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The Table Topicsmaster's 7 Deadly Sins

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I LOVE THE ROLE OF THE TABLE TOPICSMASTER! WHY? At first, it was because it offered a non-threatening way to speak before the club. But soon, I came to love this position because it offered an unexpected benefit - the opportunity to learn something about my fellow Toastmasters in a way that simply may not occur in ordinary situations or that could take years in others. For instance, I've learned that one of my fellow members wishes he'd learned to play the piano, and about another's misadventures in learning to ride a bike. I've learned of some of my colleagues' best, worst and most challenging experiences - and all in less than two minutes!

I even like answering Table Topics questions. True, I have my "off" clays, when just attending the meeting is about the extent of my participation. But where else can I receive support and encouragement while silently digging for an answer to a thoughtful question?

In our daily lives, many of us face difficult impromptu speaking situations. Situations where we have no knowledge of the topic at hand, hold opposing views or simply don't understand the question. And that's the true value of Table Topics - it's an experience designed to encourage us in voicing our opinions while building our confidence. And, as the Table Topicsmaster, you can help your fellow members by choosing questions that enhance this process.

Almost any subject can he turned into Table Topics. However, developing questions that enhance the speaking process, rather than elicit a trite answer, is an art. In our exuberance, we can easily commit one of the following "deadly" sins:

1.  Open-ended questions are ideal, but if they are too vague or too personal, the respondent has nowhere to begin. Provide the stepping stone - then let the respondent determine the path.

2.  Don't over-describe the scenario. What is gained if the respondent (and often the audience) gets lost in the question? If a question/scenario is more that 25 words, it's too long. Rewrite the question and give the respondent some freedom of interpretation.

3.  This is not the time to show how clever you, the Topicsmaster, can be by devising scenarios that require specific knowledge or training, are exceptionally tongue twisting, or involve an elaborate sequence of events.

4.  Don't steal someone's thunder! Many times, Topicmasters develop questions based on a particular event or experience in their own lives. And, in their enthusiasm to learn of others' experiences or feelings, they may share some of their own. But remember, less is more. Now is not the time to go into personal detail. Leave the respondent room to expand on the theme.

5.  When using current events, choose your respondent carefully. These days, with so little time available, many people don't follow the news on a regular basis. And, believe it or not, many of us aren't sports fans. Don't be presumptuous! Get to know your fellow members a little before posing questions. It's tough to answer a question intelligently when you have little or no knowledge of the subject.

6.  Having to defend a personally unfamiliar perspective can create interesting learning opportunities. But when posing scenarios you know are contrary to a respondent's views on a subject or individual, leave some "wiggle" room in the question: Don't force a respondent to violate personal principles.

7.  Never depend on a respondent's answer as the basis for additional questions! While some individuals can predictably respond with wit and poise, anyone can have an off night. When this occurs, the second respondent is at a severe disadvantage. You're the Topicsmaster - stay in control!

Ideally, Table Topics are designed to prepare us for those unexpected mini-speeches we encounter every day, as well as for those infrequent occasions that can make or break our self-esteem or career. As the Table Topicsmaster, it's your responsibility to lead your fellow club members by preparing a set of questions or situations that everyone can respond to without embarrassment or undo discomfort. Offering support and encouragement are what Toastmasters do best!

By Lea_Smith

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