by Niall Doherty

There’s a bit in every Toastmasters meeting called Table Topics. Someone stands up at the front of the room and calls on others to answer a question they’ve just heard for the first time. The whole idea is to get better at impromptu speaking in front of an audience.

It’s tough in the beginning, trying to formulate a coherent response on the fly and deliver it as best you can. But it got much easier for me once I learned the trick from a wily old Toastmasters veteran down in New Orleans. And the trick is simple: You don’t have to answer the question.

That is, you can stand up and talk about whatever you want. You’re under no obligation to answer the question that was asked.

“What’s my take on the European debt crisis? Glad you asked, Agnes. But what I really want to talk about is this guy I know who walked across America…”

This is also true outside of Toastmasters. Whenever and wherever someone asks you a question, there’s no rule that says you have to answer it. You can say nothing at all, or you can answer a completely different question, one you actually want to answer.

Same dealio when life throws a Q at you.

Of course, not everyone will like you doing this, but hey, not everyone will like you answering questions straight-up either. Nothing you do will ever be good enough, so you might as well take control and have some fun.

Here’s a game you can play: Every time you get asked a question today, answer a different one. See what happens.