Stumping our Speakers with Science Questions
“Space and Time” was the theme for our meeting on 27th March 2018. Stephen Hawkings recently passed away, so we used that as an opportunity to bring greater appreciation to his scientific achievements and the hidden lesson of “resourcefulness”.
In our Table Topics segment, we stumped our members and visitors with questions such as, “How do you think the universe began?”, “If wormholes existed, where would you go?”, “What is it like to be in a black hole?”, and “What is the singularity?”.
As with everything in Toastmasters, we immediately gave feedback to Table Topics speakers on how to handle such challenging questions. A valuable piece of advice given by Ross Richard, an experienced Toastmaster, was this:
“No question can be too difficult. You simply answer to the best of your knowledge. It’s not as important to give the correct answer, than to give the answer that you believe is correct, and explain why.”
Even Stephen Hawkings is not 100% certain that his answers are correct. And many scientists before him have been proven wrong. We value the process of getting the answer more than the answer itself. That’s why Hawkings is such a renowned professor even if we haven’t proven all of his theories.
It’s supporting his theories with strong scientific reasoning and his ability to explain his theories to ordinary people that resulted in the huge step forward in scientific progress. If we adopt such a mindset that we can be wrong, and still articulate our conclusions, then no question is too difficult to answer.
Hawkings is a good role model for resourcefulness. We don’t need have all the correct answers to give useful answers. We can still spread influential ideas even if we are not world-class public speakers.
Hawkings certainly could not speak like everyone else. He could not use a calculator and relied on visualizing his theories in his mind. What’s most impressive was that none of these were obstacles to his achievements. And unlike other scientists who spoke in scientific language, he explained it in a way that was more accessible to ordinary people. Today, people are giving his bestselling book, “A Brief History of Time“, another read.
To drill in what Hawking’s physical condition teaches us, here’s a true story:
Hawking had a team of helpers who cared for him around the clock. One of them once introduced him as disabled, and he quickly corrected his helper: he wasn’t disabled, he was merely in a wheelchair.
Hawkings did not only teach the nature of space and time. He taught us a lesson on resourcefulness.
In Toastmasters, it’s good to have challenging questions once in a while but not every meeting. Everyone asked gave it a try. We could in future ask questions that are so easy that it becomes equally challenging to give an answer that is longer than one sentence. Toastmasters also teaches us to be resourceful and adaptable.