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Be A Creative Topic Master!

By Craig Harrison DTM, PDG-57

If variety is the spice of life·then it is creativity that provides the flavor for Table Topics.

One way to induce creative responses to topics is to make the topics themselves creative. By setting a fun and festive tone as Topicmaster you will find that, even for members who claim to be devoid of creativity, the spirit becomes contagious.

Here are a baker's dozen of ideas to stimulate creative participation in Table Topics when you're the Topicmaster.

Recipes for fun. As Topicmaster you're wearing a chef's cap or apron. You approach the front and spread out various ingredients and utensils, some familiar and others peculiar.

Challenge each person to pick some number of ingredients and a limited number of utensils and describe what they're preparing, how they'd prepare it, when and where they'd serve it and how it tastes. Is it a special remedy, a holiday recipe, an aphrodesiac or the way to rid the house of unwelcomed company?

Newscast. Welcome to Toastmasters News. As Topicmaster you're Rather B. Rich, the anchor person. Call on speakers as your correspondents to "report" on stories such as:
* The Tower of Babel (Babble!)
* A Find of the remains of Java man showing he was wearing a Toastmaster pin.
* Esperanto (the international language) as the new
standard in school
* The language of love: discussing the rise and
significance of a 1-900 Love Line
* New class in School's Speech Department on

Time Travel. Have speakers take you back to a year they're fond of, and describe it in detail, as well as why they're fond of it.

Alternately, they can take listeners forward into the future and describe how it's different, and how it's the same. What a great way to stretch everyone's imagination.

"Psssst, Secrets." you whisper as Topicmaster while leaning forward. Everybody has them, nobody shares them, normally. As Topic master, challenge each member to share a secret they've never shared before, or else describe one they already divulged and the consequences of their doing so. It's a chance to get personal with each other, share normally closely held aspects of each other and build closeness within the club.

Yogi Berra-isms. Nonsensical sayings and what they really mean. Yogi, Casey Stengel and others are known for their own forms of malapropisms. Examples:
* "If people don't want to come out to the park,
nobody's gonna' stop 'em"
* "Nobody goes there anymore·it's too crowded"
* "We have deep depth"
* "You can observe a lot by watching"
* "It's deja vu all over again"

Either ask members to decipher quotes like these, or else to describe one of their own.

JUMBLE. Spell the word TOASTMASTERS out on a flip chart posted for all to see. Now challenge each respondent to approach the sheet, create a word (or more) of 4 letters or greater from the letters found in this word, then speak on that word for 1-2 minutes. (Don't allow previous speakers' words to be used again.)

Start off by making a word of your own, and don't worry, there are over 30 words you can make from the word Toastmasters! A sampling of words formed: stream, start, roast, store, stem, tester, matter, storm, etc.

Provide bonus points for longest word, or a word they then can relate to communications in their topic.

Fill in the Blank. Provide the speakers with the beginning of a phrase and let them finish it÷their way, for 1-2 minutes. Examples:
* "A funny thing happened on the way to the forum·"
* "If Pigs could Fly·"
* If I Had a Hammer·"
* "Four Score and Seven Years Ago·"
* "(S)he Who Laughs Last·"

Encourage speakers to have fun with this topic.

Trial Topics! Your Sergeant-At-Arms bellows "here comes 'da judge!" and in you stride as that day's Topicmaster, resplendent in your judge's robe. With a rap of your gavel "Toastmaster Court" is in session. As judge you officiously state that each member has been charged with an infraction. They have 1-2 minutes to plead their case. Further indicate your intent to clear your docket that day!

First you call up a club member who's always joking. His charge: excessive use of farce! Can he aquit himself in the time allotted?

To the member who's always talking during your meetings, the charge is disorderly conduct.

To the speaker who always runs "over" you've issued the charge of failure to yield!

Is there a grouch on the club? Charge that person with public sullenness and hear their explanation.

Other charges include carrying a concealed smile, impersonating an officer (or musician, or chef, etc.) and illegal use of "ands." Remember, these are gentle infractions (rather than offenses or crimes) so it's important not to be heavy handed.

Your attention please! Our Press Conferencewill now begin. Each club member is called upon as an official of some organization, to give a one minute platform speech, then answer spontaneous questions from audience members for next minute. Assign these titles appropriately: Commissioner of Baseball (to a sports fan), Attorney General (give to a lawyer or police officer), Secretary of Defense (to someone serving in our armed forces), Executive Director for the National Organization of Women [NOW], Surgeon General, Exec. Dir. of the National Federation of Independent Businesses [NFIB] (for someone self-employed).

Whatever the member's profession, it is a dream come true to set policy. During their topic, they can! As Topicmaster you must know your members well enough to match titles appropriately. Ask each to define their platform or agenda, then defend, clarify or elaborate on it while answering follow-up questions.

Fable Topics. Challenge speakers to give a 90s ending to a traditional Fable. You start it off with an example. Cinderella going to detox; Pinnochio having plastic surgery; Snow White issuing paternity tests for the dwarfs; Rapunzel charging stranger with harrassment.

Brushes with Fame. Andy Warhol surmised that one day everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame. Ask your club members to describe their 15 minutes, if they've had it already. Otherwise, ask them how they'd like their fifteen minutes to be, i.e. what they'd be famous for.

Timely Topics. Base the topics on events at that time of the year.

During mid-April ask taxing questions: what one deduction would you allow? For April Fools Day tell lies (as Boastmasters). For Halloween let the topic be Tall Tales. On Sadie Hawkins Day the theme can be role reversals. On Veterans Day celebrate freedoms fought for.

The Postman ringith! Dressed as a postman with a satchel in tow, it's time for mail call. Have members reach into your mail bag and pick one of the goodies you've prepared, then respond to it.

Fill your bag with postcards, junkmail and love letters in envelopes to pass out. Other ideas include funny or offbeat magazines, Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, a parcel postage due, postcard from Tahiti, etc.

This article, by Distinguished Toastmaster Craig Harrison, appeared in the September 1998 edition of Toastmaster magazine. Craig can be reached at www.ExpressionsofExcellence.com, Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com or at (510) 547-0664.

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