Guide: Table Topics Master


Table Topics session: about 25 minutes check the agenda

How to do the role

a) Read the guide on this page below.

Download and print this template and worksheet to use during the session.


  • devise interesting/entertaining topics
  • maximise the number of Table Topic speakers
  • end the session on time


  1. prepare topics on the meeting theme
  2. prepare a list of speakers
  3. introduce the session
  4. run the session
  5. was everyone in time?
  6. Timer’s report
  7. recap for each speech that was in time
  8. vote for Best Table Topic
  9. close the session, hand back to the Toastmaster

Keep your comments short. Your job is to give others a chance to speak, not to give a series of mini-talks yourself.

Benefits of the role for you

  • planning: the elements of the session
  • organisation: come up with a method of include the necessary elements in correct order
  • timing: keep an eye on the clock to know when start closing the session
  • enthusiasm: keeping the energy up in the room
  • motivation: find topics that are relatively easy, engaging, interesting or funny

1) Devise a list of up to 8 topics

Topics should be on the meeting theme, if there is one. Find out from the Toastmaster of the Evening. Roles are listed for the next meeting on easySpeak.

Topics shouldn’t be intellectually challenging, very difficult or incomprehensible to members whose first language is not English; avoid colloquialisms and idioms.

Come up with topics which are easy to answer – topics only serve as an opportunity to speak impromptu for 1-2 minutes.

Topics must be stated in about 15 secs – make sure that they are short and easy to understand. Use few words. Don’t tell short stories when giving topics.

2) Plan how you will introduce the session [max: 2 mins]

Before the meeting, write out an introduction in your own words. You can try to memorise it or read at the meeting (place on lectern, printed large).

To include:

45s on WHY we do Table Topics: why is practising impromptu speaking important? How can this apply to our lives? (This particularly informs any guests present.)

30s on HOW this session will work: you will state a topic first and then call someone up, voting at the end for best Table Topic speaker; you might want to call people’s attention to the Table Topics memo (see below).


30s on how TIMING works: 1-2 mins for speeches. The lights will show green list at 1 min, amber at 1 min 30 secs, red at 2 mins, you’ll then have 30s to wrap-up. To be eligible to be included in the vote for Best Table Topic, the speech must be within 1 min and 2 mins 30 seconds.

2) Prepare a list of Table Topic speakers

At the meeting, use both sign-in sheets during the break to compile a list of possible speakers. Do this during the break.

Refer to the member sign-in sheet which asks members whether they can do a topic.


However, do not ask or call up the following role holders as Table Topic speakers:

  • Table Topics Evaluator
  • Grammarian
  • You can ask the Timer only if you see someone sitting near them who you know can take over timing, lights, etc.

It is also usual to ask guests if they’d like an opportunity to speak impromptu. Reassure them that it’s okay to say no. Explain the question will be easy, they’ll be expected to talk 1-2 minutes on a random topic which will be announced shortly before they are called to speak.

3) Determine the order of Table Topic speakers

Using your list of possible speakers, make a list of speakers in the order you will call people up within the following parameters:

1st speaker: an experienced Toastmaster (who sets the example)

2nd: a club member without a meeting role (especially those who have less experience) – if none, a role-holder (who has agreed to do a topic)

3rd: same criteria as the 2nd speaker

4th: a guest (who has agreed to speak)

5th: a club member

6th onwards: Toastmasters and just one more one guest

3) Run the session

The session comprises:

  • a short introduction (less than 2 minutes)
  • a series of Table Topic speeches
  • a recap, a vote of best Table Topic speaker

For topics, state the topic FIRST and THEN call up a speaker.

Make a note of what the speaker actually talked about as this might not be the topic you gave. Then summarise the speech subject to 1-2 words for later.

4) Ending the session [max: 2 mins]

Do you have time for another speaker?

To calculate if you have enough time for more speakers, before the meeting:

  1. look at the time for the agenda item “End of Table Topics speeches. Timer’s report.”
  2. subtract 4 minutes from that time
  3. this is the deadline to start the last topic

If it’s past the calculated time, you must start to end the session.

Example from a typical agenda.


Subtract 4 mins from 8:47pm (that 2 mins 30 secs for the longest speech + 30s for stating the topic and the handover) giving 8:43pm.

8:43pm is the deadline for any more topics to start. If it is after this time, start closing the session.

To close the session

  1. ask the Timer whether all topic speakers were within time
  2. make a note of anyone who wasn’t
  3. ask for a full report of speech times (make a note of eligible speakers: speeches are between 1 min & 2 mins 30 seconds – this is to double-check the Timer’s “in time” list)

NOTE: to have a Best Table Topics Speaker Award at least THREE topic speakers must be within time.

If at least THREE topic speakers were within time:

  1. explain you’re about to call for a vote for Best Table Topic Speaker, however, first you will recap
  2. 30s total to summarise every the speech subjects in the form of “Jane told us about her dog, Nigel talked about his holiday” note: the speech subject might be different to the topic given
  3. ask people to vote for Best Table Topic Speaker, then immediately ask the Timer for a minute on the clock
  4. when you hear the bell, hand back to the Toastmaster of the Evening

If LESS THAN THREE topic speakers were within time:

  1. explain we would normally vote for Best Table Topic speaker now, however, as fewer than three were in time, there if no vote this evening
  2. hand back to the Toastmaster of the Evening

End the session on time.

Anything not clear? Contact the VP Education.

Ideas for topics

Prepare two sets of slips of paper. One one set write monetary amounts. On the other write a season. Format: each speaker picks (blind) a slip from each pile. Where and why would you travel with that budget that time of year.

On slips of paper write out some unusual colours (e.g., “day-glow orange,” “pea green,” “flamingo pink,” etc.). Then make a list of questions along these lines: Tell us why you plan to paint your house this colour; Explain why all your clothes this summer will be in this colour; Tell the person to your right why he/she should buy a car in this colour.

The speaker picks a really bad movie they have seen. They then must persuade the audience to see it.

Table Topics respondents are given an unusual object and asked to sell the object to the members.

The Table Topics Master provides each participant with a very obscure (but actual) word from the dictionary, and the respondent comes up with a convincing definition of that word.

Write different words on about 30 small pieces of paper, and put them into a hat. Have each respondent choose four pieces of paper, and ask them to create a story from the four words chosen.

Most memorable meal; Favourite food; Least favourite food; Strangest food ever eaten; Worst meal; Strangest place ever eaten.

Discuss an unusual or inconvenient place to live and defend the place as a nice place to live. Examples: next to a graveyard, beside a landfill, in a swamp, top of a mountain.

Put everyday items into a bag and let each speaker select an item to discuss as if they’re an archaeologist from 500 years in the future (and don’t actually know what the item is for).

Give the respondent an article of clothing, and ask them to describe (that is, make up) the situation they last wore it in.

Bring a bag of pennies or other coins. Each respondent pulls a coin from the bag and talks about the mint year stamped on the coin. It could be something in history, or something that happened to the respondent, during that year.

The Table Topics Master says, “I guess as we get older the past seems to be more exciting just because there is more of it, but there are some things that can only happen once, and I would like you to recall some of the firsts in your life. Do you remember: Your first day at work, Your first car, The first time you used a computer, Your first date, Your last day at school.