What’s the difference between skills and meta-skills?
Meta is anything that is “above and beyond.” Sort of.
Like being able to cook a cherry pie is a skill, but cooking in general, including the ability to study a recipe and whip up a decent dish the first time is a meta-skill.
In Toastmasters, one of the meta-skills you learn is speaking “in the moment,” or extemporaneously, as they say.
It’s one thing to research and write a speech, make up some notecards, and practice in front of the mirror.
It’s quite another skill to respond thoughtfully and intelligently to an unexpected question.
There’s certainly been no shortage of politicians (including presidents and prime ministers) who sound intelligent and charismatic enough when reading from a teleprompter (usually from a speech they didn’t write themselves) but when asked an unexpected question, they don’t sound any better than stopping some random guy on the street.
There’s even a famous reply from President Bush, who stammered and stuttered for a full two minutes, LIVE, saying nothing more than “uh…well…um….let me see…”
In toastmasters, they call this “table topics” and one or two people volunteer for each meeting.
They stand up in front of everybody, not having any idea what question is coming, and then they have to respond intelligently for two minutes.
If you happen to have a fun and supportive group,the questions can be pretty interesting. Once I got the question:
“Which is better, plain or peanut M&M’s?”
Being able to speak intelligently about a wide variety of topics is certainly a meta-skill that can help you out in a lot of different situations. Work, romance, presidential debates, and any other time you’ve got to use words to get you what you want.
Luckily, the structure of your communication can take you a long, long way. With just a little bit of content, stuff you likely already know, you can quickly form a response that will wow even the toughest of crowds.
Sure, it takes some practice, but as I’m sure you’ll agree, learning to speak “in the moment” is a skill you can’t do without.