Table Topics: A Question of Mind Over Matter

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I was at a dinner party recently where one of the guests suggested we all share stories about our most embarrassing moment. Arrrrgh! Then, walking to a restaurant in town, a TV reporter stopped me to ask my opinion on politics. Yikes! My words and face on TV? At work, my boss asked me what I thought of the new vacation policy. Talk about pressure! Getting caught off guard or unprepared scares me.

Not surprisingly, Table Topics has always been just plain painful. But now I see it as a fun exercise and a useful skill I am eager to develop.

Answering a Table Topics challenge is a bit like jumping out of an airplane at 3000 meters. Believe me, I know; I've done both. You study the statistics; your mind tells you it is safe. But then the plane door opens and there is that moment when you hang outside the plane, about to drop. Your survival instinct screams that you will die if you do it. But you make the leap despite your panic.

In my way of thinking, if you want to live to tell your grandchildren all about how you became a champion at Table Topics, it is like-wise a question of mind over matter. With experience, you grow accustomed to that adrenaline rush that never goes away. You build up your self-confidence, knowing you are not going to die or fall on your face.

Learn to trust how smart you are, and be yourself. I think it is better to draw from your own knowledge and experience instead of making up a story and acting like someone other than yourself. Learn to rely on - and share - who and what you are.

Step by Step...

Here are some steps I have used to help build my self-confidence. You can use these in your club for answering Table Topics.

Pick a word at random out of a dictionary and immediately say the first thing that comes into your head. Try it four or five times and notice how fast your brain serves up an image or an idea for an answer.

Now, go a step further. Still picking words at random, ask yourself what is the first opinion that comes to mind? Begin by saying I think that... , or I love bow..., or I feel that... Again, you will find that you always have a personal idea on the topic when you listen for it.

Now, add the next step. Right after you pick a word and find your opinion, immediately state a message. You can do it. Based on your opinion, you can always find a connection to make with your audience, however small. Maybe your message amuses, informs or inspires your audience.

I'll demonstrate. From the word flowers, in my mind's eye, I immediately see a passion fruit flower like those I saw in my mother's garden. That flower image stuck in my head because, and here comes my opinion, I'm fascinated by rare and exotic flowers. From this outlook, your message could take you in any one of a million directions. I thought of saying this: Who knows what research could tell us about the special healing powers of these flowers? Maybe it's not the most brilliant answer. Don't worry; it's solid enough to work with. It also contains a human element - healing - and that's an important link to make if you want to touch the listeners' heartstrings.

What I have just demonstrated is how, in a few seconds, your brain can provide you with both an opinion and a moving message. They can be your beginning and ending of a two- to three-minute Table Topics speech. How you connect the two parts with background points can be worked out while you are talking.

Open your speech by stating your opinion. Then, share your back-ground thinking for a minute. Eventually, focus on transitioning to your end statement. Finally, make your heartfelt message statement with confidence. You did it! You jumped into the clouds, your idea parachute opened and you made a safe landing right in front of your audience.

By Bill_Mansur

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