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The Taboo Test: Engage your audience with what you do NOT say

The geniuses at Hasbro had the right idea when they came up with a party game that had players shouting, laughing, interrupting each other, thinking with their arms and fists, and jumping to their feet.


They published the game, Taboo, the most engaging game I’ve ever played and one I’d highly recommend as a warm-up exercise for any writer or speaker who wants their God-given message embedded in the hearts and on the tongue tips of all who encounter it.



The Game

In the game, a player chooses a card with a word or phrase at the top, like  chef and several “taboo” words underneath that top word, such as “hat, food, restaurant, cook, and make.”*  The object of the game is for the player to get her team to say chef without the player using the word chef, the taboo words, or any forms of those words, including those that rhyme.



So instead of resorting to the expected, stale description of “chef” which would be something like, “The guy who cooks your food at a restaurant,” the player is forced to use something unexpected and fresh like, “The artist who creates your braised veal ribs with caramelized shallots.”



Both the player who comes up with the unique word picture and the one who deciphers it and shouts, “Chef!” before anyone else experience a certain satisfaction, having been carried away to an infinitely more fun and interesting place than the “guy who cooks . . . ” scenario might have led.



The Test

When you write or prepare to speak, consider your topic and quickly jot down everything that first comes to mind in relation to it. Thirty seconds later when you examine your list, you’ll probably have a grouping of the most predictable, yawn-inducing, circa 1990 approaches to your topic, clichés and all.



Next, eliminate everything on that list and anything that may subsequently occur to you that rhymes with Adam & Eve, or that encourages one to compare trusting God to sitting in a chair. Offensive and antiquated don’t go far enough to describe those approaches in this century.



You can use this same process as a test for material you’ve already written or presented; just go back and tweak before using it again.



Determine to use another approach to your topic that won’t have your audience rolling their eyes, guessing your next sentence as they read, or lip-syncing your talk because they’ve heard it all before.



Make Them Shout “Jesus!”

How can you do that?

Well, let’s say you were writing about your Savior. Now imagine the name “Jesus” at the top of your Taboo game card. And imagine that the unmentionable taboo words included God, son, Messiah, cross, blood, Bible, Joseph, Mary, died, sin, and every other word or term that a textbook explanation of Jesus might include.



What better chance is there for you, whose ministry it is to make His name known to your audience–the players, than to make them shout, “Jesus!” when you say, “The silencer of my critics,” “the giver of fourth trimesters,” “the champion of second chances,” or “the voice of the mute”?



Cause them to see your Jesus with 3-D glasses and from the inside out. 



And leave the Taboo words where they belong–on a card in a game box.


“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Psalms 107:2


*This card actually appears as one of thousands offered in the database of the Taboo game online at”>            

Sherry Boykin

Sherry Boykin helps Christian women transform their lives through the perspective-shifting power of story.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Carol Weeks

    I love this, Sherry! I’ve never played the game, but it seems a natural for a writer who wants to freshen up the stale stuff…

    1. Thanks, Carol. You especially would love, Love, LOVE this game. Your quick wit would make you a natural at it!

  2. A great game – and some great advice here. I love the phrase, “Cause them to see your Jesus in a way that is fresh and new.”

  3. This is a marvelous exercise! I am getting to know you, and to appreciate your gift of turning phrases and of standing words on their heads. It’s the unexpected that catches the readers’ attention and makes them re-think
    Thank you!

    1. So glad you like it, Barbara; it really does wonders to transform what we write and how we speak!

  4. Sue Badeau

    I love this – best speaking-tips article ever!! Thanks I’m fixin’ to take a taboo approach to trauma and see where it gets me!

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