The Interviewer – A New Club Role and My Experience with It
An Article by Nina Glass
About a month ago, our esteemed Early Bird Speakers Toastmaster Club President and Vice President of Education, Taz Miah and Neil Coleman shared with me that they had in mind to launch a new role in our Toastmasters meeting, call The Interviewer. The intention, as they shared it, was to alternate the role with the traditional Linguist function…to shake things up a bit and make for some innovation in the agenda roster.
I wasn’t quite sure why they were highlighting this for me, until it became clear: “and we noticed you were on the agenda as Linguist at the end of April [the 26 April meeting, to be exact] so we wanted to know if you would be willing to take on the first of our Interviewer slots?
My first reaction was discomfort. Like many Toastmasters, I joined my first Club seven years ago not because I wanted to speak, but because I had to learn to develop an ease speaking in front of groups. Up until 2005, for the most part, I either ducked and dived so I didn’t have to speak. Or, if I had the unfortunate circumstance of being called upon to speak, either choked or spent an entire night beforehand in sweats, practicing throughout so I didn’t choke. Not much fun, either way.
However, after seven years in Toastmasters, after my first reaction of discomfort (relatively short-lived), I moved on to what ended up being my overarching response: “Great, why not be a guinea pig? Sure, I don’t know how it will work as it isn’t just a new role for me but a new role for the Club (leaving me with no reference point). However, it will be a new challenge, and that’s want Toastmasters is about. Never letting yourself get altogether too comfortable…pushing the boundaries to improve and continually learn.”
Moreover, it is important to never lose sight of the fact that we all have experiences to draw upon and to lever into any new role; to make us feel some sense of stability and confidence, even outside our comfort zone. And as I am in recruitment, interviewing is one thing I should know how to manage through, so while doing interviewing in front of a crowd would be new to me, and I was unsure of how the staging would work, I assuredly did have the basics to fall back on.
So, I gave it a whirl.
In preparation, I considered some key points which Neil articulated:-
1. The interviewer role is designed to give each of the Speakers the valuable experience of being questioned on their speech as if they were doing a radio interview, panel discussion or job interview. This will improve the Speakers ability to spontaneously perform after having already delivered a full speech, keeping momentum and energy levels at a high when the mind, body and spirit may really want to call it a day, take a breather and relax. It could be considered a advanced table topic
2. The Interviewer should not evaluate. Leave that to the Evaluator.
3. The Interviewer role is similar to that of the Linguist, where one must listen attentively during the course of the speeches, with an aim to provide insightful, revealing and stimulating questions that will challenge each of the Speakers and interest the audience.
4. The Interviewer role is a facilitation role. It is really about the Speakers, and the goal should be to focus the audience’s attention not on you as Interviewer but rather the Speakers.
5. Be sensitive to the speaking level of the Speaker. An advanced Speaker for example might relish a more challenging question.
6. Touch base, should you wish it, with the Speakers in advance to get some steer or some pointers on speech topic, but assure you tailor any pre-prepared questions on the day, to speech particulars.
7. The Interviewer and Speaker dialogue should last no more than 60 seconds. Specs: 30 seconds for green; 45 seconds for amber; 60 seconds for red.
In view of these points and suggestions, in preparation for the day I considered some of the interviewing training I had been given through my hiring manager and indeed executive search recruitment experiences. Above all else, it is important to ask open-ended questions and to listen. The point as relates to the latter is clear to all Toastmasters, a clear part of our ethos. The former relates to the fact that asking questions with a simple “yes” or “no” response possibility is pretty useless, and certainly not what our Toastmasters Members and Guests would be interested in for an Interviewer and Speaker dialogue.
Along with some further exchanges with Neil, I also reached out to Speakers; Assia Mori, Patrick Baron and Tony Duff. They gave me some ‘bare bones’ to work with, providing me some impressions of where I might want to take questions, albeit fair to say as was a recommendation, I did not want to over-prepare as the beauty of the Interview role is to play some of it like an impromptu Tabletopic Master role.
Which brings me to the day itself. Carefully, I listened to each of the Speakers speeches, making notes and crafting a question for each which I hoped amply balanced the objectives of “being questioned on their speech as if they were doing a radio interview, panel discussion or job interview” while at the same time providing a bit more insight to the audience in an engaging and stimulating fashion.
Assia, who provided a speech entitled “Monkey Mind” was asked to provide some thoughts on how those of us who suffer from monkey mind when we have a prepared speech to give—getting distracted during the Tabletopics session rather than listening properly—might control monkey mind in this environment. Essentially, to elaborate a bit more on her topic.
Patrick, who spoke to us about “Wine” was asked about whether the fact that there has become such a worldwide uniformity in wine (something on which he remarked in his speech) has led to France no longer being the world leader in wines.
Tony, who read us an extract from a short story “The Dancing-Master’s Music” by William Trevor, a very moving piece, was asked to talk about how he prepared for his speech and assured that the delivery was balanced, getting across the emotion without it being delivered in an over-the-top melodramatic manner.
Staging worked like a charm thanks to Taz and Neil, and each of our speakers responded to their questions with great aplomb which is no small feat: let’s not forget that although the Interviewer role was new to the Club, so was the Interviewee role.
Well done and pats on backs all around. Let’s celebrate the small success for our Early Birds Speakers Club. Innovation at its finest.