These free word games deliver imagination stretchers on steroids. If you've never interviewed a red cabbage or wondered what it was like to passionately campaign to save the lesser-spotted-three footed-teddy-bear from extinction, now's your chance!
You'll find yourself laughing aloud while simultaneously learning the joy of spontaneity and fluency in speech. Played well and safely, word games foster public speaking confidence through fun.
The 10 activities I've listed, I used in my own teaching. They were picked up readily by children from approximately 12 years old and up and have been equally successful with adults.
You can jump straight to a game by clicking on its name:
Or read the start-up guidelines if you've not used activities like this before with your class or public speaking group.
Start with explaining the games: why you're playing them and what they are.
Put the ground rules in place. If you're working with children sort out the consequences of breaking them ahead of the event. Is it time out? An apology to the person whose feeling were hurt?
Try the easier free word games first to develop trust and confidence.
I find these an invaluable teaching tool. They provided opportunity for myself and students to comment on the positive aspects of a game as well as its challenges. If you make them quick and focused between activities, you'll find people readily taking up and applying their insights in the next exercise.
To play you need:
Put all the topic papers in an open container face down.
The subject giver names the player. They choose a piece of paper from the container. Once they have read the topic they give the topic paper to the subject giver who says: 'You have one minute on XXXX (name of subject on paper) starting from now.' The timer begins timing.
The goal for the speaker is to fill the minute. If they do, award 10 points. If they reach 50 seconds award 8 points. If they get through 30 seconds award 5 points. There are no points for stalling out before 30 seconds is up.
Go through at least 3 rounds. Keep the tally of scores public. The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the rounds.
The set-up is exactly the same as One Minute Speeches but now add further requirements.
The speeches must be delivered without undue: hesitation, deviation or repetition.
Be clear before you begin what the definitions of each of those are.
For each infringement the subject giver, who keeps tally, will deduct a point from the final score.
This is another advanced variation on One Minute Speeches played with groups of 10 or more.
The set up is the same. You need a stop watch and prepared topics on bits of paper. (You can ask the players to provide their own topics before you start. Have them write them down and put them into the container for picking out later.)
The opposing team listens hard for opportunities to take-over the speech.
They are when the speaker deviates, hesitates or repeats himself. To take-over, they must call the challenge.
The speaker's topic is tennis but he is talking about soccer. The called challenge is deviation. The time keeper stops the watch.
The challenger explains the call.
The timekeeper judges whether or not it is fair.
If it is, the challenger takes over, the stop watch is set again for the
remaining time and now the starting speaker's team may challenge.
If the challenge is unsuccessful, the original speaker continues.
The goal for the speaker is to survive the minute. If they do so, they get ten points. If they don't, whichever team is speaking last gets 5 points.
A full game is when you have gone through all the speakers from either side. It's fun, often raucous and quite absurd. Enjoy it!
Note: This game adapts well to specific subject areas. Set up a theme and make all your topics sub-themes.
Transport: cars, buses, trains, planes, bicycles, public transport, cars in the future, petrol costs, environmental concerns, car fashions...
The key to playing this free word game well is assuming authority while spouting complete baloney. It's terrific!
Each player takes a turn at receiving a nonsense word from the neighbor on their right. This word they must provide a plausible definition for. When they have completed their definition they then give another nonsense word to the player on their left.
To encourage inventiveness and creativity ask for the history of the word and its country of origin, whether it is a noun, verb, adjective etc, what it means and an example of it in use.
To play you need a group of 5 or more. Sit your players in a circle. Nominate a player to begin. They then give their word to their right-hand neighbor to begin the round of definitions.
This is a paired activity. One person is the expert and the other the interviewer.
I've played it with many pairs working simultaneously as well as one pair at a time with the remainder of the group as audience. Either way it's good. The positives for everybody working all at once is that it can break down excessive shyness and the benefits for playing a pair at a time is everybody witnessing the process and learning from it.
Prepare ahead a list of 'expert' topics. Have fun with them without making them too obtuse with the result no-one gets them.
Examples: a cabbage expert, a save the sand fly expert, a maker of noises for the SFX department, the hamburger tasting specialist...
Pair the players off. Have them decide which is expert and which is interviewer. The interviewer then collects the expert's topic from you. Their opening question or introduction lets the expert know his area.
'We're extremely fortunate today to have with us in the studio, Isaac Flugelhorn. Isaac is a well known, respected and published expert on the benefits of teaching children to read underwater. Isaac, I'd like to begin to by asking when you first realized your vocation?'
The game ends when the interviewer brings it to a close.
The goal for the expert is to 'live' into their expertise realistically and wholeheartedly regardless of how ridiculous the topic is or how little knowledge they have on the subject.
The goal for the interviewer is to draw out the expert by asking open ended questions.
Swap the roles over so everybody has a turn at both.
My life as a XXXX (insert an object: door hinge, hammer, potato, egg, park bench, side-show clown ...)
This variation can be played as a monologue or as a pair with one person being the interviewer. Again the goal is to fully accept and live into the topic.
This exercise is wonderful for developing small group confidence, creativity and trust.
Devise a series of ideas to sell.
National I Love You Day, Free Punctuation Packs (available with an extra 10 exclamation marks or 15 sets of speech marks), Eternal Sunshine, Snow Kits for Sunny Places, Instant Fame ...
Split your group into small groups of 2-5 people and assign the topic for each.
Tell them they have approx. 20 minutes to put together an ad.
It must actively include all members of the group.
Encourage them to use song, dance, story telling, sound effects.
The ads are performed one at a time.
Be sure to include a feed back session at the end.
Variation: This can be done solo. Give topics and allow some planning time before performance.
This word game is great for developing flexibility of thinking.
Gather up a series of props: a long scarf, a wooden box, a length of rope, a bowl, a ruler, a plastic funnel...(anything robust enough to be handled.) Place them in a covered box.
Divide your group into sets of 3-5 people.
Stand the first set up in front of the others.
Give the first person something out of the box. Whatever they get is their favorite thing. They must tell and demonstrate how their item is used and explain why they like it so much.
Encourage lateral thinking.
The scarf could have saved lives when it was used as a rope to pull people back from the edge of a crevasse. It reminds the person holding it how valuable life is.
Or perhaps it once belonged to famous person who they admire.
Or maybe it is not a scarf at all but a long length of invisible encoded information that will save the world. It assumes the look of a scarf as a protection.
Whatever the object pulled out by the first member of the group will be passed to the remaining members. They each have a turn explaining their favorite thing. Each explanation must vary from the preceding ones.
Once they've finished,stand the next group up. Choose a different prop and begin again.
Encourage fast thinking and trust. It's better to go with the first idea rather than freeze and wait for another one to arrive. If someone does freeze, don't let them stand in silence. Pass to the next person and give them another opportunity at the end. It helps to start with some one fairly confident and free thinking. Their success will give the others courage to step out. Keep the props covered to prevent pre-planning!
There are many variations on these. Start simply and build once confidence has been established.
Divide your group into sets of 5-8 members. The goal is keep the story moving along quickly.
A word at a time
Aim for a complete story: opening, middle and end in 4 rounds. Each person adds one word at a time.
Members have to help each other by making sure their word choices keep the story moving toward the desired goal.
Two words at a time
Each player add two words before handing the story on
Follow the alphabet:
The first word begins with A, the second word with B, etc.
Slightly Harder Variations:
The story is now to be a fairy story, a ghost story, a love story, an action packed adventure.
Add in the style of:
It must be told in the style of a soap opera, a racing commentator, a news reader...
It must include the word 'XXXX' three times:
Example: wheelbarrow, rapacious, futile...
It must not include any words with the letter '?' in them
Insert the letter of your choice. (Don't make this too hard! E or A are really difficult to get around.)
This is a fun solo exercise!
You'll need a telephone book and a list of commonly known styles for people to imitate.
Suggestions for styles: preacher, rap star, president, disc jokey, news reader,sports commentator ...
Or you could go for emotional states: bored, happy, sad, enthusiastic, wary, angry, shy, snide, loving ...
Stand each person up in turn, flip open the telephone book and whatever they find they are to read in the style nominated.
Have them read for approx. 30 seconds before handing it to the next person. The key is exaggeration - the more embodied the state or style the better!
This game encourages split second thinking! It sounds easy but actually requires real concentration to play it well.
Sit your group in a circle. Have one person in the middle with their eyes closed.
Pass a tennis ball clockwise from player to player.
When the middle person calls 'Stop',and a letter ( A, B, C, ...) the person holding the tennis ball has to name 6 words starting with that letter.
Meanwhile the ball keeps being passed round the circle.
The goal for the person naming the words to have all 6 done before the ball comes back to them. If they haven't,they change places with the middle player. If they have the middle person closes their eyes once more, the ball starts being passed and when they're ready they call 'Stop' and another letter name.
Don't allow place names, first names or some of the tougher letters.(X for example!)
As your players get better increase the number of words required.
The reason for having the middle player's eyes closed as the ball is going round is so they won't know who has got it when they call.
All of these word games actively encourage the development of confidence, creativity, imagination, and speech skills.
You'll find once your students or group are comfortable with them, they'll begin asking to play them again and again. Vary them. Increase the level of difficulty and make sure if you're using groups or pairs you re-mix them for each activity.
Monitor the feedback carefully. Praise efforts made towards excellence as well as excellence itself.
If someone 'freezes' or makes a 'can't do, this is stupid' comment understand they are probably feeling vulnerable and perhaps threatened. Leave them out with an option of returning but do not buy into an argument over the rightness of the challenge or the validity of the game. Carry on having fun. Make sure you praise any effort they subsequently make to enter into the spirit of the games.
If a game falters through lack of understanding by most of its players or fear, stop it. There is no sense in pushing something meant to be fun when it's not. If you can, simplify and start again.
If you liked these games ...
You'll love my book!
28 public speaking games (with many more variations and extensions), full instructions, PLUS printable topic, tongue twister, poem and image sheets.
A complete one-stop-select-print-go public speaking resource for busy people.