Table Topics Questions Continued:

Ready to go for a wild ride?

You can have lots of family fun with Table Topics. Here are 40 questions I have selected just for you. On President’s Day, my wife held court with some of the grandchildren and the adults in the room. We had a fun fill Q & A session with these Questions. Many of the answers were quite impressive. Try comparing the responses of Kids and Adults to some of these questions and brace yourself for surprises. Ready to go for a wild ride?

  1. What is one fear you would like to conquer
  2. If you could rename yourself, what name would you choose
  3. What was your most embarrassing moment
  4. Are there any redeeming qualities to the person you most dislike
  5. What moment from your life would you like to relive if you could
  6. What is your biggest pet peeve
  7. What remains undone that you have wanted to get done for years
  8. Would you live your life any differently if you didn’t care what people thought
  9. If you could give all human beings one virtue, which would it be
  10. Who has inspired you as a mentor, and why
  11. What does your perfect day look like
  12. What makes a house a home
  13. Who’s the most unusual member of your family
  14. Would you rather be smarter, more athletic, or better-looking
  15. Do you live more in the past, present, or future
  16. What quality do you think is most important in marriage
  17. How do you define integrity, and do you have it
  18. What’s the most significant problem facing the world
  19. What are the most important qualities your look for in friends
  20. What is the one goal you hope to accomplish this year
  21. If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk, what would you do
  22. Who are your role models
  23. Which do we need more of justice or forgiveness
  24. What was your most memorable meal ever
  25. What son evokes the strongest memories for you
  26. Which of your ancestors would you most like to meet
  27. When you’re down, what do you do to feel better
  28. Is there only one soul mate for each person
  29. What’s your proudest accomplishment
  30. What would you most like to do for someone if you had the money and time
  31. What do you think is the ideal age
  32. What is the most challenging thing you’ve ever done
  33. Where would you most like to travel to
  34. What’s your dream job
  35. Is science or art more essential to humanity
  36. Is the male or female body more beautiful
  37. Would you rather live by the beach or in the mountains
  38. What’s your favorite quotation
  39. What do you wish you were better at saying “No” to
  40. Would you prefer to be the worst player on a winning team or the best player on a losing team

Let’s Talk Table Topics

All speaking is Public Speaking!

Table Topics is all about revealing the authentic you. It challenges your impromptu speaking skills. Les Brown, someone I respect in the speaking world, has often said, “Once you open your mouth, you tell the world who or what you are.” Sure, you can fake it, but time will take care of that. As honest Abraham Lincoln once said: You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Prepare all you want; however, it all boils down to being in the moment. The more moments you have the better you will become.

If you are passionate about competing to become better at any discipline, you will realize the importance of improving related skills. The first I highly recommend is to become better at listening. Know thy self. Are you an active or passive listener? When you are actively listening, you are fully concentrating on what is said and not passively hearing the speaker’s words. Work on your confidence. It is another required area of development. Although impromptu speaking is quite different from delivering a prepared speech, if you develop the same style you have grown accustomed to using regularly, you will realize there is not much difference between the two disciplines. All speaking is public speaking. They are different but do have a lot in common.

Develop your technique for giving impromptu speeches. Practice adapting rehearsed stories during your five to seven-minute presentations. Keep an active story file. Impromptu speaking is your opportunity to be in the moment. Table Topic questions are usually simple but carefully worded. Remember, all you have is 1 to 2 minutes with a 30-second grace. Practice getting a feel for your 1 to 2 minutes of speaking time. Once you receive the question, do a quick analysis. Does the question require a singular or plural response? Keep it simple don’t overthink the question. What are the KEY words in the question? Be aware and prepared to adjust to the audience you are facing. Take a moment to decipher if you were asked a question or given a statement for comment. That you should do before you utter your first words. Silence is your prerogative.

Clarify your understanding of the question by paraphrasing what you heard, then immediately begin your answer. That should take no more than 30 seconds. Stalling with pleasantries is not going to earn you any points with judges. The judging items in a Toastmasters contest are Content 55pts, Delivery 30pts, and Language 15pts. The point’s distribution clearly shows your Content is critical. Your challenge as a contestant is to make your fewest words go the furthest. Make your audience experience the words you choose. Your comments should target not just the ear but in their hearts. Soundbites are most effective in this segment as they are memorable and they resonate with audiences.

Once you have answered the question, or have stated your position, be anecdotal. Support your answer with a story or statement relevant to your response. Continue to add Content while focusing on your delivery and language. Help your judges to add points to your total score. You should be somewhere around the 2.00-minute mark – an excellent place to have your magic moment. On a scale of 1 to 10, this is where you must deliver your 11. Ask your audience to do something. Challenge them to take some action. You are no longer speaking to their hearts, you are speaking to their hand and feet. You now have roughly 20 seconds to wrap-up or, to summarize and close the deal.

Tell your audience and judges you are about to summarize. Of the many ways to telegraph you are wrapping-up, one of the best I have heard is – In conclusion! said with confidence. Remind your audience of your answer and your position. Don’t use exactly the same words you used initially, vary them a bit. Recall no more than three of your points. Resist the temptation to add additional information. That will only confuse your audience and judges. When you close STOP speaking. It’s over! Develop your own method for handling Table Topic questions with style and authenticity, and you will master not just Table Topic but impromptu and all speaking in general. All speaking is Public Speaking!

Practice Practice Practice

When your speech is in your head, it is not ready for delivery.

Sunset at Pismo Beach!

If ever you were to flag down a cabbie in New York City to ask, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall,” the answer you will most likely receive is practice, practice, practice. And your fare will suddenly double while your cabbie takes the scenic route. However, if you ask Lance Miller, the 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking, how do you practice? He will tell you, “You practice precisely as you deliver your speech on the platform.” The word practice can be a verb or a noun. When used as a verb, you perform an activity or exercise. That skill performed repeatedly or regularly improves or maintains your proficiency. The nouns; doctors and lawyers have practices. While they may never become perfect, they are permanent.

Your approach to practice can determine your success or failure when you are on the platform. Rehearsing your speech in the shower, while driving or lying in bed is not exactly practicing, You are sequencing. You are arranging your thoughts in a particular order, which is useful; however, it is a far cry from practicing. Sequencing places your presentation in your head. When your speech is in your head, it is not ready for delivery. You have to move it from your head to your heart. To avoid that extra step, practice as if you are speaking to an audience. When you practice as you will deliver your presentation, you develop muscle memory, which requires your total body involvement.

Lance also recommends that you should avoid practicing in front of mirrors. The speaker focuses on themselves when they should be focusing on their audience. Speaking to cameras is also a challenge most speakers face when delivering an address over zoom. Recording yourself and analyzing your presentation is far more effective than practicing in front of mirrors. Mirrors can also be a distraction to the speaker while practicing. Your focus will be on yourself and not your audience when you are on the platform. What and how you practice becomes permanent.

Anyone who has attained greatness in their chosen field will tell you it took many hours, days, and years of practice. They also had specific workout routines. They also had different exercises for different days. Before they begin to practice, they knew what to would be focusing on during each practice session. They knew how many times they will practice particular routines. They practice their speech uninterrupted from start to finish. Also, they make sure they practice delivering their presentation to an audience. Adopt those practices. If you don’t have an audience, create one. Chairs, trees, dolls, whatever that will not talk back, works well. Feedback will come in your testing phase. Practice, Practice, Practice but do it right and the day will come when you too will be on your way to the Carnegie Hall of public speaking.

Observing Writing & Speaking

Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes.

The first step to becoming a better writer or speaker is to become a better observer. By our very nature, we are lazy when it comes to observing things and people around us. We readily accept the observation of others. We use generalities instead of little details we discovered ourselves. We also ignore the senses that were touched, the little things that may have left an indelible mark on us subconsciously. As a writer or speaker, the little details we ignored are the ones that count most to our audience. Addressing the minor details will often go a long way in helping us be better observers, better writers, and better speakers.

When last you took a moment to be more observant of your surroundings? By testing your ability to observe, we can greatly improve our living, thinking, and writing. Close your eyes and try to recall the first time you saw your spouse. Do you remember what he or she was wearing? Do you remember the look when you first made eye contact? Or how about the aroma or the shoes that were worn that day, do you remember? My dad, the cop, once told me to be good at his job, you must be a curious observer. Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes. I still remember that tip, as vividly as I remember my mama’s cooking. Mia Angelo, the great poet, writer, and speaker, often said, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. When you write or tell your stories, explore all five senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Work on the feeling s of your audience, and you will bring your characters and your moments of truth back to life.

Using the right words at the right time to express what you saw, heard, and felt can be challenging, but with practice, you can master the art of audience awareness. If you practice reliving and not recalling details of what you saw, heard, and felt, you can transport your audience back to a time and place. As your story is being told, entice your audience to feel some of what you felt. With that approach, you will be far more effective as a speaker. Great speakers often advise, don’t tell them, take them. Get your audience involved. Ask them to do something or engage them with facial expressions, your vocal variety, and your charm. If you can get your audience to react, that’s a good indicator that you are being heard and your message is being delivered.

Observing your audience from a stage is a bit different. While it is critical to observe your audience’s reactions as you deliver your presentation, it can become a distraction. Speakers should consider their tone, content, and language in the preparation phase of their presentation. Know your audience. Delivery, especially in a virtual environment, has its limitations. However, with a little creativity, we can use virtual settings to our advantage. Make connecting with your audience a priority. Stay connected with them from the beginning all the way to the end. Keep in mind great speeches are often forgotten when there is an absence of a call to action at the end. When a call to action is not offered to your audience, they are left to imagine your purpose. Be specific about what you are asking your audience to think, feel or do. What you are asking your audience to do must also be doable.

Practice seeing the unseen, hearing sounds of silence, and the feeling of being touched even when you are alone. And you will know what it’s like to be in tune with your surroundings. And as we observe the little things around us that we so often ignore, we will be inspired to become a better observer, better writer, and a better speaker.

Organizing Your Speech

Just as important is the organizational structure you choose.

It is often said, we speak to be heard, understood, and to be repeated. Topic selection is important. We choose topics we are passionate about. However, just as important is the organizational structure you choose. A well-organized speech enhances the audience’s understanding of your topic. When your speech is well-structured and easy to follow, it is more effective. A clear understanding of the different types of structures and when they are used will help you organize your speeches. The following are some structures you may find useful during your writing and delivery.

CHRONOLOGICAL: Chronologically organized speeches follow a sequence of events. When you speak about events linked together by time, it is best to engage the chronological organization style. Your main points are delivered according to when they happened and could be traced back in time in a chronological speech. Arranging main points in chronological order can help describe historical events to an audience and when the order of events is necessary to understand what you wish to convey. This style is effective when delivering Informative or when delivering demonstrative speeches about a series of events.

TOPICAL:  A topical structure organizes speeches by topics and subtopics. Break your speech into sections that explain major concepts related to your topic, followed by smaller and smaller subtopics. If your speech center’s main points on ideas are more distinct from one another, use a topical organization style. Your main points are developed separately in a topical speech and are generally connected within the introduction and conclusion. In other words, the topical style is crafted around main points and sub-points that are mutually exclusive but related to one another by the thesis. Use the topical style when elements are connected because of their relationship to the whole.

SPATIAL: A spatial structure organizes a speech by geography, the physical structure of the topic, or discusses the impact your topic has upon a region or the world. Spatial also refers to content that covers the physical landscape of a specific location. For example, if you are giving a speech about California, you may organize your presentation to imply movement from the North to the South; or from San Francisco to Monterey. 

CAUSAL: A causal structure organizes speeches to link a cause to an effect or its cause. Casual speech is also a way of talking that you use with people close to and trust. There are different words, phrases, and ways of speaking that you can use with your friends, your family members, and with people who are a similar age, social status, and personality to you.

COMPARATIVE:  A comparative structure organizes speeches by describing two or more objects and their shared and or different attributes. Show how your topic compares to another by examining similarities and differences.

As you select your topic, understand the style you will use to deliver that particular presentation. Develop a well-structured, clear, and organized speaking style, and you will always be heard, understood, and repeated. 

The Power of the Ice-Breaker

Don’t Tell Them -Show Them-Take Them:

Ice Breakers contain all the elements you find in well-crafted speeches. Some of the best speeches I have ever experienced have been ice breakers. Some were never intended to be an ice breaker, but because the speaker used the following principles of good speech writing, the result was a speech that could be a club, contest, or even a World Champion speech winner. Use the following tips from Topic Selection to your Magic Moment as you tell your next story, and you, too, will realize the power of the ice-breaker.

Topic Selection:  Choose a topic you are passionate about. Your presentation should not be all about you. And don’t be the hero. Your story should also have some universal appeal. It could be a single story or a three-story speech. Establish a connection with your audience through your personal stories and real-life events spun into a unique and powerful presentation. Use persuasion and the power of the spoken word effectively. Where possible, use dialogue and you will keep your audience engaged.

Establish Your Speech Purpose Early: Be clear. Are you speaking to inform, entertain, persuade motivate or all of the above. One should be your primary purpose. What do you want your audience to think, feel or do in that crucial minute of silence after hearing your speech. If you have your audience feeling like they are sitting on pins and needles, anxious to take some action, you have achieved your purpose.

Develop your Foundational Statement (FS) : Your foundational statement is a carefully worded sentence, question, or phrase on which your speech is built. The speaker should be able to fit that well-crafted statement on the back of a business card. That statement should be powerful, catchy, and memorable. It should also resonate through the speech from your introduction to the conclusion. Look at speeches and see if you can identify their FS.

Don’t Tell Them–Show Them-Take Them: Be descriptive. Use word pictures to convey your message. If a picture paints a thousand words, paint word pictures. Be concise, be clear, be engaging and be present. Remember, audiences may forget what they saw or what they heard. However, they will seldom forget how they made you feel.

Every Unanswered Question Becomes a Distraction: Answer every question you pose. Don’t leave your audience guessing or hanging. Also, if a conflict is introduced in your presentation, make sure it is resolved. Resolve your Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Timing is everything (For Toastmasters 5- 7 Minute speeches): Write a 6 Minute Speech and Deliver it in 7. Find Your Speaking Rate – Men average 125 – Women 150 Average The number of words in your speech should be between 700 to 780 words. Use single syllable words.

Your Magic Moment: This is the signature moment in your speech. It should also be connected to the flow of your presentation. It should be the most memorable moments in your speech. 

Prepare your next speech using these tips, and you will come to realize the power of the ice breaker.

Your 3 T’s

Every unanswered question will become a distraction

How do you make your presentations linger forever, in the minds and hearts of audiences? Many of us Toastmasters use the three T’s formula to prepare our presentations. The first T is you tell them what you are going to tell them. The second is you tell them. And the third is you tell them what you told them. But do you know that formula dates back to over 2,500 years? Yes, that formula has been tried, tested, and proven. It has withstood the test of time. Rooted in Aristotle’s Art of rhetoric, written in 350 BC it is still valid today. Aristotle believed that the foundation of good rhetoric must include attentiveness to the Ethos, Logos, and Pathos of the presenter. The famed Greek philosopher also believed that when you focus on the three T’s and present with Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, you can appeal to your audiences and persuade them with power.

Ethos is your personal credibility; the faith people have in your integrity. It may be because you are recognized as an expert in the particular field you are addressing. Sometimes it is because of your experience. You may know a thing or two because you have seen a thing or two. Why should your audience listen to you speaking on that particular topic? They will because of your Ethos. As you develop your speech or presentation, avoid leaving what I call loose ends; unanswered questions. Every unanswered question will become a distraction from your message. If your audience still has a myriad of questions after you have delivered your speech, your clarity or credibility may be an issue. When your story may produce doubt, leave it out.

Then there is Pathos, the speaker’s ability to connect to the audience’s feelings. Speakers should target the parts of the body they are after when they are presenting. Sometimes it will be the head, other times the heart. Showing that you have the ability to empathize is important. The ability to understand and share the feelings of others takes practice. To bring your audience into your speech or presentation at an emotional level takes careful planning. Your ability to connect with your audience increases tremendously when you get your audience emotionally involved. However, as a presenter, you should know when you are going after the head. You should also know when you have achieved your goal. The same goes for when you are after the heart. Strike the perfect balance. If you are all head or all heart, you will lose your audience.

Logos is the substance of your presentation; the words, the organization, the logic. It is the appeal of your presentation based on reasoning. Is the presentation logical and well-supported? That is one of the questions the presenter must answer. One of the Toastmasters projects I have always enjoyed is entitled: “How to Say It” That project focuses on the three C’s. Your speech must be Crisp, Clear, and Concise. Words are powerful. The selection of your words is crucial. Words have the ability to stir imagination into the audience’s mind. Combine the power of your Ethos, Pathos, and Logos with the clarity of the three T’s, and your presentations will live on in the hearts and minds of your audiences forever.

The Competing Occasion

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation

Every speaking occasion is different. Every time you open your mouth to speak, you are judged – on or off the platform. But what about when you are speaking competitively? On those occasions, both speaker and speech are judged by individuals with different levels of expertise. Therefore, you must provide reasons to persuade your judges and audience to favor your presentation over someone else’s. Competitive speakers must know what motivates both their judges and their audience. The competing occasion demands that your topic selection must be appropriate for that particular audience and occasion.

How are great speeches created? They are created by the speaker having a clear understanding of their topic. Speakers should also know how they will get audiences to listen, be entertain while informing, and how they can make their presentation memorable. Speakers must also know exactly when they have achieved their goal and not overstate their case to undermine their credibility. Good sales-persons know exactly when to go for the head, heart, and your pocket-book. Speakers must also know their points of attack and when they have achieved their purpose, and it’s time to close the deal.

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation. Lead with your strongest point or argument. Get to the point. First impressions leave an indelible impression on audiences. Statistics show in your first minute; a speaker can win-over or lose their audience. Speakers should hint where they are going or plan to take you in the first minute of your presentation. In that first minute, you want your audience to think silently, come with me – l will tell you more. That curiosity you arouse in your opening will serve as the impetus for the rest of your presentation.

D’Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, advises that you make brevity a part of your speaking style. He’s also an advocate for writing out your speeches, not to be read, but for them to be edited and re-edited. He stresses – “Great Speeches are not written, they are re-written.” Whether you choose to write first and then deliver or deliver and then write, it’s OK. When you write your speech, you can focus on your choice of words as you re-edit your speech. As you check your sentence construction. As you see visually, if you can deliver each sentence with fewer words.

David also reminds speakers that we should compete to become better. It’s not all about winning a trophy. It is about competing at a high level and taking the time to know as much as you can about your audience and their expectations. Find your voice. Don’t speak too fast or too slowly. Don’t try to sound like someone else. Be yourself. Use strategic pauses for emphasis. Practice enunciating each word clearly. Make sure you have a memorable or magic moment in your presentation. Your conclusion is just as important as your opening. Recall some of the main points of your presentation. Leave enough time to summarize and emphasize your take away message. The quality of your performance and not the trophy will determine if you made a winning presentation when your speaking occasion is competing.

2020 is Hindsight Finally

The future is now

For years we have said in jest 2020 is hindsight. And finally, it has now come to pass. However, for those who live life looking back, it will come to stay. Every year is a good year considering the alternative. But life is where the rubber meets the road. Before stepping forward into another year of your speaking journey, it is a good idea not to get stuck looking back but to review the feedback you received from your mentors, coaches, and trainers. Now is a good time to review what worked and what didn’t as you move forward to make 2021 a year of speaking excellence.

Feedback has played an important role in my public speaking journey. I still review many of the comments I received from when I first started my journey twenty-four years ago. I look back at those remarks to see if I have grown. I look back to be reminded of the bad habits I corrected and the good ones I must continue to develop. It is easy for habits, both good and bad, to creep into your presentations when you’re growing as a speaker. When you stop speaking for a few days, you will know. Stop for a few more weeks; your audience will know. Stop for a few more weeks, and everybody on the planet will know. A constant review of your past will lead you to a brighter future. Looking back, but don’t stay back. Keep moving forward.

The comments you receive from evaluators are different from the feedback you’ll get from your mentors, trainers, and coaches. Although we love to hear what helps us build confidence as a speaker, there comes a time when only the truth matter. The comments that will help you most are the raw truth. And sometimes, that truth may be too painful to stomach. Anyone can stroke your ego, but it’s the truth that will help you to excel. Dana LaMon – the 1992 World Champion of Public Speaking, said it best when he visited our District 4 in 2007 – He said, “I am stuck on excellence. Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results, and if you have improved or advanced, just a little you have excelled”.

There are no shortcuts to achieving excellence in public speaking. For some, it takes baby steps. It’s a long and winding road, with many milestones to record along the way. Enjoy the successes, but it’s the failures that will drive you to achieve your goals. When you can say to yourself with conviction, it doesn’t matter what failures I have had in the past; what matters most is what I will make happen in the future, and the future is now; you are on your road to excellence. Let’s ring in the new year with a new challenge. My new challenge in 2021 will be podcasting. What’s going to be yours? Let’s begin the New Year with a brighter outlook as we wave goodbye to 2020, to let it remain in hindsight, finally.

My Little Christmas Tree

My Little Christmas Tree

Can you remember your first Christmas tree? Was it real or artificial? My first was really artificial. As kids back in the country of my birth; Trinidad, my sisters and I would explore the nearby pastures to find a broken limb from a tree. We would paint whatever we foraged green, sometimes white, add tinsel for flitter, cotton for snow, some homemade decorations, and “hallah”; we had our Christmas tree. When the celebration was over, the dried-up tree was put out to the pasture from where it came. And so began my Christmas tree tradition, which continues slightly different to this day.

Christmas tree traditions began long before the advent of Christianity. Trees that remained green all year round had a special meaning for people in winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, it was customary to hang evergreen boughs over their doors and windows in ancient times. People believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illnesses.

In my early teenage years, one of my neighbors, nicknamed Dad-dad; a recluse, who I thought was as old as dirt and quite scary before I got to know him, taught me how to make my first real fake Christmas tree. He took me to a nearby hardware store, where we bought rope, green die, wire, and a mop-stick. With a hand drill and a vice, we made our branches every evening over a three month period. We made over fifty branches for every wrung of that tree. Dad-dad went from Scrooge to my Santa. We had the best Christmas tree on the block. After that Christmas, our tree was carefully placed in a box. It was displayed the following year and for many more Christmases that followed.

That homemade Christmas tree lasted many years until we got a real artificial tree from the USA, which was metallic. It shone and glittered both night and day. It was the most beautiful and the most expensive Christmas tree in the neighborhood. Lights added more glitter to the tree. However, it harbored a shocking secret. You may recall the tree was metallic, right? While the lights looked beautiful. A caution sign – don’t touch on the tree – had to be hung on it, not for decorations, but a good reason – the tree had a short. For fun, we would dare each other and friends to touch the tree to get a tingle, which we called – the shocking feeling of Christmas.

When I moved to America, I began a new tradition – going to the Christmas tree farm. Have you ever visited a Christmas–tree–farm where Christmas trees are raised like chickens. My first visit with my kids took me back to the pastures of my childhood days. These we not dead or broken trees; they were all very much alive. We selected our tree from the lot, which we loaded onto the roof of our car. It was a joy to see the kids start their Christmas tree tradition, and life come full circle. Today, my Christmas tree tradition is much simpler. Now I hang an ornament on my kids’ trees to celebrate each year and the memories of all my real and artificial little Christmas trees.