Table Topics – the debate

We had our Table Topics debate last night… and it rocked.

I was pretty depressed about it going into our meeting… I’d only had replies from two of our members and they’d both said “put me on whichever side you see fit”. They were just trying to make life easier for me but it rather short-circuited my evil plans: if they don’t tell me their personal preference then I can’t switch them to the opposite team. And I’d wanted SIX volunteers.

I got to the meeting early and had a quick word with the Chairman and asked him to call me up for 5 minutes before we got to the speakers.

So I stood in the middle of the stage and explained again what we were doing for Table Topics: “we’re having a mini-debate with two minute speeches. The topic is ‘Money is corrupting sports’ and I want 3 volunteers for each side of the debate”. I gestured theatrically with my arms and said “I’d like 3 people who believe that money IS corrupting sports to come and stand on my LEFT and 3 people who believe that money is NOT corrupting sports to come and stand on my RIGHT”. By asking them to come up to the front and stand on one side of me or the other I forced them to make a commitment to one preferred opinion or the other. I got my six speakers up front and then I gave them the twist.

The response was fantastic: some looks of horror, some looks of confusion, some “oh Jon you are EVIL” looks and some wide grins. I explained it again… “the people on my LEFT who’ve come up here because they believe that money IS corrupting sports, I want you to each talk about why money is NOT corrupting sports. The people on my RIGHT who believe that money is NOT corrupting sports, you’ll be talking about why money IS corrupting sports”. I explained that the purpose of the debate wasn’t to persuade people that your personal opinion was right but to make the speakers think and exercise their speaking skills.

I suggested that they think of possible topics during the first half of the meeting and then confer with their team members during the break to make sure that they’re not all saying the same things and to decide on their speaking order.

As I sat down, the person sitting next to me, one of the debate speakers, turned and said “Jon, that is SO evil”. I replied “I know. Awesome isn’t it?” – she grinned and nodded.

During the mid-meeting break, the room was a hive of activity. I could hear people brainstorming ideas and dividing up topics. Non-speaking members joined in – they went over to join with the groups and share their ideas.

Just to add some further spice, I asked for a secret vote before the debate and again afterwards. According to the pre-debate vote, we narrowly believed that money IS corrupting sports.

The first affirmative speaker talked about the Olympics and the vast quantities of money that flows in and out of that – a strong argument with which to lead off. The first rebuttal talked about children and their love of playing sports – a good argument that reminded us that ‘sports’ isn’t just professional sports.

The second affirmative looked at superstars like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant – do they still love sport or have the multi-million dollar paychecks led to their problems? The second rebuttal brought us back to the Olympics again but this time looking at the investments that the Lower Mainland has got out of the event – would we ever have got the Richmond Oval or the Canada Line without the Olympics?

The third affirmative talked about sports gambling and the billions of dollars which change hands based on the results of sports games. The debate finished with the third rebuttal speaker who talked about how money led to professional sports which in turn redefined what was possible in the field of human achievement.

Six great two minute speeches with six great opinions. I was glad I was sitting down to listen because I was just blown away by how well our members stepped up to the challenge.

After the debate the second secret vote said resoundingly that money is NOT corrupting sports. That doesn’t mean that we had winners or losers in our contest though… everybody put on a great performance. Several members said to me afterwards that it was the best Table Topics they’ve seen. I can only take some of the responsibility – the original idea wasn’t mine and it was the amazing performances from our members that really made it a winning evening. It just goes to show that when you shake things up at Toastmasters you really get the best out of your club members.

5 comments to Table Topics – the debate

  • So is the moral of the story that being evil helps people? 😉 All joking aside, I think your actions were brilliant. I’m sure it helped to infuse some life into the group and rattle people from their safe and secure slumber. It takes courage to break out of old patterns and facilitate effective change. Good job!
    .-= Cheeky Cici´s last blog ..You Forgot Your Garbage =-.

    • Jon Jennings

      Thank you!
      Yes, there’s something great about shaking up the status quo. I’ve talked a hundred times at Toastmasters about how important it is to step outside your comfort zone and when we do the same thing at every week’s meeting we slowly withdraw back into safe and familiar practices.
      When I can, I love to shake things up a bit and it never fails to produce a great result. Last week was just the latest example.

  • exoduso

    How you find ideas for articles, I am always lack of new ideas for articles. Some tips would be great

    • Jon Jennings

      I have two sources for ideas for Toastmasters and both are as useful as each other.

      The first and easiest is a websearch. A search for “table topics questions” will produce a lot of really good lists.
      The second is talking to Toastmasters from other clubs. I find the whole networking aspect of Toastmasters to be really important – use other people’s experience to your benefit. This doesn’t just apply to Table Topics questions but applies to everything about the way you run your club and the way you increase your Toastmasters experience.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jon Jennings and Jon Jennings, Kana Yamashita. Kana Yamashita said: Great courage Jon! RT @JonJennings: The awesome results of my evil Table Topics experiment: […]