On Having Too Little to Say

March 16, 2021

I volunteered to take the stage at a Toastmasters meeting at the Sheraton Tower to challenge myself in impromptu speaking. The Table Topics Master randomly chose a topic for me, giving me two minutes to discuss it. This form of communication requires spontaneous speaking without prior preparation. About 50 people were staring at me. A timer in front of me was tracking the duration of my speech. I opened by asking, "Let's see how many of you consider yourselves to be leaders. If you are a leader, please raise your hand." Roughly half the audience raised their hands.

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I set the tone by describing a project in my MBA program where I led by demonstrating how to accomplish tasks rather than blaming others and dictating what they should do. As I began discussing leadership through example rather than micromanagement, I found that I had run out of things to say. Anxiety flooded me as my mind blanked. Glancing at the timer seated in front of the stage, I noticed that only thirty seconds had passed. The audience's eyes were fixed on me, and as a minute elapsed, I decided it was time to formulate a satisfying conclusion. I ended by encouraging everyone to strive to be excellent leaders and to practice public speaking. My speech fell short, concluding at one minute and thirty seconds, not even reaching the two-minute mark.

If I could turn back time, I would have prepared in advance. The topic was unpredictable, and I had no way of anticipating it. However, if I had cultivated a habit of reflective thinking, I could have been better prepared. I would read more books and newspapers and maintain a database of quick-reference information. I'd gather a diverse set of life experiences to share compelling stories when the opportunity arose. Daily writing would enhance my skills; it serves as both a form of retention and a source of inspiration for me. If life isn't offering anything new or interesting, then there's nothing new to learn. While I’ve internalized some speaking guidelines and structures, including an opening statement, supporting arguments, and illustrative examples, more practice would allow me to express myself more freely.

Generally speaking, I need to work hard and practice more so that I'm not left with too little to say. Spending time gathering ideas, enriching my life, and learning new vocabulary could help me express myself more effectively and inspire others to take action and become great leaders. Initially, it might be challenging to incorporate these principles into my speeches, but persistence is key. Success is only a matter of time. It's better to have more to say than to fall short; articulate and fluent speakers are often perceived as stronger leaders. In an age marked by fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), my commitment to improving as a leader remains steadfast. I admire those who can lead effectively and contribute to making our society better for current and future generations.

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Victor Leung, who blog about business, technology and personal development. Happy to connect on LinkedIn