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Writing and Thinking On Your Feet

I’ve been thinking about what to write about on here throughout this past week. Knowing I had other deadlines and meetings this week, I had little time left to dedicate to writing a post. My mom visited this weekend (love you, Mom!) so I wasn’t planning to spend time blogging Saturday and Sunday either. A little over half of my heart has been telling me it’s okay to miss this week.

But the smaller part of my heart (that happens to be more ambitious) reminds me of my intention with blogging every week – this is my non-negotiable writing practice.

Even though I write in many facets throughout the day, the blog is my practice court, meant for helping me form consistency, establish structure, and improve on telling a story.

What I didn’t realize until I did start putting pen to paper on this draft is that my blogging practice is also challenging my ability to think on my feet – the theme that has been smacking me in the head all week long.

On Tuesday mornings before my work day, I sit like an eager student in a room full of Toastmasters, taking in inspiration. I’m also waiting anxiously to be called on for Table Topics.

Table Topics takes up about 10 minutes or so of a Toastmasters meeting. The Topicsmaster thinks up a list of questions based on the theme of the week and calls on members randomly to come to the front of the room and answer the question. The member then gives their answer in a 1- to 2-minute speech. No, we don’t know the questions ahead of time.

It’s an opportunity for new members to get uncomfortable, to dive in, to practice.

The last two weeks, the questions have been based on politics. My least favorite and least understood topic of all topics.

This week, I spoke for 48 seconds about why I should be dictator of the world. I sat down unsatisfied, because I didn’t even hit the time qualification of one minute. After taking my seat, I thought about all the things I could’ve said, the response I wish I would’ve had. I felt like an idiot.

The best part about Toastmasters, so far, is that they don’t let you leave feeling like an idiot. After Tuesday’s meeting, a veteran member named Bill pulled me aside and gave me some pointers.

  • We’re aware of the theme of the meeting a week ahead of time. Collect some memories and discussion points on the topic internally before Tuesday morning.
  • When you’re asked a question, repeat the question out loud and buy yourself some time to think over it. Then spit out what you already thought of on the topic, given that it’s likely related to the question. Maybe it has a relevant spin. Either way, you’re buying your brain a few more seconds.
  • Finally, answer the question the best you can.
  • Now you’ve said enough to show you have some say on the matter. Your brain has had a minute to think over what it really needs to say. You’re less likely now to leave the conversation thinking about what you wish you would have said.

“It’s this ability to think on your feet that comes up so often in life,” Bill said.

Yes, right on, Bill. The ability to think on your feet.

I’ve always thought it was speaking that I hated, but Bill brought up an interesting point. Speaking encompasses many skills – eye contact, body language, tactfulness, authoritative voice – and, the ability to think on your feet. This is actually trips me up, makes me fumble my words, scramble for my thoughts, and, ultimately, walk away wishing I had said something else.

I can prepare and rehearse until the end of time, but ask me a question off script and I lose it.

Bill was kind enough to point me to an article written by another Toastmaster for the Arizona Republic. You can check out the full article here, but a few bite-sized thoughts I took away include:

  • Know your audience.
  • Assume the questions they’ll have.
  • Know what’s important to them.
  • Keep those buzzwords in mind when you speak.

My boss emphasizes this with our department as we prepare to present at meetings. She’s good at assuming the questions the owners will ask and encourages us to be prepared, to think about what results are important to which owner.

Yet, I still fixate on rehearsing the script.

Kyle likes to ask questions. The other night while I was deep into a fictional book about two teenage BFFs in the 70s sneaking out to a high school party, he asked me in all seriousness: “Isn’t it weird that drugs are illegal in the United States? Have you ever thought about that?”

Honestly Kyle, I think it’s 8pm, and I thought hard enough today so now I want to create pictures in my head about a fictional world from the 70s.

But really, honestly Kyle, never once have I thought about that. So why should I have to answer? Why do we have to discuss this when I don’t have anything to say on it?

Since I know I can count on my husband to ask me challenging questions at any time of day, I’m going to have to see his curiosity as a challenge for myself rather than something I let annoy me. It only annoys me because I doubt my ability to think on my feet.

So that big part of my heart that’s been telling me to take the week off from blogging? It’s not telling me I need a break. It’s not really telling me that I don’t have time. It’s telling me not to write this week because I don’t have a topic. Because I don’t know what I’d say. Because nothing is pressing me this week.

Because I’d have to think on my feet.

Well, Blog, challenge accepted.

My feet always have something to say, it’s my head that keeps them from thinking out loud.

It’s funny, because I always thought that was part of the beauty with writing. You can edit yourself, revise, go back and type in the things you wanted to in just the right way. You’d never have to think on your feet, because you can change your words as you form your thoughts.

But if you’re blogging on a weekly schedule, in real time, no post-batching, I guess you are thinking (or writing) on your feet.

I’ll go ahead and hit publish now, and consider the challenge as a win for this week. 😉

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