Years of practicing impromptu speaking through Table Topics saved me one Tuesday afternoon. I joined Toastmasters in 2005 and continue to be very active. For those of you that are unfamiliar with a Toastmasters meeting, one of the sections is called Table Topics. Table Topics allows a person to practices their impromptu speaking. They’re called up in front of the group, asked a question, and they must speak for 1 to 2 minutes on that topic.
This last week that training saved my presentation’s life. There were three of us presenting different topics at a meeting. I had talked to one of the presenters that morning and we made arrangements for him to go first and I would follow, playing off his topic. As I sat in the meeting listing to the MC, I realized he was starting to introduce me as the first speaker. As he was talking, my mind was racing trying to figure out how to change the opening to my presentation. During the minute between realizing that I was going first and the MC inviting me up, I had rewritten the first few minutes of my presentation. After the formal presentations, I talked with several of the audience members and received positive feedback about my presentation. No one knew I had to rewrite the first few minutes on the fly.
Thursday night of the same week, I was quietly sitting in a meeting when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up to see it was the MC that I have known for a couple of years. He whispered in my ear, “The third speaker did not show up; do you have something that you could use to fill 10 minutes? Thanks, I knew you would.” and walked off. Fortunately I had five minutes to come up with a topic that fit the situation and customize the speech for the audience. Even though it wasn’t one of the best speeches I have given, the audience interaction was great and I got a few laughs.
What allowed me to pull off these two speeches were the knowledge of the topic and the years of practice answering Table Topics questions in Toastmasters. To be good at speaking and presenting, two factors are a must. First be an expert on the topic you speak or present on. This gives you a level of comfort that allows you to appear at ease on the stage. Second is the answer to the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Find a safe place to practice and get feedback. I have never found a better place than Toastmasters to practice your skills and your ideas. It has saved me from many embarrassing moments on stage. Here’s to your success as a presenter and a Toastmaster.