We are a polite people and we don’t want to embarrass anyone or put someone on the spot. Yet this is the purpose of TableTopics: not to embarrass anyone but to give people practice for when they are put on the spot.
For Toastmasters this is clear, but what happens when we have guests?
What many clubs do is ask a question like this before TableTopics commences:
“Is there anyone here, who would not like to be called on?
We don’t recommend doing this for three reasons:.
1-it is uncomfortable
because it still puts people on the spot by making them draw attention to themselves. It raises the tension level to more than it needs to be for at least that moment.
2-it wastes precious time
as we all look around the room and wait for people to respond.
3-it is UNNECESSARY
It is unnecessary because there is another way to handle this.
Here’s what we recommend for the TableTopics master:
Make sure and arrive before the meeting starts and introduce yourself to the guests.
Get the names of every guest
Introduce yourself and let the guests know that everyone participates in our meetings; that they will be called upon to introduce themselves and we may ask them a question. Explain that they don’t have to answer the question, but can do one of the following:
- Decline for health reasons: e.g. imminent heart attack.
- No speaky English.
- Answer the question as best they can.
- Answer another question or talk about anything they would like to talk about.
Note: Please share your list with the Presiding Officer who opens our meeting as he or she will be the one fist calling on guests to introduce themselves.
Gauge their sense of discomfort
Note next to their name that they look or seem really uncomfortable and call them last or not at all.
Use your judgment and choose
You can easily tell the adventurous and playful and make a note to call these people when you write down their names.
You can also sense those who really would rather have their teeth pulled than answer an unprepared question. If you decide to call these people never call them first.
In fact you should never call a guest first, so they can see how it’s done.
In some cases, especially when we have enough speakers, don’t call on them at all.
Toss a life saver to anyone having a heart attack
If you do call a guest, (or a member even) who freezes then find a way to either gracefully decline to answer or soften the question in some way so that they cannot answer.
Ask guests the easier questions
Give guests questions they are more likely to be able to answer.
Remember while TableTopics is rigorous practice for unprepared speaking, it’s also supposed to be fun. Remember this especially for guests.