“If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”
—Barney the Dinosaur
OK, Barney didn’t really originate that phrase, but playing, laughing and happy clapping are not just child’s play. They can also be the hallmark of your Toastmasters meeting, which can be playful and filled with laughter. We certainly love happy clapping. Applause is an essential element of our meetings.
Toastmasters meetings are fun. But maybe the fun has waned a bit, and you’ve forgotten how much fun a meeting can be. Is your meeting the same old format, week in and week out? Don’t let it get stale. Far too many members leave their clubs or abandon their goals because meetings are predictable and monotonous. It’s time to inject more fun into your meetings!
Why Have Fun?
Psychology confirms that when people have fun, the brain releases feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, leading to feelings of bonding with—and safety around—other people. Scott Christopher, author of the book The Levity Effect: It Pays to Lighten Up, refers to a 9.1 million-person study by the Great Place to Work Institute that makes the connection between the top places to work and the amount of fun employees have. Studies show that fun in the workplace can increase profits and employee camaraderie, lower absenteeism and reduce workplace conflict. While Toastmasters is not a for-profit workplace, there’s every reason to assume that increasing fun at meetings can have the same effect. Members who connect with others in an environment of fun will be more productive, creative and accepting of others. It is more likely that they’ll stay in Toastmasters and be more committed to reaching their goals. Think about the times you’ve enjoyed the company of others. Most likely, you felt a warm connection to them, and those emotions helped cultivate a stronger sense of community.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and bestselling author of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, writes, “Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself).” Toastmasters can deliver in all four of those elements, but cultivating that connectedness is easily achieved by creating fun member experiences.
The ways to have fun at Toastmasters can be divided into three categories: 1) Fun Twists on Traditions, 2) Fun Meeting Themes and 3) Fun Events Outside the Normal Meeting Site.
Fun Twists on Traditions
Why not jazz up normal club activities with some levity? Here is how some clubs do it.
If anyone with a speaking role at the Independently Speaking club in Seven Hills, Ohio, fails to use the Word of the Day, they “Pay the Pig” a quarter. The pig is a tacky pink plastic piggy-bank toy; the money collected is used to throw a club party. Peggy Carr, DTM, of the Box Elder club in Logan, Utah, says, “In our meetings we vote for and award a spark-plug award to the member who adds the most ‘spark’ to the meeting (we use a real spark plug!), and a bone award to the person who makes the biggest error in the meeting. The bone award is a fundraiser since we auction the bone and members buy the votes. Sometimes bone winners nominate themselves. We have a great deal of fun while respecting and encouraging one another.”
Table Topics provides the most opportunities to inject creativity and laugher. Bill Essen, DTM, of the Speak With Us club in Cincinnati, Ohio, describes a hilarious take on Table Topics: “We do Table Topics ‘Spin the Bottle.’ Everyone is in a circle. The Table Topicsmaster starts a story, spins the bottle and whoever it points to will continue the story.”
Fun Meeting Themes
Many clubs host holiday themed meetings, end-of-the-year celebrations, or meetings reflecting a national or cultural event such as the Olympics or a national holiday. A quick search of the Toastmasters International Facebook page provides dozens of themed meeting ideas, including “Wisdom of Winnie the Pooh,” a reverse meeting (where the meeting starts with evaluations and ends with speeches and greetings), and celebrations around obscure or unusual holidays like National Chocolate Day or International Dog Biscuit Day. If your club meeting falls on May 4 of any year, have a Star Wars theme, “May the Fourth be with you.” Need more inspiration? Prince George Toastmasters in Prince George, British Columbia, has an incredible list of theme meeting ideas. Be creative when planning around the theme. During the meeting, the Toastmaster can insert comments, facts and short stories related to the theme. Members can dress in costume and provide food and decorations for the theme. The Table Topics, and perhaps even the prepared speeches, can revolve around the theme.
Have fun creating the fun. Kris Pool, DTM, of Cream City Communicators Toastmasters club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says, “We had a surprise birthday party theme, complete with cake and decorations. Members picked a wrapped gift, and inside was an item to represent the role they’d have that night. Foot lotion for a Table Topics speaker (thinking on your feet), star-shaped stress balls for speakers (they’re shooting for the stars in improving their speaking skills), and even sparkling apple cider and a glass for guests (to sit back, relax and enjoy the meeting). It was fun for everyone.”
Annette Mayfield’s club, Pines Toastmasters club in Brisbane, Australia, held a pirate-themed meeting with pirate-inspired speeches and Table Topics. She says, “The club had such high energy—we converted a guest to a member. It definitely built camaraderie. We now have a social night every second month. It makes the mentor-mentee bond stronger, and people participate more when they are having fun and are part of a group.” Indeed this is significant. Forced mentor relationships don’t work as well as ones that develop naturally as a result of spending unstructured time together.
The Canberra Gourmet Toastmasters club in Canberra, Australia, takes its December meeting offsite each year. Club member Kaylene Ledgar, DTM, says, “In 2016, our meeting was at Cockington Green. We walked the grounds answering Table Topics questions about the miniature villages. In 2015, we visited the National Zoo and Aquarium where members became zookeepers with some prepared and impromptu speeches.” Greg Ching, DTM, of Pearl City, Hawaii, says, “We used to rent a karaoke room and our club had a lot of fun singing to each other. We speak all the time at our meetings so singing brought out a lot of laughs.”
To welcome a new Toastmasters year, Frankston Toastmasters club in Victoria, Australia, conducts a special meeting in July. Club member David Hughes, DTM, says, “It’s an international theme, where our members (or their partners) from Wales, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Colombia and Australia prepare a local food dish for our supper recess. It’s such an enjoyable evening.”
Fun Outside the Normal Meeting Site
After a meeting, many members may gather at a pub, restaurant or cafe to relax with other Toastmasters. Holiday parties, hikes, summer picnics and community projects are also on the list of enjoyable events, and when imagination is unleashed, the fun escalates. One day, a Toastmaster in Brisbane, Australia, suggested holding a meeting in a pool. That comment gave birth to the April Pools Day meeting on April 1 of 2017. Fifteen members representing 12 clubs from three divisions jumped into the Southbank Lagoon to conduct a most unconventional meeting, complete with a laminated agenda and timing cards. Speakers gave humorous speeches, and the themed Table Topics included props such as an anchor, a rubber duck, a paddle board and a boat propeller.
Some members of The Rhetorik im Gebrüder Schmid Zentrum club in Stuttgart, Germany, enjoy taking hiking trips into the mountains where they even practice speeches and give each other feedback. Club member Patricia Sadoun, DTM, says she enjoys “the ability to communicate, take responsibility and have fun with one another.”
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”— E.E. CUMMINGS
Moneris Toastmasters in Toronto, Canada, has an elegant semi-formal themed holiday party every year. Last year the theme was Great Gatsby, and the party was held in Liberty Grand, an exquisite entertainment complex in Toronto decorated in elegant 1920s décor with soaring ceilings, crystal chandeliers and fine period furnishings. Club members dressed in the style of the Roaring Twenties time period made famous by the Great Gatsby novel and movie. (The cover photograph of this magazine depicts the club members at their New Year’s Eve party.)
Mercedes Garrido of the Moneris club remarked, “Our members bring a spontaneous and fun vibe each week to the club. The atmosphere, stories and sharing of our Toastmasters journeys all create that bond that extends outside the club.” Hernan Sanchez says, “Attending Moneris’ holiday party and having fun with fellow Toastmasters gave me a sense of belonging and increased my confidence. I recently participated in a district contest. It was intimidating, but seeing my club members in the audience made me feel comfortable and I delivered one of my best speeches ever.”
While planning your events, don’t overlook the opportunities to meet your personal Toastmasters goals. Joseph Arnold, DTM, of Aspinwall Toastmasters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is passionate about members using special events to complete manual projects. For example, consider how his club used a simple off-site dinner event. “We went to dinner as a group, inviting spouses. We had an agenda with Table Topics and we presented achievement awards from the previous year. Members who planned the event earned Competent Leader (CL) credit for planning a special event or helping to plan a special event. Those presenting and receiving awards earned credit for projects 4 or 5, in the Special Occasion Speeches manual. The Table Topicsmaster and Toastmaster earned CL credit, as did the Table Topics speakers. The vice president public relations gathered great material for print and social media posts to promote the club. It takes planning, but a lot can be done.”
The ways to have fun in your meetings are limited only by your imagination. Build team spirit in your club while inspiring people to reach their goals. Then give yourselves a hand. Because when you’re happy and you know it, you clap your hands.
Editor’s Note: All clubs depicted in this article are on track to being President’s Distinguished for the Toastmaster 2016-2017 year.
Maureen Zappala, DTM is a former NASA propulsion engineer. Today she’s a professional speaker, author and presentation skills coach, as well as founder of High Altitude Strategies, a coaching and speaking service. Visit her website to learn more.