A Toastmasters Primer

Okay, so you want to learn about Toastmasters but feel overwhelmed with all the information out there. Well, here’s a cheat sheet to help you learn what you need to know about this member-run organization.


History:

Clubs:

  • Clubs are local chapters of Toastmasters. Each club elects officers, sets dues and decides on meeting times and locations.
  • You can belong to as many clubs as you’d like to join.
  • All clubs have dues. Some of this money goes to the international organization and the rest goes to the club to pay for any club expenses such as marketing expenses, club materials and room rental fees.
  • Most clubs allow anyone to join but some require you to be part of a certain company or be at a given award level in Toastmasters.
  • Each club works towards distinguished status by trying to complete ten goals. These goals involved everything from speech awards to attracting new members.
  • Some clubs have less than ten members while others have over 40.
  • Some clubs are corporate clubs, so only people employed by that company may join.
  • All clubs are different, visit a couple before making a decision.

Officers:

  • The President is the club leader and oversees all the operations of a club.
  • The Vice President of Education is the second highest ranking club officer. This person is in charge of making sure that members are making progress with their speech goals and that meeting roles are filled.
  • The Vice President of Membership is in charge of keeping track of members.
  • The Vice President of Public Relations is the club’s marketing officer that basically tries to generate interest in the club from current and prospective members.
  • The Secretary maintains all the important documentation for the club.
  • The Treasurer makes sure all dues and bills are paid.
  • The Sargent at Arms greets guests and members and makes sure that the meeting room is set up.
  • Officers are elected in the spring and take office on July 1st. Their term runs through June 30th.
  • In smaller clubs, some people may hold multiple rolls. In larger ones, some roles may be shared by multiple people.

Meetings:

  • Meetings typically contain prepared and non-prepared speaking.
  • The Toastmaster (or Toastmaster of the Day) runs the meeting and introduces speakers. Any member can sign up for this role.
  • The main part of the meeting is the prepared speeches. The number of speeches depends on the meeting length and the members signed up to speak. Typical meetings have between two and five speeches.
  • Other prepared roles may include a word of the day, joke of the day or thought of the day.
  • Table topics is the part of the meeting where anyone in attendance is welcomed to speak extemporaneously on the topic of the day.
  • All speeches are timed and the timer reports these times at the end of the meeting.
  • The “Ah Counter” counts filler words such as “ahs”, “ums” and “you knows” and gives a report at the end of the meeting.
  • Evaluators evaluate a particular speech and give the speaker advice on how to improve.
  • The General Evaluator runs the evaluation part of the meeting, then evaluates the meeting as whole.
  • The President or other officers may speak at the beginning or the end of the meeting.
  • Sometimes the meeting may have a theme so things may be different than a regular meeting.

Speeches:

  • Speeches are supposed to be based on projects from either the basic or one of the advanced manuals. This rule isn’t always followed.
  • The basic manual contains ten projects. These projects must be completed before a member can give speeches from an advanced manual.
  • Completion of speeches results in awards. Some advanced awards require holding an officer role for a full term.
  • Twice a year, clubs have speech contests. Members get to be judges and vote for the best speech.

So this is Toastmasters in a nutshell. There’s a lot more information out there and a lot more detail, but this is enough to prepare you for that first Toastmasters meeting. As someone who spent a few years in Toastmasters, I can tell you it’s definitely worth checking out. Good luck.

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