Impromptu Speaking

At Toastmasters meetings the second section of the meeting is focused on impromptu speaking; our Table Topics section.  The ‘Table Topics Master’ prepares a set of questions aligned to the meeting theme.  Each question is asked then there is usually a pause before they say ‘and this question goes to ….’, allowing everyone to consider the answer they might give if they are selected.

Anyone can participate in this part of the meeting, including guests.  It gives speaking opportunities for people who do not have a specific role in the meeting.

Some people love Table Topics and some dread it.  If you are in the second camp, hoping for divine inspiration or desperately trying not to catch the eye of the Table Topics Masters then this blog is to help you.

In November 2020 we ran a training session to give club members some potential tips and structures they could use to frame their answer which I ran.  I was particularly interested in researching the topic as I personally need to improve my impromptu speaking.

To make our principles more memorable we formed our tips into an acronym as below.

Principles of being a MEGA POP STAR

  • M : Myth = you cannot prepare for table topics.  You can prepare by building your personal narratives and group by theme eg: love, loss, pain, hope, redemption, uncertainty, joy
  • E : Embrace white lies – but make them believable by sprinkling with the truth
  • G : Get going with your opinion from the start
  • A : Anecdote bank – listen for the underlying question and answer with your personal anecdotes
  • P : Don’t panic
  • O : OPENING question words -Rudyard Kipling’s “six honest serving men” (what, why, when, how, where and who) can help to trigger ideas in your mind.
  • P : Keep your remarks brief and to the POINT.
  • S : It is still a SPEECH so you need a beginning, middle and end
  • T : Take time – it is ok to think for 10-15 seconds
  • A : Don’t apologize
  • R : ask for question to be REPEATED or you repeat it to buy thinking time

Structuring Your Answer

When we are asked a question but we’re unprepared, it is easy to panic, stumble or waffle.  Toastmasters provides a great safe environment to improve this skill.  Giving your answer some structure can really help those listening follow your answer.  In our training session we looked at 7 potential structures that could help you frame your answer.  Why don’t you try one of these structures the next time you are called upon to answer.  Below I have set out what the structure is and then given an example of a table topics question (TTQ)  and how this structure has been used to answer it (TTA).

1 Power of 3

  • I like this because of X, Y, Z

TTQ: What’s your favourite fruit?

TTA: My favourite fruit is a banana, let me tell you why.   Bananas taste great, they’re easy to eat and they’re full of potassium. And that’s why my favourite fruit is banana.

2 Point + counter point (When the question asks for your opinion)

  • Some people think X, some people think Y
  • Summarise with the one you side with

TTQ: Do you believe in lockdown?

TTA: Let me explain my feelings about lockdown.  Lockdown is good for stopping the spread of the virus, but it is bad for people’s mental health.  Weighing things up, my personal feeling is that lockdown is essential with the current R number. 

 3 PREP  – Point, Reason, Example, Point(When the question asks for your opinion)

  • State your POINT or opinion, and give a REASON why you think this way. Illustrate your point with an EXAMPLE. Conclude by re-stating your POINT.

TTQ: Should children be told Santa exists?

TTA: Yes I believe that children should be told about Santa.  I think believing in Santa brings a little bit of joy and magic to our lives.  When I was a child I remember the exciting feeling waiting for Santa, writing to Santa and receiving presents from Santa.  That’s why I feel children should be told about Santa.

 4 Past, present, future

  • When I was young I would have answered that this X
  • Now married I answer it Y as I have a young family
  • In the future when my children have left I would answer it z

 TTQ : What’s your favourite activity?

TTA: Prior to COVID I used to love drinking in bars until the wee small hours.  At the moment I enjoy a simple walk in the park in the sunshine.  In the future I hope to be able to drink in the park with friends!

5 Sequential

  • Eg you could use the seasons

TTQ: If you won a £1000 what would you buy?

TTA: If it was in April, I’d treat myself as it’s my birthday month, if it was summer a nice vacation would be in order, in November I’d squander it on an amazing firework display, and it if was in December I’d go for an amazing Christmas feast for my friends and family.

6 STAR model like in interview competency questions

  • Situation, Task, Action, Result

TTQ: Have you ever experienced a difficult situation where you were trying to balance 2 important priorities in your job?

TTA: Let me tell you a story, I was working as an agent and the megastar George Clooney asked me out for dinner which was great as I needed to land him as a client.  However I already had arrangements with Jeremy Clarkson so had to think of an excuse to put Jeremy off without offending him.  Luckily I knew the following week that Elon Musk was bringing his new car to show me and that Jeremy really wanted a test drive.   I persuaded Jeremy to wait a week so that we could all have dinner.  The result was Jeremy thinks I am great and George is a new client!!

7 AIDA Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – When you want your listeners to take action

  • Draw their ATTENTION to the issue you wish to address.
  • Create INTEREST by showing how this issue affects them.
  • Instil a DESIRE in your audience to take action.
  • State the ACTION(s) you recommend and call them to join you!

TTQ: What’s your favourite past time?

TTA: Well as it happens my favourite pastime is sunbathing but this comes with a big risk of skin cancer which 1 in 5 people will get, however, the feeling of the hot sun on your back is so warming, and lovely, there is a way around this, and next time you hit the shops, pop a bottle of factor 50 in your basket, because who knows maybe George will be around to rub it all over you!

I hope this has given you some food for thought and has provided some guidance you can use the next time you are called upon to answer an impromptu question.

Tracey Rogers


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