Don't panic when faced with a tough topic in speaking
If you were to invite me to your house for dinner and I immediately took on a look of disgust and commented how dirty your house was and started blurting out, “Eew Gross! What kind of paint job is that on your walls?” What would happen? I probably wouldn’t make it to the dinner table. You’d throw me right out the front door in disgust!

Then, why did every speaker at both Democratic and Republican National Conventions have that disgusted look on their face covering from A-Z why you shouldn’t vote for “the other guy?”

Don’t they realize anyone on the fence of voting is going to be swayed away from them just as if someone came into their house complaining about their surroundings?

For the past two weeks straight, various speakers did their best to yell at us through our own television sets in our living rooms. They attempted to tackle tough subjects in their speeches and inspire their devoted audience to vote for their respective candidate.

But, one thing backfired on almost all of them. They spoke to their own audience instead of reaching out to the audience they should be drawing in.

For us speakers in Toastmasters, we practice how to inspire a broad audience made up of a wide range of beliefs and opinions.

Some of us use that opportunity to vent our opinions. Others choose to massage their content so that their opinions are understood.

For those who speak to acquire more leads, sales, and expand our businesses, we work on taking our presentations to another level by inspiring the audience to take action with the content (opinions) we’ve supplied.

Here are a few techniques to help you reach audience approval for your opinions (and therefore more leads, sales, and business expansion) through a more practical means than what you’ve been seeing during this campaign year.

1. Anticipate Misunderstanding – If you have 100 people in your audience, there may be even just one or two that just do not understand why you have the opinion that you do. Focus on those few and talk to them.

2. Agree with the Opposing Position – At the end of a speech I was giving, I opened up the floor for questions. One of the attendees shouted out, “How can people like you sleep at night charging thousands of dollars for what I could pay a high school student $50 to do the same?”

If you speak for business, eventually someone in your audience will say something you are not expecting. That question caught me off-guard for sure!

Fortunately, I had been asked that question on the phone before and knew exactly how to address it. My response was a big smile and an agreement that “I used to BE one of those kids charging $50! Even to this day, I will find people willing to perform small

tasks for me under my direction for entry-level fees. So, I sure understand your position.”

3. Illustrate Understanding – The next step is to paint a picture of your opinion for your audience that they will understand using terminology they understand.

For example, in my experience above where I acknowledged But, then I used an example that people could relate to where I said, “I’m a lot like an E.R. Resident. People don’t usually come to me because they want to get healthy. They come to me when their business is in an emergency state. My first order of business is to stop their bleeding. I may have to shock their heart back to life! Only then can we assemble a plan for recovery. Now, if I was to have a heart attack right here, I don’t want you racing me to a back alley and paying someone $50 to save my life. I want the best chance for surviving and I’ll pay whatever it takes. When someone pays me $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 and in a few months they clear half a million more with me than they would have without me, the last thing they’re thinking of is that kid they could have hired to do the same job for $50.”

Give your audience reassurance that you are familiar with their opposing opinion and that you have experienced it first-hand.

Then, build your case for how your opinion changed. But, use an example they can relate to.

This method is much more likely to win your entire audience and bring you more leads and sales from your professional presentations than attempting to justify your case like a politician speaking at their respective party convention.

I’d like to add two additional steps to this process that will help you tackle the tough topics even a little better. And, I’ll say this specific to Toastmasters members because they will have an opportunity to practice these two steps more often than those acquiring a few speaking gigs here and there over a year’s time.

4. Dress the Part – There is a reason why the presidential candidates are always wearing suits for the men and dresses for the women. They need to be received by their audience as an authority on their topic.

To cover the tough subject speeches, I would suggest dressing-up to perform them. Wear your best! Someday you may be called upon to give a speech where formal wear is required. Giving a speech while wearing a suit or dress is much different than getting in front of a crowd wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. This too requires practice to become used to it.

5. Practice! – I know this sounds cliche, but you will need far more practice to handle the tough topics successfully when you’re on stage. So, plan for them. Embrace them when the tough topics come your way.

One great way to practice tough topics is during “Table Topics” in Toastmasters. When you get one of those tough topics to respond to, that makes you feel uncomfortable, embrace the opportunity!

Answer the question. Stay on-topic. Consider this your opportunity to practice the steps of anticipating misunderstanding, agree with the opposition, and illustrating your view.

My Challenge to You

My challenge is to pick the most challenging topic for you to talk about where you are completely one-sided about the issue.

Assume there will be people in the audience that will misunderstand your opinion, so craft your speech with them in mind. Agree that you understand there could be times where the opposing view could be the better way to go. Then, carefully consider a good
example they can relate to so that your opinion will be understood.

A great manual objective to use for this speech is the Competent Communicator manual objective #3, which is to “Get to the Point.”

Now, go tackle that tough topic!