics on 14 January 2014

Why Table Topics?

Quite often in our life outside our Speakers Club, we face a moment when somebody will say, at short notice, something like “What’s your take on this?” It might be in a meeting, at a social occasion, in an interview or during a training session. That’s when we have to think ‘on the spot’ and speak impromptu. So, it’s worth taking part in Table Topics.

Where’s the terror in Table Topics?

If Public Speaking strikes you with fear, Table Topics may taunt you with terror. We have to face an audience, on an unprepared topic, with minimal notice and maximum nerves! Knees tremble, throat dries, forehead sweats. But need this be the case?

We can overcome much of that fear by concentrating on our listening, our thinking and our breathing.

General Tips

LISTEN: If you’ve been listening alertly, you’re already on the road to victory! At Hamwic Speakers we know when the Table Topics session is programmed. So, make sure you’re listening!

THINK: Engage your brain and start to think about possible directions to take. That way your response options widen.

BREATHE : Take some deep, measured breaths as you rise from your seat, walk to the lectern and before you start to speak. This will help calm your nerves.

SMILE: It promotes endorphins which put you into a more relaxed state. Also, connects with the audience. It will give the impression (or is that, illusion?) that you’re enjoying the task.

CONNECT: Thank your Topics Master. Start with something like: “Thank you Topics Master. You’ve asked me to …[repeat the topic title].” Then pause for a breath. This will give you thinking time and help you home in on the topic. It will also probably account for 15 seconds!


There are some alternatives for coming up with content, depending on whether you want to answer the topic directly.

Whichever approach you adopt, try to make sure you have an opening, body and conclusion. Even though it’s impromptu, it’s still a speech.

If possible, determine how the speech will conclude from the outset – then work out what may be said to reach that conclusion.

  1. Adopt a ‘past, present, future’ tack. If the topic was, for example, “Tell us how about your most interesting holiday”. You could talk about a holiday that interested you when you were a youngster, the holiday you’re having / just had this year and the holiday of a lifetime you’re planning for the future.
  2. Answer the topic from more than one person’s point of view. If, for example, the topic was “Which celebrity would you most like to invite for a meal”, you could talk about your celebrity, your partner’s celebrity and one of your children’s favourite celebrities.
  3. Involve the audience. You could have great fun with this, especially if you’re having a tussle trying, initially, to think of something from yourself straight away. Toss the topic about.
  4. Three-two-one. Talk about three things that strike you about the topic posed, two things that are even more interesting/important and conclude with the one thing that stands out above all.
  5. If you choose to go ‘off message’, adopt the politician’s stance.  Divert. Take a different direction from that suggested by the task / question put to you by the Table Topics Master. The words go something like: “Thank you for that Topic; but before I deal with it let me deal with the issue of …..[with luck you’ll finish before you’ve addressed the original topic!


What about timing?

Your timing guide is 1 – 1½- 2 minutes. But, if you under-run, don’t worry. Better to under-run than to over-run.

Does it have to be humorous?

Does it have to be humorous? No. Often Table Topics is a humorous affair, largely because people are being creative, and playful.

Are there any no-no’s?

Apart from the etiquette of avoiding swear words and being disrespectful to your audience, you have free rein. For more information on meeting ettiquette, please see our page on Meeting Information.

When should I do Topics?

As soon as possible; the earlier and more often you do it, the more accomplished you’ll be.

Should I enter the Club Table Topics Contest?

Absolutely! You’ll find it a challenge and you’ll be glad you entered. Toastmasters International holds its annual Table Topics Contest in September or October.


Table Topics is a great session to present or to speak in. As Topics Master, consider incorporating everyday items as props that topics speakers may use to great effect. It gets the creative juices flowing.