“Just a Minute” (Post 12)

This game, which has been popular for more than 50 years, will test your ability to talk fluently and imaginatively. The more you play it, the better you’ll get.

Although you can practise it on your own, Just a Minute is best when played with at least three people – two competitors and a judge/timekeeper.

The aim of each round is for the competitor to talk about the subject (s)he is given, for 60 seconds, without hesitation, deviation or repetition. (More on each of these, below.) The other competitor(s) should challenge the speaker when they think they detect hesitation, or deviation, or repetition.

When a challenge is made, the timer is stopped. If the judge allows the challenge (thinks it is correct), the timer is started again and the person who made the challenge gets to speak on the same subject for the rest of the minute. Of course (s)he is open to the same procedure if the others think they have heard repetition, deviation or hesitation.

Points. Anyone who makes a correct challenge is awarded one point. If a speaker is wrongly challenged (in the opinion of the judge), (s)he gets to keep talking on the subject and is awarded a point. Whoever is speaking when the 60 seconds is up (and the timekeeper should blow a whistle, or say “Stop”, at that point) also gets a point.

Whenever you decide to stop playing, the person with the most points is the winner! You might want to ask the judge/timekeeper to keep a note of each player’s points, too. Speakers need to focus all their attention on speaking about their subject without repetition, hesitation or deviation.

Repetition: basically, this means using the exact same word more than once in your 60 seconds. Little, often-used words such as “and”, “a”, “the”, “I” and so on are usually allowed; but if someone wanted to use up time by listing lots of things with “and” in between each one, that would probably be ruled as unacceptable repetition. Using a word once in the singular – e.g. “house” – and then once in the plural – “houses” – is not repetition, and often catches challengers out. (Remember you get an extra point if you are the speaker and are challenged incorrectly!)

Hesitation: this one is quite straightforward. You aren’t allowed to pause for any significant length of time during your 60 seconds, nor are you allowed to use “fillers” such as “um”, “err”, “hmm” or to garble your words (that is, getting tongue-tied and coming out with nonsense word such as “sarple” for “sample” or “prossibly”, a cross between “possibly” and “probably”). This rule doesn’t mean that you have to run all your sentences together and speak until you run out of breath; it just means that you have to speak at a reasonably normal pace and not allow anyone to detect pauses or hesitations.

Deviation: this means straying from the subject you’ve been given. You must stick to the subject on the card (see below for subjects on cards), but what you say about it is entirely up to you. You can be as widely imaginative as you like; you can make things up if they are believable (If they’re not believable you might be challenged for “deviation from the truth”!).

Subjects: although these can be absolutely anything, it is best to start with straightforward subjects, especially when you are practising. To get into the way of the game, choose a subject that you know quite a lot about; that’ll give you confidence as you work up towards talking on a subject given to you by someone else. (You could record yourself, for practice, and then spot your own hesitations, deviations and repetitions when you listen back to the recording.)

Write each subject on a separated piece of card or paper, then give them to the judge/timekeeper who will read out one subject for each speaker at the beginning of his or her round. The judge can make up the subjects him/herself, or you can all write down subjects and hand them to him/her. Subjects can be simple, such as “What I did yesterday” or “My favourite meal” or “Music”; more complicated, such as “How to win an argument” or “What not to do on holiday” or “Money”; or rather abstract, such as popular sayings: “A stitch in time saves nine” or “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” or “Well I never”.


If you have enough people to have a judge, try to choose someone whose judgment you all respect!

If you write down difficult subjects, be prepared to be asked to speak on them yourself!

Challenging someone just before the 60 seconds is up (if you can sense when that is) can be particularly effective, as you’ll get a point if your challenge is correct, and only have to speak for a few seconds on the subject before getting another point for speaking as the whistle blows for “time’s up!”

Don’t speak too quickly – that is, gabble – although if you’re nervous that’s likely to happen. The faster you speak, the more you’ll have to think of to say! Just speak in a reasonable, even rather thoughtful, way; it will take longer and also give you more time to think of what to say next.

If this really takes off in your home, perhaps you could start a family league, with a prize for the overall winner at the end of each week!

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