I just got back from my Toastmasters’ club meeting. We had so much fun that I had to share with you the experience and the lessons we learned.

As background, there were only eleven of us there, including three guests at this Saturday morning meeting, the beginning of a beautiful, sunny, “Chamber of Commerce” Florida day. Why we chose to be cooped up in a library meeting room for ninety minutes is a mystery, except that we felt we had made a commitment to each other, and expected to learn a little more about speaking in public.

As Table Topics Master, I had a challenge. I had to make our impromptu speaking session enjoyable but worthwhile. I decided that there was a way to generate excitement and, at the same time, introduce a Toastmasters lesson.

The theme (and lesson) I picked was, “Storytelling.” Around our District 84, we often quote the revered David Brooks, 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking (who actually was quoting Bill Gove of the National Speakers Association) saying, “Tell a story – make a point.”

I explained that storytelling is very effective in relaying your points to the audience. When we hear a story about an individual facing a seemingly insurmountable problem, we can relate to the hero, and to you, by comparing that struggle to our own obstacles. In that way, we remember your message better.

I also leaked a hint that, if you can tell even a short story, you should be able to eke out the one-minute minimum time to qualify for the “coveted” Best Table Topics ribbon.

Next, I reviewed the five parts of a story, as outlined in the Toastmasters Advanced Speakers’ Storytelling Manual:

1. CHARACTER: a person, animal or even an object, who takes part in the action.

2. SETTING: the time and place in which it happens. Descriptions of landscape, scenery, buildings, seasons or weather provide a strong sense of setting.

3. CONFLICT: a struggle between two characters. The main character may struggle against another important character, against the forces of nature, against society, or even against something inside himself or herself (feelings, emotions, illness).

4. PLOT: a series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict.

5. THEME (moral or message): the central idea or belief in the story.

For my Table Topics, I picked five volunteers. In this situation, I asked the guests to come up first, since the first two items would be the easiest to answer.

Each participant had to take one of the five parts, in order, and provide the details. The first response had to introduce at least two characters. The second provided the setting, the location where the action would be happening.

The results were very unexpected, but quite entertaining. Here is how the story evolved as each participant constructed the tale

1. We were introduced to Mr. Mickey Mouse and Ms. Minnie Mouse, boyfriend and girlfriend. (REMEMBER, friends – I live in Florida. This makes perfect sense.) They were quite old in years, but very young in heart, mind, and, through the wonder of animation, body. They had a strong, long-lasting relationship.

2. The setting was the top of Mt. Fuji in Japan, after a nighttime ascent, arriving at the summit just before sunrise. The climb was long and exhausting. The rocks were sharp, the solid trail of lava was colorful, and the panoramic view was breathtaking.

3. The problem was that, after a long night’s climb, Mickey and Minnie were going to have to return down the mountain. Mickey had already carried up his and some of Minnie’s provisions. But Minnie was tired and hinting that Mickey should carry all her gear down. Mickey noticed that Minnie had brought too many “just in case” supplies. Mickey agonized over his dilemma. He couldn’t say “no” to Minnie, even though he had warned her before the climb.

4. The plot: Mickey and Minnie enjoyed the romantic sunrise together, even as he worried about the trek down. He kept talking to Minnie, delaying their descent. Then he heard the sounds of two distinctive voices. As Minnie spun around in surprise, Mickey smiled in relief. It was Goofy and Donald Duck. Mickey had thought ahead. He had asked Goofy and Donald to arrive late to help with the baggage because he knew he would need their assistance.

5. The moral of the story: anticipate your loved one’s needs and idiosyncrasies, and plan ahead so that you can maintain a healthy and happy relationship.

You can see why I called on experienced Toastmasters to answer the last items.

If more members had been available, I could have had them provide alternate plots and alternate conclusions. We know that every story can have more than one message.

MY MESSAGE TO YOU

What did we learn from this experiment?

FIRST – Table Topics can be a unique and valuable opportunity to teach Toastmasters’ lessons and put them into practice.

SECOND – It is easy to construct a simple story to make our speeches and Table Topics responses more vibrant and effective.

THIRD – Any time we can vary the routine in our meetings, provide a different perspective or challenge, we introduce a spark of excitement and energy that our clubs need to be healthy.

I challenge each of you to volunteer for the Table Topics Master role, take advantage of Table Topics to teach another Toastmasters lesson, and make sure that everyone will “have fun doing it!”

Author's Bio: 

Fred Haley, published author and speaker, has been a member of Toastmasters for over 12 years. Fred has earned two Distinguished Toastmasters awards. His web site, www.TOASTMENTOR.net is “Every Toastmaster’s first stop for advice and resources.” Fred publishes a weekly ToastMentor newsletter. Contact Fred at Fred@Toastmentor.com.