Spice Up Moribund Meetings With Periodic Changes of Pace
Over time, many clubs fall into the doldrums. It’s possible for meetings to become a bit
stale, for members to lapse into a routinized pattern each week. Sometimes it’s a result of
the sameness of the room, identical meeting formats, or the absence of enough new
members to infuse your club with new energy. Over the years I’ve watched clubs
succumb to lethargy. Yet the remedy is as easy as a little dose of Vitamin C…Creativity.
When you administer this vitamin to your club once every 4-6 weeks you’ll see its life
force return anew.
“Toastmasters is like a love-affair.
Everything is exciting at first and then,
if you’re not careful,
it can become dull and routine.
Changing your meetings helps
to keep it exciting.”
— Paula Tunison, DTM, past International Director
and currently District 55 Governor
(her third time in this role!)
Consider these as some of the many ways you can introduce freshness, fun and vitality
into your meetings:
1. Alter your room layout. Many times we accept the room layout as a given: the
placement of the lectern, chairs and tables. For a change of pace, try reversing the
location of the lectern before the next meeting. If possible, put it at the opposite end
and feel the difference. Other variations: if your lectern is at the narrow end of a
long table, try placing it opposite the wide side. Or consider removing the table and
holding the meeting in a circle or semi-circle, a chevron or other configuration.
Remember, environment informs experience. Add flowers, a scent or some fun
decorations for further effect. Create a new environment and the experience will
surely feel fresh and exciting.
2. Consider a Joint Meeting with another club that meets nearby and/or at the same
time. You host them one meeting and they can reciprocate another time. It’s
exciting to entertain new guests who already know the Toastmaster mores. The
extra people and energy from this joint meeting doubles your fun!
3. The Grab Bag Meeting. Designate your next meeting as a grab bag where, upon
arrival, all roles are drawn from out of a bag filled with roles written on slips of
paper on the spot. Use a fill-in-the-blanks agenda, or a flip chart or white board
where you write in the roles chosen just prior to the meeting. Any member may end
up as Toastmaster, Speaker or Evaluator. The drama adds a layer of excitement as
even the “prepared” speeches feel like Table Topics!
4. Theme Meetings turn a normal meeting into a special event! Recently one club in
the United States held an Academy Awards meeting where the Toastmaster wore a
tuxedo, the Table Topics were related to movies and the winners gave acceptance
speeches! Another club honored the baseball season with a meeting in which each
member assumed a baseball-related role, The Toastmaster became the manager, the
General Evaluator became the head umpire, speakers became batters and the Table
Topic Master became the pitcher. Members fielded topics. You can dress the part as
Other themes may relate to topical holidays, current events of a local, regional or
national nature. Celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan, Independence
Day in your country or even a club, district or company anniversary.
5. Costume Parties are types of theme meetings that are especially stimulating. You
can wear masks and costumes for Halloween, caps and gowns at graduation time, or
go green for St. Patrick’s Day. Adornments abound depending upon the theme for
6. Enter the Time Machine. Your costume party or theme meeting can be tied to a
historical period. At this meeting people dress like a past generation: platform boots
and silk shirts with wide lapels for the 70’s, bobby socks and leather jackets for the
50’s, or even the Gatsby look from the roaring 20’s, you’ll find a new energy comes
with such wardrobes. Or go back further: The Renaissance era, Roman or Greek
empires or even the Stone Age. Perhaps you’d rather fast forward to the year 2058
or 3008? When the time comes, come in character!
In addition to dressing for the epoch, use related language, phrases and speech
topics. Methinks you speaketh the King’s English in your Elizabethan era. For the
Roaring Twenties, your closing thought may end with “twenty three skidoo.” And
your table and speech topics can relate to the themes of the era as well.
7. Go Hollywood! Themes abound from the world of motion pictures. Whether you
take your inspiration from Hollywood, India’s Bollywood or the movies of Hong
Kong, there are wonderful ideas for movies, as diverse as The Matrix, Harry Potter
8. Replace the traditional Table Topics with a Progressive Story begun by the Topic
Master and continued by all members. Collectively you will tell a story designated
by the Topic Master. It’s a co-creation of all members and requires listening skills,
creativity and quick thinking to complete. Each member contributes a sentence or
two in the co-creation of a new story.
9. At national election time it’s natural to dedicate a meeting to Debates. Your Table
Topics can have involved two participants arguing alternate sides of an issue. Or
plan a debate with numerous candidates to involve as many members as possible.
Another alternative: you can ask a Table Topic respondent to argue both sides of an
issue. Table bunting is optional.
We The People, a club in Reno, NV, in its debate format, allows a Table Topic
responder to rebut the previous participant’s topic. This builds listening skills,
persuasive skills and also challenges listeners to think more as divergent points of
view are counter-posed in successive communications.
Even the speeches during such meetings focused on debates, prepared in advance,
can take on a campaign tone, tacking issues and vying for the hearts, minds and
votes of club members.
10. Turn one of your meetings into a Television Newscast. Your Sergeant-at-Arms can
give the countdown until you go live, and also be the “voiceover” that introduces
the newscast. Your Toastmaster of the day is the anchor, with Table Topics and
General Evaluator as your Sports and Weather co-anchors. Speakers become field
correspondents with reports, etc. You can even turn some roles into commercials.
11. Run a Speech Marathon! Devote and entire meeting just to prepared speeches.
Help your members earn their educational awards as you dedicate an entire meeting
just to prepared speeches. Especially for clubs with many members that meets for
just an hour at a time, this periodic meeting helps more members speak and shortens
the wait time between speeches. Like attending a speech contest, it’s educational for
audience members to see multiple speeches in rapid succession. Popular as June 30
approaches each year, these have sometimes been scheduled in addition to your
regular meeting time and place, but can also be staged as a regular club meeting.
12. Once a year, whether on April Fools Day, or another time, consider a Reverse
Meeting. You begin with the closing thought, hear speech evaluations before the
speeches, and generally reverse the order of your entire meeting. Once in a blue
moon this fun variation of the usual meeting format is refreshing and fun. Give it a
13. Hit the Mute button. In this meeting it’s all done without sound. Oh you can mouth
the words to your speech or topic, but it all needs to be done with facial expressions
and gesticulations, hand and body movements. A less ambitious version: turn Table
Topics into charades.
14. Every day is a holiday somewhere! There are even event calendars such as the
annual CHASE’S CALENDAR OF EVENTS that provide fascinating and timely themes
you can build meetings around. For example: September 24 is National Punctuation
Day (www.NationalPunctuationDay.com) in the US. For that week’s meeting, ask
members to announce punctuation used in their speaking, period. Their speeches
can be about punctuation semicolon; Topics, Opening and Closing Thoughts and
more can include the speaking of punctuation, comma, and more, exclamation mark!
Many holidays have their own websites to help you understand their origins,
meaning and intent.
15. Once in a blue moon, or every April 4 (“Tell A Lie” day 1) you can dedicate a
meeting to Tall Tales, where embellishment, aggrandizement and bold face lies are
the order of the day. Everyone can get into the act. The truth is your point of
departure for this meeting. Your speech introductions, speech contents, table topics
and more can play fast and loose with the truth. Make outlandish claims,
representations of gigantic proportions and pull each other’s legs for comedic effect.
Then, just to confuse your audience, through a boldface truth in the middle and see if
they detect it! Make Pinocchio proud.
During Table Topics, play True or Lie. For some this is easy. For others, less so!
Vote after each topic response on whether it was the truth or a lie. Alternately,
confuse people with your version of truthiness — things that a person claims to
know intuitively or “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual
examination, or facts.
If you’re troubled by fostering lies in a Toastmasters meeting, rest assured that each
April 30th you can honor National Honesty Day with a meeting dedicated to truth,
which is often stranger than fiction!
I asked veteran Toastmaster Yew Kam Keong, Ph.D of Australia’s Deloitte at the
Barrington Club (763715-70), author of You Are Creative —Let Your Creativity Bloom,
why we should deviate from our regular program formats from time to time: “These
meeting ideas are effective because they contain the essential elements of creativity:
spontaneity, humor, playfulness and doing the unexpected. Toastmasters meetings will
never be the same again. They will be even more fun… and with fun comes humungous
Dr. YKK, also known as the Chief Mind Unzipper, is an international creativity speaker,
best-selling author and consultant who specializes in fostering creativity in others; In his
22 years as a Toastmaster Dr. YKK has spoken to Toastmasters clubs in ten countries and
inspired creativity in tens of thousands! His website www.mindbloom.net contains many
creativity tools for clubs and members.
Whether you employ these or other ideas to spruce up your meetings it will breathe new
life into proceedings. While you never want to eschew the educational value of meetings,
such variations on our traditional meeting formats add a new dimension and keeps
everyone fresh. Any time you apply creativity to your meetings the results will yield fun,
energy and new perspectives.
Ready? Set? Create.