Surprise questions; practice with Table Topics
Most answers to Table Topics questions can be answered in one of a very few ways. First, we have to decide . . . what to answer.
Do we want to answer the question – or to answer some other question? If we’d like to answer something else, again we can decide between two alternatives; adjust the question or divert to a different question? We’ll be seeing a lot of both techniques during this election season.
If we decide to answer the question as given, we can organize our answer into one of four common patterns, depending on the question.
A geographic answer is appropriate for “Describe your favorite vacation, real or imagined;” and a chronological one for “How did you learn to ride a bike?” We can use a cause/effect answer scheme for “Why do headlines reflect only bad news?” and a compare/contrast approach to answer “Do you think the kids of today have it too easy in school?”
If we elect to answer a different question we can rephrase the question; “Should we pass the city sales tax? To be fair we should tax all small businesses instead of just massage parlors and smoke shops. That would be fair, and just – and would raise more for municipal projects. We can start by . . .”
The other major technique is the favorite of politicians; answer the question you want to address. “I’m glad you asked about my views on planting seedlings along city streets. It speaks to the importance of civic responsibility and accountability for elected officials. For example, as Mayor I’ve been a strong proponent of transparent government . . . So, in summary, Civic Government’s transparency leads to increased accountability. And planting seedlings along the streets provides an excellent example of Civic Pride which can be executed responsibly, and in a manner that promotes accountability through transparency. Mr. Topics Master.”
Either diversion to answer a different question needs good transitions away from the question and back to it. Research indicates that, college students at least, rarely recognize that the question wasn’t answered if the transitions to and from it are enthusiastic and prompt.
We think it’s worthwhile, and it’s certainly fun to practice the diversion technique. And it can help make us better listeners.
Prior to a meeting we ask our mentor to evaluate how we discuss peanut butter, for instance, when we draw a TT question. Then, regardless of the question, we craft a transition to peanut butter. After brief remarks we transition back to the original question before we close.
Learning a new impromptu technique, developing an understanding of how politicians avoid journalists’ tar pits and quicksand, and having fun, all during one Table Topics session. What’s not to like?