Recently, I was asked to go along with a friend to a Toastmasters meeting. Despite a 40-some-year career involving lots of public speaking, I had never been. It’s not that I wasn’t interested. I assumed it would be worthwhile to turn up at a Toastmasters function and learn more about the art and science of public speaking. I’ve long been interested in articles and workshops on this topic and the related focus that Toastmaster’s develops towards leadership skill building. Yet, for one reason or another, I never followed through by turning up at a meeting. But, a few weeks, my friend was going to a Toastmaster meeting for the first time herself, and wanted a little support. She was rather persuasive about the fact that I just had to go. Since “my friend” in this case is my wife, I agreed.
Toastmasters International has a global presence in the world. It has 292,000 members in 14,350 clubs in 122 countries. Meetings are designed in a “learn-by-doing” format. The basic goals are improved speaking and leadership skills along with confidence gained from repeated exposures to their no-pressure atmosphere.
My First Meeting
It was good fun. We enjoyed the local club members and the way the meeting was conducted. We found the experience beneficial and entertaining.
However, while I was sitting back, minding my own business during the meeting, I was (despite being a mere visitor) suddenly called upon for an impromptu speech. This was during what is called the "Tabletop" section of the meeting. I don’t even remember the exact question but I had plenty of opinions on the topic and took advantage of the opportunity to share my opinions with the group. In doing so, I made references to ideas and points made by earlier speakers.
This impromptu seemed to go over well enough. I got laughs, lots of head nods and even applause, though I admit everyone gets applause at Toastmaster’s. But, I got something else as well - an invitation to compose "Tabletop" questions for the following week’s session. (One person in the audience always gets this assignment for the next meeting.)
Naturally, I seized the day, so to speak. I eagerly accepted, thinking that this would be an opportunity to share my passion about the importance of a REAL wellness perspective on life, on a secular perspective on things and my views of local issues. I would choose a theme from the four “REAL” elements or dimensions of this quality of life concept.
I decided to frame all the Tabletop questions around the “L” dimension of “REAL” wellness, namely, liberty or personal freedoms. The theme for the next session was “Winter in Tampa Bay.” This was perfect for my politics, sex and religion agenda - I would frame questions around “the climate” for freedom in Florida and America.
My Tabletop Questions Ready to Go
I wrote eight questions and a little introduction to the questions. Here is my introduction including a few simple format directions, as required by the Toastmaster tradition:
In the course of my long association of 7 days with Toastmasters, I have come to appreciate the “Tabletopics” tradition as a tool for promoting articulate ad-libbing. This tradition clearly makes future occasions when called to ad-lib less stressful and more enjoyable.
Today's topics were selected by your topicmaster - that's me, to support a theme we all care about but view in different ways. The theme “The Winter in Tampa Bay” and my favorite theme is “the climate for freedom” in our country - so the questions explore your own views on personal freedom or individual liberties here and elsewhere in our country.
Ready? Take a deep breath and get ready to be remarkable!
I proceeded to draw names from a coffee cup to respond to the following questions. Each person called had two minutes to respond to the question assigned.
1. Should Florida voters follow the lead of Colorado citizens in legalizing possession and use of small quantities of marijuana?
2. Should Florida citizens with licenses to carry concealed weapons be allowed to take firearms into movie theaters, or anywhere they bloody choose?
3. Do you consider the post-1954 Pledge of Allegiance to be a genuine, heartfelt affirmation of patriotism that unites citizens, or a divisive prayer that violates the Constitution's separation of church/state and unfairly pressures a sizable segment of the population to affirm what they do not believe - that America is any more under a god than are the other 194 nations on this earth?
4. Should women be allowed to sunbathe topless on Florida beaches?
5. Is Edward Snowden, who released tons of NAS secret information, a hero or a traitor, or something in-between these extremes?
6. Should a woman have the right in America to terminate her pregnancy for any reason whatsoever?
7. Should the 1% & other super - wealthy in U.S. be taxed a lot more than they are?
8. Can humanity on its own, without supernatural guidance but with a little help from poetry, art and social vision, create and sustain a reasonably good and decent society? In other words, can we be good without god (s)?
Those called on, much to my surprise, responded to the questions pretty much as I would have done so. It was all quite stimulating and everyone seemed to think it was a splendid meeting. I joined Toastmasters (as did my wife). If I’m still a member of Toastmasters in good standing in a few more weeks, I’m going to volunteer to give a speech on politics, sex and religion in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, I need to do some research on these matters.
All good wishes. Look on the bright side and be well.