April 22, 2012

How To Discuss Taboo Topics

speak no evilby Promod Sharma, President 2011-2012, CC

You can discuss taboo topics in Toastmasters if you're inventive. What you want to achieve? That's the core question.

Let's say you want to talk about politics. What's your goal?
  • Do you want to test your persuasive skills?
  • Do you want feedback on the logic of your arguments?
  • Are you trying to share your passion?

Your approach would vary for each.


If your topic is controversial, you'll have difficulty convincing members with strong opinions. Why not let them persuade themselves?

You could give a Viewpoint. Here you share you give background and your opinions for a few minutes. The Chair then leads a group discussion. You take notes and summarize the results at the end.

A Debate is another option. Here attendees think of arguments to support their side and negate their opponents. The discussions tend to be lively but not deep. The goal is to win rather than have a civilized discourse.

Involving your audience gives you a better understanding of how others think. You will likely see that opinions vary. You might even change your own thinking.


If you want to test the logic of your arguments, get group feedback. With a Viewpoint, the Chair runs most of the segment. You may wish to maintain control by giving a Lesson instead. Express your thoughts and leave enough time for a group discussion (which you lead).

Perhaps you want the audience to role play. Perhaps you want us to pretend that we're undecided voters or opposing voters.


You might be passionate about a polarizing topic like abortion. Remember that your Toastmasters club is a place for you to develop your skills. Your topic may get in the way and prevent you from getting better.
When you're passionate, your enthusiasm will affect the audience. You might not see flaws in your thinking because you see your views as "obvious". You could easily be wrong.

If your topic is controversial, you may get labeled a zealot. How does that help you going forward?


You may be better results by discussing an uncontentious topic instead. Perhaps a topic that members know little about. For instance, you might talk about a hobby like woodworking. Since you know the subject, you can focus on developing your skills.


Promod Sharma has used Toastmasters to discuss topics ranging from the boring (e.g., insurance) to the polarizing (e.g., social media). His website is at promodsharma.com.

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