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Toastmasters: Tall tale Contest

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A tall tale is “a fictional story which is told in the form of personal narrative or anecdotes, which


challenges the listener’s credulity with comic outlandishness, and which performs different social functions depending on whether it is heard as true or as fictional.” In other words, because the tall tale is presented as a spontaneous reminiscence that happened either to the narrator or to an acquaintance – with true-life, ordinary details that build up almost imperceptibly to something outrageous – even listeners who hear it as fiction often play along and act as though they believe it to be true.

In the rules for the Toastmasters Tall Tale Contest, one of the event’s primary goals is listed as “to provide participants with the opportunity to create an original, highly improbable, humorous tale.” Before you throw your hat in the ring, here are a few suggestions to bear in mind:

First and foremost, the tall tale must be a story, that is, a sequence of related events with a beginning, middle and end, characters and action. It can’t just be a shopping list of absurd details. That said, it doesn’t have to follow a particular structure. It can be based on traditional tales you’ve heard; on actual, if unusual events; or on your own imagination.

The secret to a good tall tale is exaggeration. The most common types of exaggeration include size, abilities such as intelligence or strength, or the aggressiveness of animals or weather. But exaggeration isn’t all that’s required. The teller should also compare things, says Brown, in a concrete and comical way. That includes making animals seem human, as in the fish tale above.

Here’s an excerpt from a tall tale called “Mississippi Mosquitoes,” retold by S.E. Schlosser, on

A visitor to Mississippi decided to take a walk along the river in the cool of the evening. His host warned him that the mosquitoes in the area had been acting up lately, tormenting the alligators until they moved down the river. But the visitor just laughed….

As he promenaded beside the flowing Mississippi, he heard the whirling sound of a tornado. Looking up, he saw two mosquitoes descending upon him. They lifted him straight up in the air and carried him out over the river.…

You’ll notice that the mosquitoes are compared to a tornado, and the way they carry off their victim likens them to vultures – big ones at that!

Tall tales should come across as stories of the common people, not highbrow literary creations. It’s helpful to speak in short, simple sentences, with pauses, vocal variety, variations of rhythm and timing, and all your other good speaking skills. Make your images sharp and easy to imagine. Use comic understatement. That is, when you say something absurd, don’t overplay it; let the details speak for themselves. Overall, remember, your goal is not to inform, inspire or touch, but to amuse. 

( Extracts from the article " Tall tales are  Tall order"  by Caren S. Neile, Ph.D., ATMS, directs the South Florida Storytelling Project at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. An ATMS and a CL in West Boca Toastmasters, she is 10 feet tall and wins first, second and third place in every contest she enters. She can be reached at Really.)

Tall Tales Contest

The speech must be of a highly exaggerated, improbable nature and have a theme or plot. Humor and props may be used to support or illustrate the speech. Contestants must prepare their own three to five minute speech, which must be substantially original. The subject for the Tall Tales speech shall be selected by the contestant.

Contestants are encouraged to work out of the Advanced Communication Humorously Speaking or Storytelling manuals when competing at any level and receive a written and verbal evaluation for speech credit. Contestants can also use the projects

  • To provide an opportunity for speakers to improve their speaking abilities.
  • To provide an opportunity to learn by observing the more proficient speakers who have benefited from their Toastmasters training
  • To provide participants with the opportunity to create an original, highly improbable, humorous tale.

Tall tales judges Ballot
Tall tales tie breaking judge Ballot

( Courtesy: )

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