Lessons from Table Topics

No, this is not a primer on how to answer table topics.

For those who are new to Toastmasters, in a Table Topics session, a member is asked to respond immediately on a topic for about two minutes. I’ve listed some of the topics thrown at me during my eight years in Toastmasters and related them to the lessons I’ve learnt in life -about life !

An abridged version of this article has been published by Toastmasters India and Dubai Toastmasters in a souvenir and website respectively.

1. Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is wisdom!

Earlier, my only aim was to get that CTM. I didn’t care much for fellowship and feedback. I realized that Toastmasters (TM) provides a much wider mosaic in interpersonal skills and I sought critical feedback from trusted friends and that gave me a lot of insight on highlighting my strengths and working on my limitations. I’ve seen many TMs lose interest in the movement simply because they don’t know what they want for themselves! In fact, the New member orientation sheet, gives you a chance to explore what exactly you want to take away from TM and if that sheet is filled honestly, you will have more committed TMs!

2. A short pencil is better than a long memory!

I have the dubious reputation of being an Anecdote Uncle and I owe it to the little book I always carry. I make it a point to note down interesting things that people say or write. An idea may occur when you are traveling or a hoarding may have a pithy message. Just write it down and try to link and use them when you are preparing your speeches. I realized people respond very well to stories, one liners when used effectively. I frequently refer and replenish. The flip side is you get so enamored of your anecdotes and you tend to repeat them. If you are always on the lookout, there will be fresh perspectives on the same subject which may be contemporary or more humorous. For example, I have collected twenty five ways to respond humorously to an introduction. But the habit of noting down has helped me a lot enriching my speeches with interesting information.

3. You like people who agree with you and grow with those who don’t!

I used to long for those ego-kicks, when my evaluators gave me fulsome praise but I learnt more from my friends who gave an unbiased, objective feedback. In Bangalore Toastmasters, I was attempting a project on body language and the title was “the art of decision making”. It was laced with a lot of metaphors, well organized and had a compelling delivery. The members gave me a rousing applause and I even got the ribbon for the best speaker. But, my evaluator asked me to repeat the project because I had not adhered to the guidelines of the project. No use of gestures, facial expressions and eye contact! He wouldn’t have exactly won a popularity vote with me that day but as I went back and ruminated, I realized he made a lot of sense and he was trying to make me a better speaker. I took his advice seriously, repeated the project after two weeks and this time, the title was “My first visit to a Dentist “ and exploited all the nuances on non -verbal skills and my evaluator even today says that was an exemplary speech on body language !

Like they say in customer service, “Cherish the customer who complains”

4. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson

It could be a speech contest, an election or a failed relationship but every failure or adversity throws up such illuminating lessons that we need to learn from it and move on! Perhaps, this could be an excellent opportunity to introspect, internalize the lessons and not repeat the mistakes. I know it is very easy to say this because we are a bunch of emotional animals but the more adept you become in learning from your mistakes; you make a value addition that no university can offer.

5. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!

I was meandering into a lot of businesses in which I had no core competence and completely forgot about the innate passion and interest I had for public speaking. Seven years ago, I was longing to find a forum to express myself and yes, there was this write up about Toastmasters in the Times of India and that became a critical moment in my life.

I notice that this happens when you are struggling to find a topic for your speech or some resources for your club or even a good mentor- you need to focus your energy on that thought and voila ! Inspiration or a solution appears from the most unexpected sources! We may well heed the advice given to the Boy Scouts – Be Prepared!

6. Build your beliefs and Blast off!

During my college days, a psychiatrist friend told me I suffered from anxiety neurosis and would never make it as a public speaker! Today, I make a decent living out of my public speaking skills! Much more than the money component (which is very important, let me add), what gives me immense satisfaction is the regular inflow of mails I get from my trainees who thank me for enabling confidence in them, that leaves me with a feeling, yes, indeed I am making a difference and thank God I didn’t pay heed to my psychiatrist friend !

Let me tell you, there will be enough people to demolish your ego and make you feel worthless or unwanted but you need to believe in your self, slog it out , surround yourself with good people and BLAST OFF !

I surrounded myself with some wonderful folks like Pramod Shankar, Nitasha Kumar, Kanikraj and Francis Gama and founded Smedley Speakers Society, a TM club in Bangalore. We have bloomed into a happening club- a lot of learning in a fun filled ambience !

A crowning moment for my beliefs came when TM International President Dilip Abayasekara mentioned before a packed audience at OVATIONS in Sri Lanka that I was one of the most talented and humorous speakers he had ever met in his twenty years of Toastmasters! (I have this footage on video, if you please) Coming from him, I thought I had come a long way from my anxiety neurosis! (Here again, a table topic comes to my mind – if nobody blows your trumpet, blow it yourself!)

Let me end with the immortal words of Helen Blanchard, the first woman TM International President – “If you can GET out of Toastmasters, all that you CAN get out of Toastmasters, then you can never get OUT of Toastmasters!

2 thoughts on “Lessons from Table Topics

  1. Chendil,I like your euphemisms.Whenever people must choose a topic for a short talk, I always tell them to tell a story.Has anyone ever noticed that the many of the most charismatic people all share something in common? If you think of the most likable person in your group of friends, or the most charismatic politician you can think of, or your most memorable teacher, odds are that the thing they have in common is the ability to tell a good story.The power of the story cannot be overrated; simply put we are social beings and a well-crafted story helps the listeners to intimately relate with the storyteller. This is why the best authors – even if they are scoundrels or are centuries old- still have universal power.Use the story!!!Stories help you get into the “zone” of presenting. You are intimately familiar with the material and it’s easy to be more animated with an energetic, expressive voice and gestures when telling a story. Practice telling the story to friends and family members in informal settings. Continue to refine it to its most compact, crystallized form by selecting the pertinent details and then letting those details vividly delivered with expressive non-verbal behavior do the work.With little time, someone should try to choose a compact story that they are passionate about.

  2. Terry,Thanks a ton for visiting my blog and for leaving useful comments that add value !I’m glad you share similiar interests !I could’t get to see your blogger profile. Can you enable it for me ?Are you also a Toastmaster ? The second reason I ask to see your profile is some of my friends may think I am doubling up as Terry and commenting on my own blogs !!!(just kidding ! I respect your privacy.)

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