Think fast, talk slow: An Introduction to Table Topics

speak, cross-stitch When it comes to a Toastmasters meeting, the hands-down favorite event is usually our extemporaneous speech feature, "Table Topics."

One person takes on the task of coming up with a slew of questions which she then springs on a series of unsuspecting (but, for the most part, secretly hopeful) victims, who are given a short window of time (1 minute minimum, 2 minutes maximum), to answer their particular question. It can be great fun, especially if the Table Topics Master (or "Mistress", as I insist upon being called, "Madame Table Topics Master" being more ridiculousness than I can stomach) chooses a good theme.

It's my favorite role at a meeting, so much so that I don't let myself volunteer for it anymore. I figure that I should spend my time learning new skills and getting better at things I suck at, and letting other people discover how much fun it is to be Table Topics Mistress. On my first at-bat, I chose the theme "True or False...and WHY!?!?", comprised of a series of classic quotations from my files with the framing question. Another time I ran with an international theme of sorts, giving each player a proverb from a different country and letting them speak on the topic (pro or con is a pretty typical Table Topics gambit).

But my favorite Table Topics session was the simplest, hearkening back to those old, fourth-grade discussions at sleepovers or on the playground. You know, the "would you rather be blind or deaf?" type of grammar-school-philosophy arguments.

In case you want to play along at home, I'd thought I'd include the batch of questions I wound up using that night. Yes, every one of these puppies has been road-tested by an Actual Toastmaster, who came up with a 1–2 minute speech on the spot.

If you had to choose, would you rather... a little overweight and not be able to lose it or extremely underweight and not be able to gain it?

...go without dessert forever or go without fruit forever? the President of the United States or the Vice President of the United States?

...get an extra hour of sleep per night or an extra 20 hours' pay per week? an identical twin or a fraternal twin?

...go to the most exciting show in the world or stay home and read the greatest book in the world? (NOTE: You're getting ONE chance to do either, i.e., you can't say "I'll go to the show tonight and read the book tomorrow," as our beloved Miss Ida did.)

...wear really comfortable shoes that made you feel dumpy or really beautiful shoes that made you feel uncomfortable?

...own the house of your dreams or be able to buy someone really deserving theirs?

...have a perfect memory or be able to truly forget the worst things in your life?

...have your dream color in a color you hate or an ordinary car in a color you love?

...have mild colds the rest of your life, or one month when you had all your colds at once?

(HINT: for you non-Nerdmasters, these also make fantastic blog post ideas ...)

xxx c

Image by kittenry via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.