Table Topic Variations

Table Topic Variations

The Table Topics section of each Toastmasters meeting — in which members speak for 1-2 members in response to a prompt by the Table Topics Master — is a valuable opportunity to think on one’s feet. We have sometimes found it fun to experiment with the standard format. Here are a few of our favorite variations.


The Table Topics Master should ask volunteers to describe — without naming — some well-known thing, be it a person, a place, or a thing. At the end of the description, the audience should make guesses as to what is being described.

Grab Bag

The Table Topics Master should collect a group of interesting objects in a sack. The items can all be on theme or unrelated. Volunteers draw an item out of the bag without looking and then have to speak about the item for 1-2 minutes. Some possible prompts include: 1) sell us on why we should want to purchase this item or 2) explain how you feel this item is related to <theme of the day>.

One Word

The Table Topics Master begins this simple but effective exercise by giving the first volunteer a single word upon which they should extemporize for 1-2 minutes. The volunteer then chooses a new word for the next volunteer and so on. This exercise has the benefit of being quick and easy, allowing multiple members and guests the opportunity to participate. Some examples of words we have used include vacation, railroad, and vacation.

“No, but…” vs. Yes, and … “

Inspired by one member’s participation in a local improv class, this exercise pairs two speakers who must collaboratively tell a story by alternating statements. The Table Topics Master should provide a simple prompt, such as “describe running into each other outside of work” or “discuss where you wish to go on vacation.” In the first round, each statement following the opening statement must begin with “No, but …” In the second round, each statement following the open statement must instead begin with “Yes, and…” The goal is to demonstrate how much more fluid the second story seems.

Speech Excerpt Recitation

The Table Topics Master should select and print 1-2 minute long excerpts from famous speeches. Volunteers are provided with an excerpt to read aloud to the group. This exercise allows participants to focus on vocal variety and emotional expression, with the added benefit of exposing those present to some of the most written speeches in history.

Resource: Top 100 Speeches from American Rhetoric

A Thousand Words

The Table Topics Master should pre-select a number of photographs that feature interesting people or events. Volunteers are asked to describe the goings-on in the photographs, either as a straightforward description or by storytelling. Note: if displaying the picture for the audience, be sure to have a second copy for the speaker to hold to allow them to face the audience without having to repeatedly turn around. Here are some examples of photos we’ve used:

Resource: Getty Images

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