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)

Join Us Tomorrow For Another Great Meeting

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Join us tomorrow evening for an evening of fun and learning. Michelle will be our Toastmaster, Dermot will continue to show us how to improve the way we deliver feedback and we have three great speakers for you to learn from, Isabel with the intriguingly-titled “How Iceland changed the way its teens get high“, Michael will tackle the global water crisis and Derville will deliver an interactive brainstorming session.

It’s going to be another great evening. See you there!

 

When: 7.30pm, Tuesday 28th February

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

Crafting an Evaluation that Educates the Whole Audience

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For every member of Cogito Toastmasters the evaluation section is the most valuable part of our meetings. As each evaluator delivers their feedback the whole audience has the chance to learn tips and tricks that will help them to become stronger speakers and communicators.

So how can you deliver an evaluation that is valuable for both the speaker and also for the whole audience?

It’s all down to the language that you use when you give the evaluation, and, more specifically, who you speak to. Sometimes we’re so focused on helping the speaker that we look  directly at the speaker and only speak to them. We say things like “I like how you did…”, ” I loved it when you…”, “I feel that if you try…” On one hand this is great as it shows that you’re truly prioritizing the needs of the speaker but there are some potential problems with this approach:

  1. Speaking directly to the speaker and giving them all that attention might make them feel uncomfortable i.e due to:
    • shyness
    • being uncomfortable when given compliments
    • discomfort when being told their areas for improvement.
  2. The rest of the audience is may feel left out as you’re not talking to them instead it may seem that you’re having a conversation with the speaker and if they feel ignored they might not listen to the great tips that you’re giving.

There is a simple way to solve both these problems, talk about the speaker in the third person, i.e. don’t say “you” or “your”, use the speaker’s name. For instance, instead of “your gestures were evocative”, say “David’s gestures were evocative, when he…”  or instead of “your speech can be improved by”  say “David’s speech can be enhanced by…”

By doing this you reduce the spotlight on the speaker, making them feel less like the centre of attention yet still giving the help that they need while at the same time you’ve included everyone else in the room and shared your tips and tricks with them.

Next time you’re giving an evaluation in  front of an audience, remember to extend your delivery out from the speaker to include the whole group.

 

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: InnovateOSU (Flickr)

Four Ways to Calm Your Presentation Anxiety

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One of the first things that we like to tell our new members when they give their first speech is that its okay to be nervous when speaking in public. In fact, nervousness can actually be quite helpful, it helps us think about all the possible problems and allows us to work out how to deal with those problems in advance.

It’s only when those nerves threaten to overwhelm us that the problems start. Here are four ways of thinking that will make you feel more confident in front of an audience and help you calm those presentation jitters:

1. You Are The Expert

Usually when you’re asked to speak it’s going to be about something that you’re working on or knowledgeable about, this gives you a natural advantage – you’re the expert, your role is to educate your audience about your area of experience. Not only that, there’s less chance of going blank because you’re talking in your comfort zone, this will also help to give you the confidence to stand up and share a topic that excites you.

If it’s a topic where you’re not an expert then learn more, get to know the subject so that if you’re asked questions about your topic you are ready to answer.

Remember: knowledge is power, knowledge is confidence.

2. You Can Train Your Brain

All the experts say that the more you give speeches to groups, the easier it gets. Unfortunately this is a bit of a chicken and an egg scenario – how can you get over your speaking nerves by giving more speeches if your nerves stop you from giving speeches?

The secret is practice. Practice is about eliminating reasons for you to be nervous or scared. Practice gives you the chance to find out what parts of the presentation are the hardest to remember, practice shows you the words or phrases that trip you up and practice shows you the areas where you know your stuff which allows you to concentrate on the weaker areas of your presentation.

Above all practice is training your brain to put aside your fears, the more you practice in the days or weeks coming up to your presentation, the more your brain gets used to you giving a presentation without problems so by the time you stand up to give the actual presentation your brain already knows that it’s going to go well because it went well in the practice sessions.

Practice early, practice often.

3. You Have Backup

Even if you have practiced your presentation until you can recite it forwards and backwards, sometimes there can still be a niggling worry in your head about going blank and forgetting what to say next. Don’t worry, you have a backup plan – your notes.

Write your notes on small cards, small enough to put in your jacket pocket. The key to effective notecards is not to write the whole speech onto them, instead write on them the main points, key words or phrases and difficult to remember facts or statistics.

Have a notecard for each section of your presentation, this keeps it simple, you will know which section you’re on so you will be able to find the section quickly. Write on the cards in big clear writing so that if you do need to use them you can read them quickly and easily.

4. You Have Support In The Audience

One mistake that nervous speakers make is that they don’t make eye contact with the audience, they look at their notes and by doing this you are missing out on one of the best confidence boosters that you can find, your audience.

Your audience want you to succeed, they want you to educate them and learn about your ideas and even better than that, there’s always some friendly encouraging people in your audience.

It can definitely be scary to see all those people looking at you and listening to you but the first step to feeling confident in front of any audience is to find the friendly faces and talk to them. Then once you get over the initial nerves and start to feel more confidant, find more people in the audience to talk to and share your ideas with them as well until you’ve brought in the whole group.

An easy way to help calm your nerves and find those friendly faces is when you get up to speak, pause before speaking and follow these simple steps – Breathe, Smile, Begin

Look at the audience and breathe in, breathe deeply, allow the oxygen to fill your lungs, to stimulate your mind and to relax you.

Smile and let the smile spread through your whole body because you’re the expert, you’ve practiced, you’ve got your backup notes, there is nothing to worry about, it’s going to be great. Smiling will also make you look confident and feel more confident. While you’re smiling look around the room, look for the people who smile back, these will be your first friendly faces. Talk to them.

Then, and only then – Begin.

It’s mainly the first few minutes of a speech that you need to contol your nerves, once you get through those first few minutes, you’ve very little to worry about.

 

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

 

image: Symphony of Love (Flickr)

Fall in Love With Speaking At Our Valentines Day Meeting

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Join us for another entertaining and inspiring meeting this Tuesday as we show you our love of speaking and how you too can tackle your speaking nerves and start to enjoy giving speeches and presentations.

As it’s Valentines Day on Tuesday our Toastmaster, Victor has something different planned with regards to the theme of the meeting.We’ll have speeches from Jag and Karl, Vernon will be our Poetmaster and we’ll have our ever-popular impromptu speaking section with John, our Table Topics Master.

See you Tuesday!

When: 7.30pm, Tuesday 14th February

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: JD Hancock (Flickr)

Change and Grow this Tuesday

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This Tuesday at Cogito Toastmasters Dublin we’re celebrating change, just as in life we are constantly changing and growing, every time we speak or take on a role we have the opportunity to change and grow as a speaker and communicator.

Embrace the opportunity to grow into the presenter you dream of being and come along our meeting.

Dermot will be our Toastmaster, we’ll have speeches from John, Miao and Victor and Jean-Marie will have a set of fun and challenging table topics for us.

See you Tuesday!

When: 7.30pm, Tuesday 24th January

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: Symphony of Love/Unsplash (Flickr)

The Secret to Effective Evaluations

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Like with giving speeches, the quickest way to become an effective evaluator is through feedback. There are three great sources of feedback available to you in every Toastmaster meeting:

  1. Your Speaker
  2. The General Evaluator
  3. Club Members

 

Your Speaker

Your primary source of feedback is always the speaker themselves.

After the meeting, sit down with the speaker and find out how THEY felt about your evaluation:

  1. Did they agree with your assessment?
  2. Were you were too harsh or too gentle?
  3. How useful were your suggestions?
  4. Did parts of your evaluation make them uncomfortable?
  5. Did you say something that upset them?

Talk to them and see what suggestions and recommendations they can give you so that you can use that feedback in your next evaluation.

 

The General Evaluator

Talk to the General Evaluator in advance, tell them about the areas that you want to work on, your personal objectives for the evaluation and ask them to give feedback and recommendations based on this after the meeting.

 

Club Members

Ask a club member to evaluate your evaluation.

This can be done either informally with a quick chat after the meeting or in a structured manner by using the projects in the Competent Leadership or one of the many evaluation forms available from Toastmasters International.

 

The more feedback you get as an evaluator the better you will be able use your evaluations to inspire and motivate your evaluatees to become stronger speakers and presenters.

 

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: Dennis Skley (Flickr)