Table Topics Master
Prepare 20 or more questions around a common theme – and the theme can be anything you choose. It could be about music, films, songs, food, travel, hobbies, proverbs or embarrassing situations – virtually anything! Unless we have a whole lot of guests I wouldn’t spend too much time explaining what Table Topics is about. After all, it will become quite obvious following the first few questions. The objective, of course, is to get as many Toastmasters involved as possible and therefore try to keep the theme fairly simple i.e. not something complex that requires a lengthy explanation. You aren’t trying to trap speakers or ask them difficult questions that they can’t answer – a good table topics session is one where you ask a lot of entertaining questions and get a lot of fluent, entertaining answers.
Don’t give a table topic to the Chairman, the Table Topics evaluators, or generally those giving prepared speeches in the second half of the meeting. The reason being that those people already have enough to do and there is an opportunity in Table Topics to get everybody else at the meeting involved. Indeed, it is possible that if some attendees don’t get a table topic they might not get to say anything all night. May I suggest that when you get to the meeting you take note of who is there and begin writing their names alongside the question you intend to ask them. Take special note of the names of the guests when they are introduced. Ideally, you would have all of your questions marked down for particular people even before you assume the lectern. After you explain your theme, may I suggest that you direct your first question to one of our more experienced and entertaining members. That should ensure that the session gets off to a good start. Don’t aim any questions at guests until towards the end of your session by which time they will be more familiar and comfortable with proceedings. And remember, pose the question before you nominate the person you wish to answer it. That way everybody is on their toes mentally preparing an answer.
Remember that you are responsible for conducting the whole Table Topics session including introducing the evaluators. The etiquette that we try to follow as a club is to welcome each speaker to the front with a handshake as well as a handshake when he/she has finished. It is the polite way of transferring control. Besides, a smile and a handshake can make a nervous recipient feel more relaxed. Only after the Table Topics evaluators have finished their evaluations and have passed control of the floor back to you, do you formally conclude your session by passing control back to the chairman. Having introduced a speaker, may I suggest that you retire to a seat on the side and allow the speaker the full use of the floor.
Try to get to the meeting 5 or 10 minutes early. Someone from Toastmasters will be in the room putting out the agenda and will be able to inform you of any late changes to personnel that have occurred since getting the agenda printed. There are always last-minute withdrawals etc.
Think about your theme or topic for the 30 second warm-up at the very beginning of the meeting. It can be about anything of course, but something humorous or topical is always good. A good chairperson is one who starts the meeting on time, finishes it on time, and keeps the action flowing in between.
A good chairperson at Toastmasters is like a good referee – he or she shouldn’t be the centre of attention but rather the conduit that brings out the best in everybody.
Large chunks of the program are often out of your hands e.g. Table Topics and the formal speeches and evaluations in the second half.
Try to say something encouraging after someone has completed a role and before you segue to the next item.
And while it is everybody’s responsibility to make guests feel welcome, it is particularly incumbent upon the chairman to do so.
- As Toastmaster it is your job to set the mood of the audience before any speech is delivered. Moreover, you are the speaker’s friend. Public speaking can be an anxious business and a warm smile and handshake as you welcome a speaker to the lectern can help relax their nerves. Similarly, a warm handshake and a smile after they have completed their presentation can be quite reassuring to them as regards their performance.
- In an ideal Toastmasters’ meeting, there will be three formal speakers whom you will have to introduce. Have one or two facts about each speaker that you can share with the audience just as you are about to introduce them. For example, our first speaker on Monday evening will be Yasinta Widjojo and her speech will be evaluated by Regina Qin. In introducing Yasinta you might say something like: “Our first speaker tonight is Yasinta Widjojo. Yasinta has been a member of our club for more than 6 months having visited the club with her friend, Clare, and both joined on the same night. Each are slowly working their way through the Competent Communicator’s Manual and tonight Yasinta will be delivering her 3rd (?) speech from the Competent Communicators’ Manual under the project heading ‘Get to the Point’. She will be evaluated tonight by Regina Qin. Regina, may I ask you to read out the objectives of this speech. [Regina stands and reads out the objectives as listed in the manual.] You should also confirm the colour of the timing lights with the Timer i.e. green at 5 minutes; amber at 6 minutes; and red at 7 minutes with a buzzer at 7 minutes 30 seconds. And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce the first of our speakers tonight: Yasinta Widjojo; Tricks to Surfing the Net. Tricks to Surfing the Net; Yasinta Widjojo. [As Toastmaster, you then shake his hand as you transfer the lectern to her while you retire to a seat at the side of the room.] When Yasinta has finished speaking, you again shake hands signifying the transfer of the lectern back to you as Toastmaster. You lead the applause after the speech and offer some encouragement to the speaker (e.g. Well, I’ll certainly surf the Internet more effectively after that advice.) You pause for a second or two to let the applause die down before you then introduce the second speaker.
- As Toastmaster it is your job to introduce the three evaluators as well. You don’t need to tell the audience anything about the evaluators but you should make each of them feel welcome when they walk to the lectern. For example, in relation to Regina you might say: “And to evaluate our first speaker tonight, Yasinta Widjojo, we have one of our most improved and assiduous Toastmasters: Regina Qin. [Again, you shake hands with her as you transfer the lectern to her while you retire to your seat at the side of the room. Again, when she has finished, you shake her hand and reclaim control of proceedings. You then proceed: “And so to our second evaluator tonight…”
- Try to get there a bit before 7pm on Monday night and if the three speakers are similarly early, ask them about themselves and their speeches. Check if they wish to use the lectern. If anyone of them doesn’t want the lectern then you should move it out of the way during their presentation. You should confirm the timing of each of the speeches and check if they have any special requirements e.g. a chair or use of the overhead projector. Again, your job is to make them feel that you are their friend.
- As I’ve shown above in point (2), as you introduce the speaker you state their name and the title of their speech. You then repeat the title of their speech and again state their name. Do it in that sequence. Some people think this is too formal and the repetition unnecessary. I don’t. You need to appreciate that for many of our members, English is their second language. Names and speech titles are important and by stating each twice it gives those members challenged by English a second chance to capture the information.
- After the last evaluator has finished you should shake hands and thank him/her. Make a general comment about the quality and perhaps variety of the speeches and then formally hand proceedings back to the Chairperson e.g. “Thanks, Les. That completes our formal speech session for tonight. I’m sure you’ll agree that we have been entertained by three very good speeches and enlightened by three helpful evaluations. I hand the meeting back to you Mr/Mrs Chairperson.”
Evaluation Technique Suggestions
Matter refers to the raw material in the speech itself. The facts, evidence etc which the speaker uses to construct their argument or case. The two cornerstones are logic and relevance. Was the subject matter interesting and was the material original? The very best speeches are generally personal. You aren’t just providing information, you are giving an opinion! Did the speaker take full advantage of the English palate of colourful words and phrases? Was the speech title well-chosen?
Method is the structure or organization of your speech. Every speech should have a recognizable opening, middle and ending and in that order. The speaker should have a clear understanding of what he/she is aiming to accomplish with the speech and make this obvious to the audience. The speaker should develop the case and conclude by summarizing the case.
The first sentence or two is critical. Good methods of opening a speech are story, quotation, statement or question. Could the speaker’s beginning and ending have been made more interesting? The speaker should avoid thanking the audience; the audience should thank the speaker by applause.
If the speech organization confused you in any way, then say so. But also suggest what could have made it clearer to you.
Did the speaker get the timing of the speech right? (I know that we have an official Timer on the program but I suggest that you time the speaker yourself.) A good Toastmasters’ speech should aim at 7 minutes (6 minutes for the Icebreaker). Fall short of the allocated 7 minutes and the speaker hasn’t taken full advantage of the time available or perhaps has forgotten something; take longer than 7 minutes 30 seconds and the speaker hasn’t rehearsed the speech sufficiently.
Manner is the way in which the speaker delivers the speech. It includes everything that goes toward the presentation of the speech. This is the area of your evaluation upon which you should concentrate the most, say, a half to two-thirds of your presentation. Aspects to comment upon include:
- Use of Voice – Did the speaker employ vocal variety or was it monotone? Most speakers (whether experienced or inexperienced) don’t use enough vocal variety to emphasise important points or clever turns of phrase. A pause is a great way of letting an audience know that something special is coming. Did the speaker use pauses effectively? Was the speaker loud enough? Did the speaker vary his/her voice when he/she started a new point or idea?
- Speed or Rate of Delivery – Did the speaker vary the rate of delivery e.g. fast when excited; slow and deliberate when articulating a serious point? Did the speaker pause adequately between ideas and arguments etc. Most speakers speak too fast – particularly if they are inexperienced and new to Toastmasters.
- Body Language and Gestures – Did the speaker use his/her hands effectively in reinforcing the message? Did facial expressions accentuate the points being put forth? Did the speaker appear natural and stand comfortably without fidgeting? Did the speaker appear to enjoy himself/herself?
- Use of Notes – Did the speaker use notes? Would palm cards be more effective? Did the notes disturb both eye contact with the audience and restrict meaningful hand gestures?
- Eye Contact – The more you look at an audience the better and this applies to both speaker and evaluator. The best way for the speaker to make this happen is to rely less on notes or cards. It is also important to make eye contact with the whole audience. Given the horse-shoe nature of the seating plan at the Union Hotel speakers too often ignore those sitting at the very ends of the left and right wing tables.
- Humour – Did the speaker use humour to leaven his/her speech? Did the attempt at humour work? One tip for making humour work more effectively is the deliberate pause before the punchline. Body language can help in this regard as well. Did the speaker smile at any stage or were they too nervous to do so?
While you will deliver your evaluation in the first person i.e. “I liked the way you introduced your speech” but refer to the speaker in the third person e.g. ‘The speaker delivered her speech fluently’ and don’t address your evaluation and eye contact to just the speaker but to the whole group. The idea is that your evaluation is for everybody’s benefit, not just that particular speaker.
Good evaluations need to strike the right tone i.e. you don’t want to be too critical of the speaker but nor do you want to bland and ignore their failings. Steer for the middle ground and aim to suggest one or two improvements. The evaluation should be seen by everybody as helpful and encouraging i.e. honest but in a way that motivates the speaker to improve. An evaluation is your opinion and nothing more.
Mention the speech’s effect on you; what the speaker did well; areas where the speaker could improve; and one or two specific recommendations. You won’t have time to cover everything – after all, you only have 2-3 minutes.
When you know the speech assignment number, read the speech guidelines. Talk with the speaker before the speech and try to find out his/her goals and any specific areas where the speaker would like help and feedback.
How you phrase your evaluation can have as much impact on the speaker as your content. Always remember that you are only speaking for yourself and giving your opinion. Avoid the royal ‘we’ or phrases such as ‘the audience wouldn’t have understood that…”
You should do nothing that calls more attention to yourself than your effort to help the speaker. Avoid exaggerated gestures or body language unless it is to illustrate a point about the speaker’s presentation.
Always conclude your evaluation on a positive note that will motivate the speaker to come back again with enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence. If the speaker has shown dramatic improvement in any aspect of his/her speaking, then say so.
When the formal meeting ends, make a point of going up to the speaker and discussing both the speech and your evaluation with him/her.