Toastmasters: Improving Your Speaking Skills Builds Self Confidence

The first Toastmasters meeting was held in 1903 by founder Ralph Smedley at the YMCA.  In 1924, when clubs became permanent Dr. Smedly put together a “Manual of Instructions” and “Ten Lessons in Public Speaking”, which were copyrighted in 1928.  Every member that joins a club has the opportunity to practice various skills useful in public speaking, including giving speeches, speaking extemporaneously during Table topics, listening, and providing each other with feedback and evaluation. Some clubs meet monthly, some meet twice a month, and some meet weekly.  and when they have completed the manual after 10 speeches they are awarded the title Competent Toastmaster(CTM).  Since Toastmasters has grown to be an International organization over time, Toastmasters club adopts a “learn-by-doing” philosophy, wherein each member learns at a pace suitable to his or her developmental needs. The Toastmasters program is divided into two separate tracks, Communication and Leadership, with members progressing along each track by presenting speeches and taking on roles within their club, district, and Toastmasters International itself.

How Toastmasters Has Changed Over the Years

In 2017, Toastmasters introduced the new Pathways learning experience, a modernization of the Toastmasters education program that better reflects real-world communication and leadership scenarios. Through Pathways members can develop skills in many different areas—communication, leadership, management, strategic planning, service to others, public speaking and more. Members have the opportunity to complete projects that range in topic from persuasive speaking to motivating others to create a podcast to leading a group in a difficult situation.

When I joined Toastmasters in the mid to late 1990’s I joined a club that met weekly.  After receiving the CTM, I went on to receive the certification Abke Toastmaster(ATM) by giving 20 more speeches and holding office within the club.  When I was a member of Toastmaster, you didn’t have the technology you have today.  Since leaving Toastmasters, I later set up a weekly podcast on the Internet.  A few years ago I attended a virtual event for Toastmasters and talked about my experience podcasting.  I remember the leader asking if being a member of Toastmasters was a part of my decision to start my own show at the time.

The heart of the curriculum is the communication track, defined by the Competent Communication manual (formerly called Communication and Leadership Program) and a set of fifteen advanced manuals. The Competent Communication manual consists of ten speech projects, each building upon the other in skills and difficulty. The advanced manuals have five projects each, and each manual focuses on a particular aspect or type of presentation (such as technical presentations, storytelling, or interpersonal communication).

For each project, the member prepares and delivers a speech in front of the club. Speakers are expected to keep their presentations within prescribed time limits. For most Competent Communication speeches, the limit is five to seven minutes. The Icebreaker (CC Manual) is between 4–6 minutes. While some Advanced communication projects are five to seven minutes, some are shorter and most are longer, generally ten to fifteen minutes, and some are a half an hour or more. After the member gives the presentation, another Toastmaster evaluates the presenter based on the criteria for each project. The distinctive feature of Toastmasters is this continual evaluation. Each activity at a club is evaluated: speeches are evaluated both orally at the meeting and in the member’s manual. In some clubs, even the evaluators are themselves evaluated at the end of the meeting by a “General Evaluator”, also a club member. This near-immediate feedback provides the member with information on how he or she can improve his or her presentation skills for the next speech and is intended to provide a positive experience for the speaker.

Club Meetings and Meeting Roles

Every Toastmasters club meets on a regular basis, at least 12 times a year. Most clubs meet once a week or twice a month, usually for 1 to 2.5 hours, depending on the club. Each meeting has a structured format, with various members participating in the different roles in the meetings. The meeting is run by a Toastmaster of the Day (TMOD or TME for Toastmaster of the Evening) with the help of Table Topics Master and General Evaluator.

There are three basic parts to the Toastmasters meeting: the prepared speeches, table topics, and evaluations. In the prepared speaking portion of the meeting, several Toastmasters will give a prepared presentation or speech before the group. Speeches are usually designed to meet the requirements of one of the projects in the communication manuals. “Table topics” is an extemporaneous speaking exercise where the speaker speaks “off the cuff”; that is, the speaker responds to a question or topic that is not known beforehand. The Table Topics Master presents the topic, calls on an individual, and then that individual has 1 to 2 minutes to respond.

The evaluation session is where feedback is provided to all members, including the speakers. The evaluation session is headed by a General Evaluator, who calls on individual speech evaluators to give a 2- to 3-minute evaluation of an earlier presentation. After the evaluators have finished giving their evaluations, the General Evaluator calls for the helper reports:

  • There is a Grammarian who notes mispronunciations and mistakes in grammar or word repetition (e.g., “I did … I did”), sometimes called “double clutching.” In some clubs, the Grammarian will also point out positive uses of language, including nice turns of phrase, clever formulations, and especially poetic or otherwise exceptional uses of language.
  • An Ah-Counter keeps track of audible pauses such as “ah,” “er,” “um,” “well,” and “you know”. These are naturally occurring pauses or fillers in the flow of a speech. In some clubs, the role of the Grammarian and the Ah-Counter will be combined.
  • The meeting’s Timer reports how much time each speaker, table topics responder, and evaluator took to give his or her presentation. Then the General Evaluator, or Master Evaluator, gives his or her overall evaluation of the meeting and makes recommendations on ways to improve future meetings. Some clubs have Table Topics Evaluators who evaluate members’ responses to the table topics; for those that do not, the General Evaluator frequently fills that role.  Some advanced clubs have a ’round robin’ evaluation for the speakers. In addition to the designated evaluator giving an evaluation recorded in the members’ manual, the other members around the room are asked for additional comments on the presentation


Levels of Participation

At the Club Level

Members may belong to one or more clubs, although most members belong only to a single club. Membership in a club can be open or closed. Open clubs are those where any person may apply to join, whereas closed clubs limit membership, generally to people working in the same organization, office tower, etc. Some clubs are advanced, where membership is usually only granted to current or past Toastmasters members who have earned their Competent Communicator or Competent Toastmaster award.

The minimum requirements for a club are to have eight or more members, and a minimum of three officers (the club president, a vice-president, and secretary who must be different individuals). For a club to be granted a charter (and therefore be recognized as a Toastmasters club) a minimum membership of twenty is required; this is usually referred to as “charter strength” when discussing membership. Club officers are, in order of precedence:

  • President
  • Vice-Presidents
    • Education (VPE)
    • Membership (VPM)
    • Public Relations (VPPR)
  • Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • Sergeant at Arms (SAA)

The outgoing President, the Immediate Past President, also serves on the Club Committee, usually in an advisory role.

At the District Level

A district is governed on a day-to-day basis by a District Executive Committee (DEC), consisting of the following officers (in order of precedence):

  • District Director (DD, formerly – until June 30, 2015: District Governor)
  • Program Quality Director (PQD, formerly – until June 30, 2015: Lieutenant Governor Education & Training)
  • Club Growth Director (CGD, formerly – until June 30, 2015: Lieutenant Governor Marketing)
  • Immediate Past District Director (IPDD, formerly – until June 30, 2015: Immediate Past District Governor)
  • Public Relations Manager (PRM, formerly – until June 30, 2015: Public Relations Officer)
  • Division Directors (formerly – until June 30, 2015: Division Governors )
  • Area Directors (formerly – until June 30, 2015: Area Governors)
  • Administration Manager (formerly – until June 30, 2015: District Secretary)
  • Finance manager (formerly – until June 30, 2015: District Treasurer

The DEC is overseen by a District Council (DC), meeting twice a year at the district conferences, consisting of the following officers:

  • All District Executive Committee officers above
  • Club Presidents
  • Club Vice Presidents of Education

Most districts also have appointed non-voting positions such as:

  • Alignment Committee Chair
  • Club Guidance/Rescue/Coach Committee Chair
  • District Speakers Bureau Chair
  • New Club/Extension Committee Chair
  • Nominating Committee Chair
  • Parliamentarian
  • Logistics Manager (formerly – until June 30, 2015: Sergeant at Arms)
  • Webmaster/Social Media Chair
  • Youth Leadership Chair
  • Conference chairs
  • Toastmasters Leadership Institute chairs

The three most senior district officers and division directors must be elected. Other officer positions within a district are usually appointed by the District Director (which is also subject to confirmation by the District Council), although a few districts elect them.

At the International Level

The board of directors manages the overall global activities of the organization. The board of directors is composed of several officers, as well as international directors elected from various regions. The board is assisted in day-to-day activities by the world headquarters staff, led by the chief executive officer. In addition to the fourteen international directors (one from each region), the board of directors has the following officers:

  • International President
  • President-elect
  • First Vice-President (1VP)
  • Second Vice-President (2VP)
  • Immediate Past International President (IPP)
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO, ex officio position)

The board sets strategy and policy, while World Headquarters sets protocol and supports district and club operations.

Each of the 14 regions also has a Region Advisor (RA), to help the districts in that region with district success planning and marketing. Their term is April 1 through June 30 of the following year, so they overlap, and there is both an incoming and outgoing RA for four months of the year.



Benefits of Joining Toastmasters

Every member has the opportunity to develop leadership skills.  When an individual joins they are given a copy of the Competent Leadership manual, which contains ten projects which can be completed by serving in various meeting roles, as well as participating in organizing club contests, membership campaigns, and PR campaigns in their club. This manual can be completed in as little as five to six months, although most members will take more time to complete its projects. Upon completion, a member can obtain his or her Competent Leader award.

Whenever you interview for a job and you can demonstrate the skills learned from Toastmasters in an interview, or have it listed on your resume, your stock with potential employer improves.  They’re familiar with Toastmasters and the skills you learned while participating in the organization.