Table Topics Master Murphy Under Islay’s Spotlight

Area H37 Table Topics contest winner Chris Murphy shares his thoughts about the recent contest in this interview with Toastmasters Division H PR Manager and fellow member of Tunbridge Wells Speaker Club, Islay O’Hara.

Why did you decide to enter?

I entered the contest to get better. Winning the 2020 District 91 South Table Topics contest, earlier this year, was the beginning of my journey. There are two key events which prompted me to enter again this year. Firstly, I attended a webinar given by five-time D71 Table Topic champion David Jones, where I realised that I had more to learn.

Secondly, I delivered probably the worst Table Topics speech I’d ever given at my local club (Tunbridge Wells Speakers) shortly after my win, and a club member teasingly said, “how the mighty have fallen” and “you are only as good as your last table topic.” We all laughed together but those words struck a chord with me, prompting me to continue my learning journey and enter the contest to push myself further by competing against the best.

Table topics is all about spontaneous speaking, can you prepare? How do you prepare?

This is an interesting question. Of course, no two table topics are ever the same. The insights and thoughts we draw upon to answer the question are constantly changing, depending on what is going on in our lives and the world around us.

I have thought about how to structure my response. By this, I mean am I going to use a chronological structure? Or storytelling, ie beginning, middle, end. Will I deconstruct a topic? Or present two sides of the argument and conclude?

When I prepared for the District contest, I practised a great deal. This time I focussed more on my frame of mind. I felt good, well-rested, a little nervous, but my mind was alive with ideas and I felt confident about accessing those ideas.

What advice would you give to those preparing for a spontaneous speaking contest?

To breathe. Breathe whilst the contest chair is asking the question, so that you can calmly listen to the question being asked. Then just start talking, even if you are not sure what you are going to say. Calm your mind, feel grounded, and draw on your ideas and contextualise into your potential structures. If you are truly stuck then simply ask yourself a question out loud. That way you then have to answer the question and that gets you talking.

What has been the biggest benefit to you from entering contests?

Professionally, as a speaking mentor, the contests I have won provide proof of my ability and experience, and add to my credibility as I add the contests to my CV. Personally, contests and competing against the best in my club, the area, the Division and the District pushes me harder and encourages me to dig deeper. I always learn and grow as a result.

Congratulations Chris and best of luck in the Division contest on 28th November.

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