Answering a difficult question

Throughout my career I have been able to be in front of audiences and have no fear of speaking, but wanted to improve myself so I joined toastmasters about 6 months now.  I have given 5 prepared speeches, have been assigned several meeting roles such as grammarian, speech evaluator, timer, etc.   and I have also participated in the impromptu speaking part of the meeting called table topics.  Being similar to an interview, I relish giving the questions, but have found that I am somewhat  not so good at being asked the question and answer it….on Saturday, I was actually “stumped” by the question and feel like it was a learning moment for me!

Our theme was “What Lies Ahead” and the toastmaster gave several references to what this could mean and personalized the theme for him.  We had two great speeches and then the Table Topics part of the meeting arrived.  Our Table Topics master started by asking the question and then calling on volunteers to answer .  Don’t remember the first question but there was a volunteer that answered it.  Don’t exactly remember what 2nd question was but it was something like “what strength or quality has people complimented you on“.  No one volunteered, therefore the Table Topics master called on me.  I was hesitant at first, but did get up to answer the question.  I was thinking as people were clapping and I got to the stage, I have no ideal what people compliment me on. I stood on the stage (we meet in a upstairs chapel of the church, where there is a small stage). and almost froze…literally!!  I couldn’t think of a single thing.

I knew I had to speak for at least 1 minute (table topic guidelines), and I was trying to think the last time I was complimented?  I really don’t take compliments well (don’t most people?), and couldn’t remember any.  The only thing I can think of how some people appreciate me going out of my way to help them.  I thought how can I fill 60 seconds with that…after a few nervous seconds, I started out by trying to say something funny to “warm up” the audience and mentioned how people complimented me on my good looks.  No one laughed (does that mean they don’t think I’m good looking?  Just joking!!) so I was even more nervous of how to talk about helping others.  I used some stories of when I was in Japan on the train trying to help, but I know the words came out weak and unsure.  The story I told probably wasn’t viewed on as me “helping”, but I was at a loss of how to save this story.  I bumbled on, not sure if I made any sense and mercifully, I somehow managed to talk for about a minute…I walked down off the stage when I was finished wondering what the heck did I just say??

After the meeting I confided to the table topics master that I was not sure if I spoke well enough, it was a real tough question for me.  When I got home, I looked on toastmaster international website and found an interesting article on how to answer difficult table topic questions.  One piece of advice is to shift the question to an area I know something about or I am more comfortable.  Being in job search mode right now, I have developed an answer for the always asked “tell me what your strengths are” question…I could have easily talked about a couple of these AND it would have been great practice in front of a friendly audience that could even critique me, give me feedback on how to improve.

Oh well, it was a good lesson for me to learn, on how to answer the difficult question.

By the way…visitors are always welcomed at my toastmaster’s club…we meet on Saturday mornings from 9am to 10:15am at Rose City Methodist Church (5830 NE Alameda Street, Portland – near Sandy and NE 57th)


One response to “Answering a difficult question

  1. Scott,

    You are an excellent listener. I have always felt you have a special intensity when you are being told a story or are asked for advice. You make great eye contact, your facial expressions reflect understanding of the words and meaning of what is being said. Your ability to absorb and summarize what you have heard encourages the speaker to clarify or move on in the discussion.
    If you get this tough question again, I suggest you consider my feedback.
    Renee Cannon

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