Walking back to your seat

Nothing shows up problems with your speaking style like table topics. My last table topic revealed an interesting problem.

During a table topics session, in a Toastmasters meeting, members are asked to speak about a given topic without any preparation. The session is run by the Topicsmaster who prepares a series of topics related to a theme.

The first time I did a table topic the theme was “headlines”. Participants were given a headline from a recent newspaper article and could choose to talk about the story or make something up. My headline was Keep the risk of foraging to scratches and stings, by far the most obscure headline of the night, and still the most difficult topic I have received.

I don’t thing I’ve ever done anything that has pushed me so far out of my comfort zone. I could feel my voice wavering. I could feel myself shaking. I rambled on about the London tabloids until I reached my minimum time. Obviously my performance had been awful, but I was so happy I didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the night.

I’d like to think I’ve got better at table topics since then. I realised the audience couldn’t see me shaking, and then I stopped shaking entirely. I’ve started to talk beyond the minimum time, and I’ve got used to constructing a beginning, middle and end.

I’m constantly receiving (and occasionally incorporating) recommendations, and I received a very good one last meeting.


At the end of my speeches I pull a confused, apologetic, relieved face as I walk back to my seat. The best representation I can find is the image of George W. Bush above. You can see it at the end of my first two speech videos. But it’s particularly noticeable after table topics.

The audience is still focused on you as you walk back to your seat. During this time you should still be performing. It’s natural to feel glad everything is all over, or slightly embarrassed by the rubbish you’ve just been spouting. But letting these emotions show can undermine your speech. It takes away credibility from the “expert” advice you’ve just offered. It shows that you were nervous. It is essentially an apology for speaking.

Once someone points something out to you you start seeing examples everywhere. Experienced speakers walk off the stage shaking their heads and cursing themselves under their breath because they made a mistake. Some people sigh with relief as soon as the green light (indicating minimum time) turns on.

Make sure your speech has a strong ending. Don’t be in a rush to sit down. Savour the moment. Shake hands with the toastmaster. Hold your head up high and walk back to your seat smiling.

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