7 Techniques to Tackle Table Topics

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Einstein described relativity as:

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.”

For a lot of people, standing up and giving an impromptu speech for 1-2 minutes is exactly like putting your hand on a hot stove, that 60 seconds of agony feels like it will never end…

In Cogito we’ve found that the best way to get better at impromptu speaking is to practice it as much as you can, and we do this in our Table Topics section each meeting.

Here are 7 tactics that you can use to improve your impromptu speaking:

1. Make a Decision

When you’re asked a question, pause for a moment and ask yourself – do you agree or disagree with the question? Deciding to agree or disagree makes answering the question easier as it gives you a clear direction for your answer. Once you’ve decided, declare it to the audience i.e:“ I agree wholeheartedly”, this will make you look strong and decisive. All you need to do now is explain why you made this decision which is what we will deal with next.

2. Sound Like You Know What You’re Talking About

Once you’ve declared your direction, continue by stating “And there are three reason why”. You probably won’t have 3 reasons when you say this but doing this gives you an automatic structure to your response. It makes you appear knowledgeable and gives you a little bit of time to get your ideas in order. All you really need to do now is come up with one reason to start with, it doesn’t have to be a strong reason, just something to get you talking. Then as you start to talk, you’ll relax and another reason will come to mind and then another, all the while the audience will think you know what you’re talking about…

3. Answer Both Sides of the Question

As an alternative to making an instant decision to agree or disagree, you can adopt a measured approach to your response i.e. “This is not a simple question and to really answer it properly we need to look at both viewpoints”. The advantage of this approach is that it doubles the amount of things that you can say by allowing you state both the pros and the cons underlying the question asked. For this tactic, it is important that you wrap up well so based on the evidence that you gave for both sides, make a decision for one side or the other and use it as your conclusion, this way you end with a strong declaration and again sound like you know what you’re talking about.

4. Avoid the Question

There will be times when you can’t think of anything to say and you go blank, and that’s okay, this will happen from time to time but you still have an opportunity to stand up and practice speaking so use it by using a very simple political tactic: avoiding the question. Think of something else to talk about, something that you do feel comfortable talking about and then switch to that topic i.e. “We could talk for hours about the intricacies of tax law but lets not torture ourselves, instead let’s talk about bubbles – did you know that bubbles…..”

5. Make it Personal

It’s easier to answer questions where you’re the expert and know all about the topic, and the one area where you’re always the expert is your own life and experiences so when asked a table topics question see if you can find a way to relate the topic to your life. When you listen to the questions, ask yourself, is there a lesson or story from your life that suits the subject, if so then use it, personal stories can have a very powerful effect on your audience and since it’s your story, there’s no risk of forgetting it and going blank.

6. Lie!

If you can’t think of anything then make something up, pretend that you’re someone who knows the answer and just start talking, sometimes the key to a good table topics response is sounding confident, you can get away with a lot when you sound confident. Remember that table topics is not about telling the truth it’s about thinking on your feet and impromptu speaking so lie, steal, cheat, use every trick you know to craft a speech out of thin air, besides you probably know a lot more than you think you do.

7. Just Talk

The hardest part of impromptu speaking is that those first moments on stage, your nerves are jangling, you’re anxious that you don’t know how to answer the question and all this is preventing you from saying anything, so forget about trying to answer the question perfectly and just say anything. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t even have to be related to the topic, just talk to get going, this will help calm the nerves and the anxiety and allow your mind the time to relax and come up with a really good response to the question asked.

 

As you practice impromptu speaking more and more in our meetings a strange thing happens, you start to want to be chosen for a difficult or challenging question. Every question will unfold as a new opportunity for you to flex your mental muscles and create an imaginative, refreshing response, and it’ll be fun too!

The biggest secret to impromptu speaking success is: If you have no idea what to say, say something you do know how to say!

 

image: PopTech (Flickr)

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How to Recover From Going Blank During a Presentation

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I’m going to let you in on a secret: even the most experienced speakers have gone blank in the middle of a presentation. The difference between you and them is how they handle that moment of blankness. Experienced speakers use the following four simple tricks to deal with going blank and the self-doubt that comes with it:

  1. Don’t Panic
  2. Retrace your steps
  3. Check  your notecards
  4. Move on to the next section

 

1. Don’t Panic

This is both the hardest and the most important tactic available to you. Yes, you are going to want to freak out and yes, you will have the urge to run away and hide in the toilets but what you need to do is pause and take a deep breath, a really deep breath. Then take another, this will get oxygen into your brain and help you relax and allow your brain to do its work. Now that you’re starting to relax move on to step 2.

2. Retrace your steps

Think back. What were you talking about before you went blank? Go over what you just said in your brain, usually going over the words again will trigger your memory of what comes next, this should get you through most situations. If not then try steps 3 or 4.

3. Notecards

This is the emergency situation. Calmly take out your notecards and look through them to find what you should be saying next (and only check the notecards, not your script, checking your script may take too long). You could casually explain the notecards by saying something like “this is important so I really want to get this right”. If the notecards don’t help them then try step 4

4. Move on to the next section

If you have learnt your presentation in chunks then you are in a great place because you can keep going, you can move to the next chunk of your presentation and continue. This is why we recommend that you learn your presentation in chunks as each “chunk” is a mini-speech in its own right so forgetting part of the speech doesn’t mean that you can’t go on. Also what you will find happening is that as you continue through the rest of the speech, you’ll remember the important points that you forgot and you can cover them at a later  point in the presentation.

 

To solidify these 4 steps in your mind then as you’re practicing your presentation, make note of the areas that you have difficulty with or that you keep forgetting and ask yourself “If I go blank during this section, what will I do?” The answer naturally is to follow the four steps and if you forget things during rehearsal then practice the 4 steps so that they will naturally come to you if you go blank during the actual presentation.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post then why not try more of our presentation tips:

Image: Het Nieuwe Instituut (Flickr)

Use Your Evaluation To Inspire

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On the surface an evaluation at Toastmasters is about showing a speaker their strengths and suggesting how they can improve further but a great evaluation goes further, a great evaluation will inspire your speaker to become a better communicator. A great evaluation will make them excited about their next speech they’ll start planning it immediately and they’ll be imagining how amazing they’re going to be. This should always be your goal when you give an evaluation.

This is not as difficult as it might sound.

The best place to inject inspiration into your evaluation is in the conclusion, it will have the most impact there. In your conclusion be sure to include the following:

  • Acknowledge – Acknowledge all that the speaker has achieved so far, this shows them that they are already on the path to their goals and they’ve already achieved great things.
  • Believe – Encourage them, show them that you believe that they have the ability to reach their personal speaking goals.
  • Challenge – Challenge them, give them a new target to aim for, keep them striving to be better speakers.

The key to success is your choice of challenge. It could something small like not using notes or controlling a crutch-word or it could be a bigger step like speaking outside the club or taking part in a speech contest. From your preparation you already know what level the speaker is at, you know what their goals and objectives are and you have seen the speech so use this information to select an achievable but challenging task for the speaker.

Make them excited by the new challenge. Show them that you believe that they can achieve it. Inspire them.

 

This post is part of our series of tips to help you become a better evaluator. To learn more about evaluating, check out these posts:

 

image: symphony of love/chattygd (flickr)

Merry Christmas From Cogito!

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Merry Christmas to all our members and also to all the people who have visited us in the last year, it’s been a great year filled with speeches, workshops and laughs and thank you for making it happen..

Next year it’s only going to get better, as well as the usual speeches, table topics and evaluations we’ll have the club International Speech and Evaluation contest in March, we’ll hosting the area contesrs in April and the Tall Tales contest in June

There will be no meeting next Tuesday and we’ll see you back in the new year at the Lantern Centre on Tuesday January 10th .

 

image: Kevin Dooley(Flickr)

Celebrate With Us this Tuesday

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“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.”

Winston Churchill

For our last meeting of 2016 we’re going to embrace the theme of “Reflection”, we’re going to look back on the year and celebrate our personal and group achievements.

Derville will be our Toastmaster, we’ll have speeches from Jag,  Kevin and Jean-Marie and visiting  toastmaster Miguel keeping us on our toes with his selection of table topics.

There may even be cake…

When: 7.30pm, Tuesday 13th December

Where: The Lantern Centre, 17 Synge St (click here to see a map)

To sign up or see the agenda of the meeting, click here

 

image:  Rev Stan (Flickr)

Become More Confident Speaking in Front of an Audience

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Speaking in front of a group of people can be very intimidating, it’s enough to make even the most confident person tongue-tied and unsure of themselves. And it doesn’t just happen to you, it happens to everyone.

The difference between you and confident speakers is that they have found tricks not to let the scariness of speaking in public stop them from presenting. And that’s Toastmasters is about, giving you the tricks to work with your uncertainty and the confidence to stand up and speak in front of a small or large audience.

At Cogito Toastmasters Dublin, each of our meetings are designed to provide a supportive environment where you can feel comfortable speaking and after practicing in the club you will have the skills and confidence to give a presentation at work or at an interview.

Come along to our next meeting and see how we can help you become the speaker you’ve always dreamed of being!

We meet at 7.30pm  on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays in the Lantern Centre on Synge St (off Camden St), see you there.

Improve Your Presentations with the Ten TED Commandments

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For anyone interested in speaking and listening to interesting speakers, TED is always a great place to visit. Each TED speaker is given the “TED Commandments” to help them create a talk to suit a typical TED audience.

These commandments are useful not just for TED speakers but for anyone who has to stand up and speak in front of an audience. They’re filled with guidelines that, if followed, will make your speech entertaining and interesting for the audience while at the same time allowing you the chance to enjoy yourself.

The TED Commandments are:

  1. Dream Big. Strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.
  2. Show Us The Real You. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.
  3. Make The Complex Plain. Don’t try to dazzle intellectually. Don’t speak in abstractions. Explain! Give examples. Tell stories. Be specific.
  4. Connect With People’s Emotions. Make us laugh! Make us cry!
  5. Don’t Flaunt Your Ego. Don’t boast. It’s the surest way to switch everyone off.
  6. No Selling From The Stage! Unless we have specifically asked you to, do not talk about your company or organization. And don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.
  7. Feel free to comment on other speakers’ talks, to praise or to criticize. Controversy energizes! Enthusiastic endorsement is powerful!
  8. Don’t Read Your Talk. Notes are fine. But if the choice is between reading or rambling, then read!
  9. End Your Talk On Time. Doing otherwise is to steal time from the people that follow you. We won’t allow it.
  10. Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post then why not try more of our presentation tips:

 

image: Steve Jurvetson (Flickr)