Toastmasters truly is a place where you can develop certain skills which you would never be able to develop even if you attended the most exclusive seminaries.
No expensive 2 day public speaking workshop is going to help you as much as a Toastmaster membership will. And no, you won't learn how to make the perfect breakfast toast.
I'm not paid by Toastmasters International to write this. This is my personal opinion after I've reviewed the whole Toastmaster curriculum, program, membership events. I've even read many of the specific booklets created by Toastmasters International. I've come to this conclusion by comparing it to many other offers on the market.
I can truly state that Toastmasters is an truly benefical investment and a astounding way to help you succeed personally and professionaly.
At the end of this article I've also updated my personal critique after being a member for more than 1 year. (March 2019)
Personally, I've avoided going to any self development/public speaking/entrepreneurial club for years due to the fact that I viewed it as a waste of time since most people there where actually there to take and not give back. Or it was some kind of pure theoretical story about how you can change if you only think about it.
Change can only come from action.
I had been searching for a while for a group of people who where on to developing their leadership and communication skills. I want to develop my communication skills even more so that I can offer the best advice to my customers who seek software development and consulting.
I wanted something that was a "no nonsense" approach to leadership and public speaking . A more business-like environment where there is no theoretical bullshit but you actually get to practice every time, all the time and become better and better.
To make it clear. I had prior public speaking experience since highschool. We gave presentations all the time so I had a basic knowledge of how you should do certain things. I had broken the ice of public speaking during highschool when I can tell you that I really was nervous all the time. I would speak so fast that probably most wouldn't get my message.
Due to the fact that I had practiced it before it became easier for me to stand in front of a small crowd in Toastmasters. But standing in front and presenting something versus delivering an extraordinary speech are different things. If I can still improve, so can you!
If I am to compare the quality of other places to the high quality that Toastmasters adheres we first need to take into account the fact that each Toastmaster club is different in a unique way.
Although each Toastmaster Club follows a predefined agenda it has small differences and this is a good thing.
Most of the people who sell specific trainings, courses, seminaries still need to learn how to actually provide people with benefits instead of continuously selling hopes and dreams. Toastmasters is different in this aspect that it doesn't try to sell you anything except the fact that you will reap true benefits by continuously improving.
If you where to compare the money you would actually spend on trainings,courses, seminaries and books throughout the years it will be a cheaper investment to just go to Toastmasters each week AND prepare for your roles. Dilligently start writing a speech and perform it every 3 to 6 weeks so you build up your muscles. For the leadership part it's pretty easy, all you need to do is get involved in the meetings organisation.
The self development industry has created many charlatans and hustlers selling miraculous solutions to every problem including public speaking, communication, inter personal relationships etc.
Most of them are so effective they charge for $3000 for a 1 or to 2 day seminar excluding other costs like transport, accomodation and food.
I am writing a book called "The Credible Eccentric" on some of this topics. You can subscribe to get a sneak preview at ElixirOfTruth.com.
Continuous professional development
Everything that happens during Toastmasters, all activities, no matter how small they may seem help all the members in developing their communicaton and leadership skills.
It's sad that most don't understand this and are actually reluctant to participate or do something extra. For example, presenting your role is a great way to prepare a 30 second customized speech.
Or just to improvise based on the topic of the meeting.
Organization, Timing and Agenda
I've attended my first Toastmasters meeting in Januari 2018. The only reason why I wanted to go is that I was testing the waters to see if I could find a group of business likeminded people.
It instantly drew my atention of how organized everything was. Everything started on time and was kept in track in a timely fashion.
There was an actual agenda of what was to happen and when it was to happen.
Let's be serious and honest here for a moment. Not even the most effective corporations follow a specific agenda and try to focus on what they're doing. Most meetings in a company are useless time hogs. If they'd plan everything in advance they would also benefit from meeting with a plan at hand.
Just by attending toastmasters you can instantly inconsciously feel the breeze of benefits that are thrown at you at each step.
Timing is important and everything is timed in Toastmasters. You have a minimum time to speak and a maximum amount of time to which you get 30 seconds to wrap everything up. If you don't wrap things up then you are 'disqualified'.
Being disqualified often means different things in different clubs. You will mostly see the red card waved and people will start to applaud as if you had the best speech in the world.
This indicates that you've gone over your time and the meeting should proceed further. So please take a seat and learn to look at the signs the next time.
Learning to present effectively
Even the speech timing has been devised in a way that makes it extremely logic. You have to keep a speech in around 5 to 7 minutes. This is not to long and not to short.
Being able to present your ideas means that you need to be able to do this in a certain predefined timeframe. I think 5 to 7 minutes is a extraordinary choice of time since historically people could keep attention at around 10 minutes before it would drop. Nowadays attention is even lower in younger generations but 5 to 7 minutes is still a sweet spot.
How often don't we see long presentations that go on for almost an hour while everything could have been presented in just 7 minutes in a manner that it would have made people laugh and actually be interested.
Sometimes you can't really present what you want in 5 to 7 minutes and that's ok. You can talk about those ideas in another speech. Or you could keep a longer educational moment if everyone agrees.
Toastmasters has such booklets and presentations which can be used in conjuction with Powerpoint. Of course, when people go to keep longer presentations and when using powerpoint it's important to learn the rule of putting almost NO text on your slides. I haven't found a guide on making great powerpoint presentatinons within TOastmaster yes.
I think this is something extra since most presentations are to be of the storytelling type. I however recommend everyone to go through Presentation Zen.
Feedback and encouragement
During a meeting members and guests are encouraged all the time to go on and speak. Everyone is presented for their position and we all applaud eachother.
The applauding also happens whenever you have finished your role and speech.
The continuous feedback during the meetings is what makes everything worthwile. Feedback leads to improvements. Those improvements happen when people know they may speak up and also when they know they are listened to. Feedback also needs to be applied for it to work.
I can certainly say that prior to toastmasters I didn't really know how to give feedback. Especially feedback based on a speech someone has given.
After each speech all members give feedback to eachother. During my first 2 to 3 months I didn't know what to write. Toastmasters has some tools to help with this, and in pathways even a small training on how to give feedback. I read the 'effective evaluator' 10 page booklet but I was awaiting a 300 page book explaining everything into details.
To be honest, practice makes perfect. You can only learn if you practice.. And the practice you gain while giving writing and presenting the speech evaluations in Toastmasters are invaluable.
Then I had the chance to give a personal speech evaluation to other members. This first happened at the club contest. This was also the moment I gave my first speech.
Speech Evaluation can seem pretty simple. You watch someone perform a speech. You write down your feedback including the positive, the negative and what can be improved.
Well not so fast.. You have to look at everything including structure, body language, eye contact, tonality etc. This can prove to be overwhelming.
Big deal, You write everything down. Now what?
Well you need to structure it and keep a 2 to 3 minute presentation. However if you focus on 3 to 5 keypoints then you have more than enough to talk about.
Toastmaster international actually has a contest on keeping speech evaluations. I've found their sandwich way of doing everything is allright.
The General Evaluator
The general evaluator is not a military general who is also an evaluator but mainly someone who views the meeting from a 360 angle and gives his feedback on how everything went. Was everyone on time? Was the agenda followed? Guidelines for the meeting. Additional feedback for certain activities.
Round Table Feedback
If there is no general evaluator then there is a round table feedback session when everyone can give their input on how things went.
Guests are also asked for their feedback. This is extremely important. My view is that they're often overwhelmed by everything that is happening and have a positive thing to say.
If you have a speech you also get feedback slips from other members, they're usually very specific since the time to write the feedback is limited.
As a toastmaster or tabletopics master you also get feedback.
As you see, feedback IS an integral part of the Toastmaster Experience. Feedback is a first class citizen. You will be learning on how to effectively give feedback aswell on how to receive it.
Giving feedback is an art and it can only be created by continuously providing it. After some time it's going to become a habit and you will start writing feedback for every person who keeps a presentation or does a project outside of Toastmasters. Of course, when you have 2 different roles in a smaller club it might be difficult to fill in the feedback slip.
The Various Roles Explained briefly
There are multiple roles in each meeting and each role HELPS every toastmaster member develop their skills in attention, public speaking and presenting.
Because with each role you actually have to do some talking and presenting. This is an opportunity to go beyond the basic roles outlined in the manuals.
Whenever you are presenting your role you can roleplay or give something of an extra.
These roles also provide you with the opportunity to enhance your focus and attention skills. Just "doing" them will help, but doing them and researching will boost your abilities.
The first role would be the Ah counter. Pretty simple. Just count the "ahs" and other filler words used during the whole meeting. Use a certain device like a piano to attract attention to the speakers. The sound is not made during prepared speeches. At the end of the meeting the "ah counter" reports his findings and provides feedback on how to improve.a
I've seen people improve tremendously by just attracting their attention all the time.
Camera Master/ Video Master
Not really a full fledged role, it's the person that registers certain parts of the meeting like the speeches, feedbacks and provides them to the members.
The grammarian choses the word of the day based on the Toastmaster theme. (S)he is responsible with reviewing proper usage of the language used in the club.
The Grammarian also gives a report at the end o the meeting.
Motivational words is a function that differs from club to club. It's a mini speech of 2 to 3 minutes to help keep people motivated. Usually it's based on the theme of the meeting. This mini speech is usefull to train new members in public speaking. It can be given to new members before they go on to give their Ice breaker.
The Posture monitor looks at the body posture of all speakers during the meeting. He has a certain device which he uses to attract attention whenever someone is using a bad posture or a distracting gesture. Again this does not happen during the prepared speech.
I think that the posture monitor should be more of a body language analyzer looking at small details of how body language affects the speecth.
Since body language is complex the posture monitor has a predefined set of things to look after. Members are encouraged to study other body language moves and postures which can be used.
He gives a report at the end of the meeting.
Sergeant at Arms
This person is responsible to maintain Club equipment in working order and check after every meeting to ensure adequate supplies are available .
Collecting voting slips, ensuring that the meeting starts on time. He's also the person who should greet members and guests and arange them to sit with members.
Smaller clubs have this role integrated with other roles.
Table Topic - Impromptu speeches
Table Topics, probably the most loved portion of any meeting. This is when the Table Topics master creates questions around the meeting theme.
Members that don't have other roles and guests are invited to give an impromptu speech which can last between 1 and 2:30 minutes based on the question asked.
To qualify you must be in time and use the word of the day explained by the grammarian.
The best table topic impromptu speech is voted upon and the winner takes a prize home.
The vote counter just counts the votes of the table topicss and only votes if there is a draw. He then announces the winner.
I find that the vote counter should be mixed with the Table Topic role. If there are 20 members at a meeting then it's better to have this role sepparate.
The timer must time all the speeches and most of the meeting to ensure everything goes on schedule.
The toastmaster role is the ultimate role. This person is responsible with presenting the whole meeting and introducing everyone during the meeting.
There are 7 club officer roles. These are leadership roles which will help each member focus on a certain skillset and ability.
These roles are:
- Vice President Education
- Vice President Membership
- Vice President Public Relations
- Sergeant at Arms
I won't explain what each of them needs to do since more details can be found on this page.
The Club Leadership Handbook which explains these officer roles can be downloaded here
Each role is quite complex but one thing is certain that all club officers need to meet at least once a month and dicuss certain activities.
Picking up a club office role provides you with the opportunity to go to 2 bootcamps a year organized by the division. You will get training for your role and get to meet other people.
Critiques and my personal feedback on Toastmasters
Maybe one of the weaker points or critiques of Toastmasters Clubs is that most members themselves are learning and growing with the club.
Everything is based on volunteering so all the people in all the roles are volunteering their time and energy. This is something that must be taken into account and always kept in mind.
No one is paid to do anything so the Officers are motivated by certain intristic abilities and the fact that they truly want to help people.
Once a member has grown to a certain level, (s)he most often changes their mindset and experiences other priorities in life. Members then quit and pursue other activities. Or they just aren't active anymore.
What I hate the most
What I hate the most is when people are extremely motivated to do speeches and become better. They claim they'll put hours per week into preparing and making a speech in 2 weeks. Yet after a few months they haven't even done their ice breaker or 6 months passed and they haven't reached level 1 of pathways. Most members I've encountered have claimed that they "simply can't make the time". I find this a very weak excuse. If you want to become better and you know it helps you then you will prioritize what is important. if you can't prioritize what is important then you're just lying to yourself and to others. This is called hypocrisy.
I've explained on numerous accounts that with just 15-20 minutes per day put aside to work on a speech you will have 7+ hours per month. Which is enough to keep one speech per month! Taking this to the extreme you can easily do a great speech every 6 weeks.
Think about it, don't you have at least 15 minutes a day to invest in yourself for something that will benefit you for the rest of your life?
Most often experienced members just quit without properly giving back to the community.
I find this regretful since the people who have learned the most are needed the most to coach and mentor the newcomers. I truly feel that for each 1 year when you learned and reaped the benefits of Toastmasters you should give back 1 year of your experience, knowledge and time to toastmasters by helping other members.
So if you've spent 3 years learning then think about giving back 3 years to the community. If you just take without giving then you haven't really learned anything from the toastmaster experience.
The quality of the meetings may differ from club to club due to these reasons. This however shouldn't keep you from joining Toastmasters.
Keep in mind that Toastmasters isn't a place where you will learn everything and become an expert overnight. It's rather the place where you will go to for years on end to get incremental results to success.
One other thing that bugs me is that Club Officers don't really invest in themselves and the club. I know that adult life is difficult yet taking a responsibility means doing your job properly untill the end.
If developing your public speaking skills, enhancing your feedback giving and receiving skills or becoming a leader is important to you then you should consider joining a Toastmasters club. If you DO commit and join please be realistic and set aside at least 3 hours per week.
You can find even more than Ive summarized here on the official https://toastmasters.org website. I encourage you to search for a club near you and go there as a guest a few times.
If you can't find a club near you then think about STARTING ONE.