Have you ever been to a Toastmaster meeting where the Table Topics questions were very difficult to answer? I’ve participated in several of those, and I certainly felt like a failure for not responding gracefully. When I’m Topics Master, I ask good questions.
Good questions start with a good theme
It’s very difficult to write good questions when the theme doesn’t touch people’s lives in some manner. If you didn’t set the theme, ask Toastmaster why they chose that theme. One recent theme I recall was Columbus Day/Indigenous People Day. Many of the questions centered around history, and none of us had a history lesson about Columbus for a very long time.
You can still work with difficult themes. When United Nations was one of the themes in October, unsurprisingly, no one volunteered, so I did. I researched and related facts about UN to questions that people can actually answer. For example, the UN has won multiple awards. If you could create an award, what would it be and who would you award it to? In addition, because the questions are more applicable to some than others, and I don’t know who they’re more applicable to, I asked for volunteers instead of choosing people. For instance, the UN is committed to addressing climate change. What are you doing in your personal life to address climate change?
Good questions are open-ended with multiple responses
Basic rule is to speak within the time, so good questions are open-ended.
You can still ask yes/no or right/wrong questions. If you’re asking these types of questions, include “why” in the question. The speaker should have enough (2 or 3) claims or arguments to reach the minimum time, even if the participant spoke without pausing.
Questions that allow multiple approaches are great questions. When I write a question, I imagine myself as the participant and come up with at least 3 responses to the question within the time. If I don’t reach 3, I rewrite it or write a new one.
Good questions are concise
Good questions are about the length of a sentence – about 10 – 13 words. If the question is too long, the participant doesn’t remember what the question is. This leads to tangents, which may make some speakers more flustered. If the question is too short, the speaker may not have enough to work with to reach the minimum time.
Start with a theme that touches people’s lives. Then write concise and open-ended questions with multiple responses. Try them and see how members and guests perform.