Science Fiction Table Topics

David Keener, Table Topics MaestroToastmasters has a public speaking exercise called Table Topics. A person, designated as the Table Topics Master, gets up in front of an audience and chooses random people to answer questions. Each selected individual has to stand up and respond to the question. The goal is to deliver a one to two minute response (and the exercise IS timed).

It’s a great way to practice ad hoc speaking skills. Personally, I like responding to table topics. But I like being Table Topics Master even more…

Because I am diabolical.

You see, most questions and responses are oh so earnest. What I like to do as Table Topics Master is to force people to stretch themselves, to step outside their comfort zone and do things they might not ordinarily do in a speech.

As a case in point, I devised a set of science fiction scenarios for my turn as Table Topics Master this past Thursday. This is how I introduced the exercise:

“How many of you have experienced one of my Table Topics sessions before?” I asked

Only about a third of the hands in the audience went up.

“Excellent. As those of you who raised your hands already know, I am…diabolical. So, for tonight’s Table Topics, we’re going to do…something different. I need three victims…er…I meant respondents.”

Once I had my three respondents, I told the audience, “I’m going to present each of our volunteers with a written scenario.” Turning to the volunteers, I added, “Each of you is a reporter witnessing some fantastic event that’s unfolding right in front of you.

“But I don’t want you to tell us about the scenario. I want you to push your limits, go places you’ve never gone. Something momentous is happening, and I want you to make us feel it. Dig deep and give us the emotion.

For each volunteer, I gave them a printed copy of their scenario, which they had to quickly digest (which is why key words in the scenario are bolded). I presented the introduction to the audience, and then each respondent had to do their part. The responses were absolutely, hysterically funny.

Here are the scenarios that I handed out:

  1. The War of the Worlds

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter for a local newspaper. During the night, a fiery meteorite struck nearby. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: During the night, a fiery meteorite landed in the sandpits of Horsell Commons, near the town of Woking in England.

    • It’s now morning.
    • You’re standing just beyond the rim of a deep crater in the sand.
    • There are townspeople standing all around you.
    • You can feel the scorching heat; there’s a smell like brimstone.
    • There’s a massive cylinder in the crater.
    • A grinding sound begins…and the end of the cylinder begins to rotate its way off.
  2. Star Wars

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter, embedded in the rebel headquarters during a major battle of a civil war. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: You’re a reporter embedded in the headquarters of the Rebel Alliance on the jungle moon, Yavin, which orbits a gas giant planet.

    • The Empire’s Death Star is on the other side of the gas giant from where you are right now.
    • If the Death Star rounds the planet, they’re going to destroy the moon you’re on (and you).
    Rebel fighter ships are desperately trying to destroy the Death Star.
    • All attempts against the Death Star so far have failed.
    • Someone named Luke Skywalker is now on a high-speed firing run trying to destroy the ship.
    • That Skywalker fellow just turned off his auto-pilot and everybody is really worried.
  3. Jurassic Park

    Introduction: “You’re a reporter preparing to cover the opening of a new theme park when everything goes very, very wrong. Tell us about it.”

    Scenario: You’re a reporter getting a behind-the-scenes view of Jurassic Park, which opens in a week. However, something has gone wrong…

    • You’re in the Jurassic Park Control Room by yourself.
    • The power went off for a while, but now it’s back on.
    • Everyone else has left on various rescue or repair missions.
    • There are dozens of screens that let you see what’s going on…the dinosaurs are loose.
    • You can see the big Tyrannosaurus Rex on a screen chasing a jeep.
    • You haven’t seen any of the raptors in a while.
    • There’s a scratching at the door…
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