What an incredible journey of self-exploration this year was at Toastmasters! If I were to share what I did for the Table Topics contest differently, I can give one and only one answer- I learned to be true to myself. I diligently practiced several quotes, read motivational stories profusely, and also reflected upon a lot of incidents of my life that I could share on the stage if relevant. And yet, I struggled because I was always caught off-guard by the element of surprise inherent in speaking off-the-cuff. 

Honestly, the fear of the unknown had always been so overpowering that even after six years of being a Toastmaster, I could count the number of table topics speeches I had given on my fingers. It was also the primary reason behind my participation in the contest; I had to take that dive to elevate myself. I think this year was even more challenging given how the contest had gone virtual and how it was quite unsettling to deliver a speech to a camera punch-hole. 

Nevertheless, there is a saying- hope remains so long as the company is true, and this feat was no different to me. There were times my Toastmaster friends believed in me more than I did myself. We practiced table topics sessions every day, from ways we can contradict a saying to making speeches more interactive and engaging over Zoom. Most of all, we focused on identifying keywords of the quote to understand the meaning and building content over the first thought the quote triggered. One contest-specific thing we did was to categorize quotes into themes and practiced speeches so that it was easy to connect to any topic common to them. 

All this while, I also made sure I did not overwhelm myself because eventually, I was to work on my spontaneity and not on developing content. So I made sure before every contest that my mind was blank and fully focused on the present. Often that made me jittery because the pressure of the contest would envelop my thoughts, but embracing this feeling was also what gave me the final win. In fact, during the district finale, my last thought before entering the speaking room in Zoom was- ‘I am dead nervous but anyone in my shoes would feel the same way so why should I be feeling any different?’ 

Because I accepted myself, I was able to give my best shot. 

Asira Khanal, District Table Topics Winner 2019/20

Published in Humans of D41. Also published in Inkspire Issue 4. Click here for the full newsletter.

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