Use the Right Questions for Your Table Topics Contests
All contestants must compete on a level playing field, as much as is possible. Not only does this mean everyone should have identical competition situations (as much as possible), but that those conditions should not unduly favor any particular type of contestants. An inconvenient contest location may favor local contestants. A location that is noisy or has poor acoustics, and no sound system, may favor contestants who can speak more loudly. A poorly laid out venue may even favor taller contestants—it may be hard to see shorter contestants. These principles of fairness are why Table Topics contestants come into the room one at a time; none of them gets to hear the question ahead of time, or gets more preparation time than any other.
But is the question they are given fair?
Even though each contestant has the same question, it may not an even challenge for each contestant. Remember this important key about contests: the winner should be determined by the strength of their performance, not by who they are.
An obvious, exaggerated example: a question about organic chemistry would give the chemistry professor contestant an advantage over the average contestant.
That sounds ridiculous, but consider these more likely possibilities:
- “Youth is wasted on the young”—favors older contestants, appealing to older judges.
- “When has faith gotten you through a hard time?”—favors religious contestants, appealing to religious judges.
- “What do you think of the recent bill that failed to pass the senate?”—favors contestants that closely follow political news.
- “Which actor or actress would you most want to marry?”—favors contestants knowledgeable about American pop culture.
- “When have you ‘given them the whole nine yards’?”—favors contestants familiar with American idioms
- “What was the most exciting moment of your life?”—favors contestants that have lived longer, or are more adventurous.
- “Kids say the darndest things. What have you heard them say?”—favors parents or people who frequently work with children.
- “What do you wish you had never published to Facebook?”—favors younger contestants, or those more active on social media.
- “What would you do about the situation in Syria?”—favors those who closely follow news.
- “Would you call it the Korean War or Korean Conflict?”—favors older contestants or history buffs.
When selecting a question to be used in a contest, try to make sure it will not favor anyone with a particular:
- Age/amount of life experience
- Marital status/family situation
- Skill set/career/specialized knowledge
Remember, it should be about the contestant’s skill in impromptu speaking, not their skill or experience or who they are.
It is also important to keep the topic concise. “What animal would you want to be?” is good. “If you could be any animal in the world, which would be your absolute first choice to be transformed into?” is not. The longer and more complex the question, the more difficult it is for the contestant to remember and quickly answer. It should also be simple; the contestant should not struggle to understand what the question is asking.