Friday, June 7, 2013

9 ways to prepare for Table Topics / Impromptu Speaking

"It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." - Mark Twain. It is really true. Fluency in English alone is not enough for you to be a great impromptu speaker. You definitely need to
prepare and practice to master the art.

Also read: Table Topics - 6 ways of getting the initial thinking time

When I joined toastmasters, Table Topics used to be Terror Topics. There were times when I used to sit in the remote corner of the room to hide away from the Table Topicsmaster. Eventually, I developed passion to speak. Though I had the passion to speak, I was running out of ideas / thoughts to express. I used to imagine my brain to be running rigorously like an empty grinder... making a lot of noise without any useful output. That is when I learned, you should feed the grinder with something to reduce the noise and to get useful output. I tried experimenting a number of techniques, which produced results. Today, I can confidently talk on any Table Topic (even on a topic which is as complex as "Craziness is the welcome mat at the doors of creativity").

Also read: How a Table Topics Master can hurt your club membership?

How do you go about preparing for Table Topics? Here are some simple techniques that you can follow to become a great Table Topics speaker.

1) Read newspapers - Reading newspapers will help you to stay current with the day to day events that are happening in the country/world. Most of the water cooler conversations that happen in social and professional life are about current events. Staying on top of current events will help you not only strike conversation with people, but also to handle impromptu situations such as Table Topics. For ex., if you get a topic such as "Honesty is the best policy", you can immediately relate back to the match fixing that is happening in cricket and how players have lost honesty.

2) Read books - “Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read.” a quote from John Wooden. You can accelerate your communication journey by reading good books. Reading books will help you to learn new words and new ways of communicating ideas. You can apply them in your Table Topics.

3) Listen to Podcasts / Audio Books  - Listening to podcasts and audio books help you to learn so much during your spare time - be it walking or commuting or when sitting idle waiting for a bus or a train. The authors of podcasts and audio books would've learned / experienced so much during their life time and sharing those experiences with us in a nut shell. You can talk about the content that you learned from Podcasts & Audio books, during your Table Topics. For ex., I quote Zig Ziglar often in my speeches. Zig Ziglar has published nearly 200+ podcasts for free. Each one of them has a story and a message. You can use those stories and messages in your table topics.

4) Prepare for standard topics - Most of the table topics are around common subjects such as success, failure, most memorable event, greatest achievement, most happiest moment, leadership, hardwork, friendship, forgiving, happiness, sadness, goals, vacation, professional life, career, family, kids, education, determination. If you can prepare a short paragraph on each of these subjects, you can easily talk about them in your speeches.

5) Blogging - Write blogs... Blog about your personal events, passion, hobby, things that inspired you, things that you learned, things that you admire etc., When you write about blogs or articles, you learn to organize your thoughts and present in a clear / conscise manner. This is a skill which will be very useful for you to apply when handling Table Topics.

6) Write Diary - If you don't like to write and share your thoughts publicly through blogs, you can even begin the habit of writing diary. This will also help you to document your important moments & experiences which will eventually help you in creating stories from your own personal life. In fact, writing diary will help you to track where you are and focus on what you want to achieve in your life. It will also help you to get over your emotions.

7) Offline practice using Quotes - Take a printout of some 50 or 100 quotes from Internet. Cut the paper into smaller chits - each chit with one quote. Fold them, shuffle them and put them in a bowl. Now, take 1 chit from the bowl, open it and start talking about it for 2 minutes. Record what you speak. Then, play back and see how you could've handled the topic better. Be your own evaluator and write your "strengths" & "areas for improvement". Redo speaking on the same topic again, if you want to. Record it again and listen to it. Whenever you find time during the day or weekend, do this exercise. I have done this during my early days of toastmastering and it has helped me to think instantly and talk on any subject.

8) Play Table Topics Games - sells box full of table topics that you can buy and play with your friends.

9) Volunteer for Table Topics - You cannot learn swimming by standing on the shore - you'll have to jump into the water to learn swimming. Similarly, you can sharpen your impromptu speaking skill by constantly participating in Table Topics sessions. Whenever the Table Topics master asks for a "Volunteer" to speak, raise your hand immediately without a second thought.

If you practice the suggestions given above, Table Topics will no more be a Terror Topics session for you.

Also read: Table Topics Evaluation Tips


  1. Saro, I liked how you talked about the positives and goodness of the points mentioned in general before talking about how it helps in Toastmasters table topics.

    1. Thanks much Vijay ! I'm glad that you liked it.

  2. Thanks for your insight. As a new toastmaster member it helps to learn different techniques to master impromptu speaking.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Really it is useful to me.

    1. Thanks much Megha ! I'm glad that you liked it.

  4. I am participating in TT Contest and the first thing came to my mind is your corner for preparation. Very useful tips. Thank you so much for documenting your learning and helping so many people in the community

    1. Thanks much. Glad to know that you liked it.

    2. Thanks much. Glad to know that you liked it.