The Problem with Toastmasters

While I recommend Toastmasters to my classes and clients, it’s not always the perfect solution for becoming a good speaker. It’s hard for me to not seem wishy washy on the subject because my four plus years in Toastmasters were mainly positive. Yes, there were those not so good moments, but in general I enjoyed being part of an amazing club and making some excellent friends.

With that being said, there are a lot of things to look out for with Toastmasters. The main culprit is the focus on style over substance. People overdo style in their speeches and Toastmasters audiences love them. I’ll never forget the first (and only time) I sat through a district speech contest. Some of the speeches were good but others, including the one that won, were far from impressive. It was at that point where I realized that winning speech contest doesn’t really amount to anything outside of Toastmasters.

I recently came across a video of a speaker that to me is the perfect example of what’s wrong with Toastmasters. You can view it below:

There are couple things of interest here. First, the audience loves the speech. If this guy gave this speech to pretty much any audience outside of Toastmasters, he would not get such a positive reaction. I’m not saying that his material is bad, but it’s hard to find the point of his speech beneath all the goofy vocal variety, exaggerated gestures and the crazy outfit.

Second, its’ supposed to be a funny speech but because it is, again, so goofy, a lot of the clever humor (such as where his tattoo is and the jokes about the biscuit) is missed. The sad part about it is that it probably could have been a good speech. I don’t think the speaker is a bad speaker and the speech itself (if you can focus on it) isn’t so bad. But the delivery is absolutely horrible. And the fact that this guy is not alone in thinking that this is acceptable for a speech is the main problem with Toastmasters.

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3 thoughts on “The Problem with Toastmasters

  1. Pingback: Toastmaster communication | Betterdaysnewsletter

  2. Liz

    Thanks for stopping by the carnival at my blog. I had to come visit to see what you’re doing. And then I saw Toastmasters and had to look. Been in the group for almost 7 years now. I love it. I agree with some of what you say above. I do want to give a counterpoint though. When I went to my first meeting, I had such severe PTSD that I required a service dog. I couldn’t work. I could barely take care of myself. Thanks to Toastmasters, my dog is retired and I’m a productive member of society.

    I think your points about the exaggerated vocal variety/body language are more about the individual performing the speech than Toastmasters. The manuals are all clear in the objectives that you’re supposed to use gestures and vocal variety smoothly and naturally, etc. It doesn’t say that it should distract from the message, but rather that it should enhance the message. So I think your complaints are more with the individuals doing that than with the program itself, but, you’re right, if it gets institutionalized in a club or area that you’re supposed to go overboard, that’s not good.

    As far as the video, I don’t know where that contest took place, but they broke a major rule by providing an introduction to the speech. That didn’t impress me, so I really didn’t expect much from the speech itself.

    Again, thanks for stopping by!

  3. James Post author

    Liz,

    Thanks so much for checking out the blog and the comment (and again, great job with the carnival – I used to do one and it wasn’t as interesting as the one you put together).

    I couldn’t agree with you more about Toastmasters. It sounds like you have an amazing story – I’m glad it worked out for you so well. It definitely helped me become a better speaker. It’s funny because I think some of my readers think I have multiple personalities when it comes to Toastmasters – I praise it in one post and cut it down in another. My biggest problem with Toastmasters is (as you pointed out) not with the organization itself, but with certain “establishment” members that have no idea what it means to be a good speaker and allow speeches like the one in the video to be deemed good. This guy won the contest (I think it was either a District or Regional one too). The fact that the speech won and people loved it surprised me.

    I tried to be careful to criticize the speech rather than the speaker. He had some funny lines and if his delivery were a bit less over the top, it could have been good. But the goofy behavior just drives me crazy. Unfortunately, a lot of the speech contests I’ve seen have winners that are more like this. While I think the program itself is solid, the fact that the people who run things are not trained instructors sometimes leads to people picking up bad speaking habits and the habits spreading.

    Great point about the intro. Isn’t it supposed to be just the person’s name and the title of the speech?

    Thanks again for the post :)

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