Toastmasters, Table Topics, and the Talk of the Town

Table topics. It was a term I had never heard before. At least not until I attended my first Toastmaster’s meeting six weeks ago. I was planning on visiting a few different clubs, just like the website recommended, and see which one was a good fit for me. I was also planning on keeping my mouth shut until I felt comfortable around the members.

This is probably hard to believe, but I always get nervous when I meet people for the first time. Especially in a professional setting like a networking or business group. The thought of going to a Toastmasters meeting filled me with anxiety, even though the website made it clear that I didn’t need to participate in any capacity. I was welcome just to observe.

However, I was still a bundle of nerves when I got in my car to drive to the meeting site. I should mention that I also get high anxiety when I am going to a new destination. I calmed myself down, reminding myself that the meeting location was only about ten minutes from my house. What could possibly go wrong?

I got road raged on the way to the meeting. It wasn’t too serious, but it was enough to shred what was left of my frail confidence and rattle my tattered nerves even more. I almost turned around to go home and hide under my bed. But then I realized this jerk would have achieved his goal. So, I put on my big girl pants and headed to the meeting location.

I pulled up in front of a large, austere, and intimidating office building. Once again I wondered if I should just turn around and go home. Hiding under my bed seemed like a pretty good idea right then, especially after enjoying a nice, relaxing Chardonnay. I took a deep breath and got out of the car.

There was a sign in the lobby instructing visitors to check in on the 6th floor. I took the elevator and landed on the 6th floor just as a major hot flash hit. I walked into a small group of strangers red-faced and sweating. What a way to make an entrance! I wished I had gone home.

Until the meeting started. What a great group of people, and so much fun! I actually relaxed and began enjoying myself. Finally, they introduced something called Table Topics. Volunteers are asked a random question, and are given one-two minutes to answer it. It challenges your ability to think on your feet and come up with an engaging topic as well. To add to the challenge, the rest of the group votes on who gave the best talk.

Two people volunteered. When they finished, the Toastmaster asked for another volunteer. No one spoke up. Everyone looked around the room. Throwing caution to the wind, I volunteered. When I was done, we voted. I was feeling pretty proud of myself just for getting up in front of the group, but I almost fell out of my chair when it was announced that I won first place for best Table Topics! I got a ribbon and everything.

I participated in Table Topics the following meeting. And won the prize again. The following meeting, I won again. What a way to gain some confidence! All three of those ribbons are hanging on my wall in my office next to my desk where I can see them everyday.

Those ribbons represent how I went from being terrified to being the talk of the town. Or at least around the conference table. I learned a lot from that first day. First of all, don’t let a bully get in the way of your goal, even if he does road rage you. Next, don’t judge a building by it’s cover. A cold building can be warm and welcoming inside. I also learned not to worry so much, but we’ll see how that goes. Finally, I learned that when you are yourself and you speak from the heart, magic happens. Don’t you agree?

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