“It does not need to be true, just say whatever,” Alice (not her real name), says when giving tips about how to approach Table Topics, the improvised speeches that keep up at night most fresh Toastmasters.
She means well: She wants to make it look easier, as if hinting: “Don’t worry, it does not need to be about you!”
This advice however often leads to weak and boring performances. After all: How could any audience benefit from listening to something even the speaker does not believe?
Here’s what I suggest instead: “Don’t worry about the facts!”
It sounds similar to “It does not need to be true”, but it’s not the same.
As Neil Gaiman explains in the introduction to his collection of essays “The View From the Cheap Seats” why he walked away from journalism to become a fiction writer:
“I did not want to be nailed to the truth; or to be more accurate, I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts.”
I admit: When you’re asked to answer a Table Topic question, giving an answer that holds some truth for you, that you care about, is much more challenging than saying “whatever”. You might be judged for your opinion. You might show your weak spot. You might end up short on time, not being to finish your thought.
But: The extra risk and effort will be more than compensated by the connection you’ll build with us, your audience. We recognize when you speak from the heart. We long for it. To tell the truth – only then do things get interesting.
Besides: Isn’t it more useful for you to practice saying what you want to say, rather than “whatever”?