It seems that whenever the topic of public speaking comes up, the topic of Toastmasters often follows. If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a few weeks, then you probably know my position on Toastmasters: I recommend it, but only if you choose the right club. This review will take a look at some of the areas where things could be better.

Through the years I’ve come into contact with thousands of people who have been involved with Toastmasters. Some only attended a single meeting as a guest while others have become International Directors. While the feelings towards this organization vary, most people love it and a few hate it. Personally, I have mostly positive feelings and experiences that I’ve accumulated over my four years as a member, but I also had a few not so good experiences as well. So when someone who had mostly negative experiences with it challenged me to write about the not so good things, I figured it would be an interesting challenge. His exact request was “tell me about some of the things you hate about Toastmasters.” Of course, I don’t hate per say anything about Toastmasters, so I’ve listed the things that peeve me the most. Additionally, I’ve include how to avoid or remedy the situations.

Know It Alls:

My biggest pet peeve with Toastmasters is the people that think they know everything about speaking, yet rarely speak outside of Toastmasters. Fortunately, these people are a small minority. But unfortunately, they are a very vocal minority that can ruin a club and turn people away from Toastmasters. One time after an event, I was talking with one of the other presenters and someone from Toastmasters came over to share his evaluation (we didn’t ask for it). I was criticized for starting with “Hello” while the other speaker was given a laundry list of things such as how many “ah” and “ums” he uttered. I laughed it off, but the other guy got very upset. He asked the Toastmaster how much speaking he did. The Toastmaster responded with his awards which translated to roughly 20 or so speeches. Then the other speaker asked him if he had ever been paid for a speech and the Toastmaster said he had not. The other speak said “well, I make my living giving speeches so when you can find someone willing to pay you for a speech, then you can give me your feedback.”

I have pointed out on many occasions that some of the things that people in Toastmasters obsess about aren’t such a big deal in real world speaking. In fact, many of the people that do well in Toastmasters find it challenging in the real world because the audiences are so different. The loud shouts to get attention, perfectly worded introductions, over-exaggerated gestures and other tricks that impress your club don’t always work in the outside world. I know because I’ve had it happen to me. I remember giving a speech to a group of about 50 people and throwing out all of my best tricks that my Toastmasters audiences loved, and none of them having any effect.

Now the reason for this is that most of the people in your typical Toastmasters audience are good, positive people. They’re a respectful audience and they’ll give you attention and positive feedback whether you give a very good or a very bad speech. And by design, Toastmasters isn’t about discouraging people from speaking so the primary focus is on what you’ve done right with some constructive feedback tossed in.

How do you deal with this? Very simple — speak outside of Toastmasters. You’ll learn as much about speaking by giving two speeches to a “live” audience as you would in 20 Toastmasters speeches. Now, you’ll want to give at least seven speeches in Toastmasters before doing this because you’ll work out many of the kinks of your talks and build the confidence you’ll need to face a real audience. You’ll also want to give people an anonymous way to leave you honest feedback so you can learn what worked and what didn’t.

The In Crowd:

Like any group (professional or social), Toastmasters sometimes has its “cool” people and everyone else. Sometimes it’s at the district level and sometimes it’s at the club level. I was fortunate that the club I spent over four years in never had this issue at all — historically they have been very welcoming to all and are still like that today. I did belong to another club where this was an issue and rather than try to fight it, I did what I could to make the best of it.

The real solution here is to avoid clubs that have this issue. Sometimes, you don’t see it until after you join or sometimes it just crops up. A clique forms, and if you’re not part of it, you feel like an outsider and start getting less and less value from your Toastmasters experience. When this happens, you can try to start an open dialog with the club and see if others feel that way too. If a significant number of members feel that way, then it’s time for the club to do something about it.

Ineffective Officers:

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I was fortunate to have worked with a great set of officers the year I was Club President. Everyone gave 100% and the club thrived. We tripled overall membership (as well as the number of active members — people that participated regularly), hit all 10 goals (some more than once) and had a fun year. The following year, I was an Area Governor and three months into it, one of my clubs folded. The woman that was President worked extremely hard to keep the club afloat, but she had no support from the officers or the members.

On a larger scale, a few years later my district saw two of the worst District Governors in the district’s history. One was so horrible, I decided to finally quit Toastmasters – I was unable to attend for months due to my speaking schedule so she motivated me to not renew my membership. The other one was even worse — she was essentially fired from her post and they brought in an International Director to fill in for the remainder of her term. These two women didn’t care about anything but themselves and had large egos. The district as a whole suffered during those two years.

At the club level, you can try to fill a vacant officer position or run for a position when elections are held and try to change things. But there are no guarantees that it will work. Your best bet often is to find a new club. If that’s not a viable option, you need to talk to the other members and see what you can do. Maybe one or more officers would welcome the chance to step down. Keep in mind that a lot of people have busy lives outside of Toastmasters between their careers and families, so it’s not that they are bad people or even have bad intentions. So be mindful of this. Offer to pitch in and help if you can and get others to. Your club is a community, so work together to make the most of it.

So these are my biggest pet peeves about Toastmasters. While they can become serious problems, they almost always can easily be dealt with. And while the word “hate” is in the title of this post, I don’t actually hate anything about Toastmasters — I just used the word because that was the question I was asked. I still recommend Toastmasters to those who take my Public Speaking classes and will continue to write about this great organization.

What I Hate About Toastmasters – A Toastmasters Review
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17 thoughts on “What I Hate About Toastmasters – A Toastmasters Review

  • September 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

    What I found was that after a certain skill level, TM wasn’t really helping me go further, just because it plain wasn’t regular enough: a speech every other week just isn’t enough, after the initial learning curve, to do anything except take up lots of time. Sometime maybe I’ll start doing TM again, but if so, I’d rather do a “blitz”, drive between multiple clubs and do speech after speech so that the experience can actually build on itself instead of just maintain itself.

  • September 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I think you gave a well-balanced and fair review of Toastmasters. Given their extremely low fees, it’s still a great way for many people to get more speaking experience–as long as they side-step the problems you outlined.

  • October 11, 2010 at 2:32 am

    I can’t agree with you more. I am facing similar issues in my club where I am the president currently. I am trying to change things but its difficult without a complete team of dedicated officers. But then, I am taking it as a challenge.

  • November 12, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Hmmmmm…… Disclaimer first, so no one can accuse me of bias! 🙂 I train people in making presentations for a living, so Toastmasters doing this for free undermines my market! 🙂

    That said, I’m utterly ambivalent about TM. There’s a lot of positive stuff but there are times when, frankly, the advice given at some of the TMs I’ve guested at has been simply wrong (let along not best practice!). On one occasion it was physically dangerous!

    The strength of TM is that you get peer *reviewed*. The downside is that you’re only *peer* reviewed. Sometimes one needs the input of experts, and that’s very much a problem at TM.

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  • September 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Nice balanced article.

    One other thing that I’ve noticed of late is the overly dramatic speeches that are winning the speech contests. Best speaker is the one who had exaggerated body language and expression; almost like a one person play. I find such speeches distracting and I believe it takes away from the message of the speech. But, these are winning top awards and the effect is trickling down to districts/Divisions and Areas!

  • January 2, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Roshan – I’m not sure I agree with your analogy… at a good play you don’t notice the acting, because it’s so well done.

    If you notice the acting in a speech, it’s not done well enough! 🙂

  • May 31, 2013 at 8:08 am

    I have no issue with the actual educational materials if used as they were created to be used, and you can indeed learn substantial skills. Though you need to find those within Toastmasters who are the real gems with the experience to mentor you. They do exist, but you need to be extremely discriminating. Not all ‘experienced’ toastmasters are created equal. Nor are all clubs.

    It was never meant to replace real world speaking but an additional resource.

    For me the cliques that form are destructive, and have shaken my confidence completely. Apparently I put on enough exterior that other toastmasters do not notice the damage that it has done. But when I attend non-toastmaster workshops, a lot of time is spent rebuilding what has been lost due to this. It is not merely a club thing, but district wide. If you are not in the clique, suddenly your speaking and leadership opportunities are narrowed. Politics rules the day. It’s all very subtle. People who are in the clique get encouraged in both areas. If you aren’t, then you will be lucky to find any real encouragement. And that is really hard to deal with. I’ve changed clubs several times, and no matter how politics free it seems to be upon joining, eventually it will surface. I have found mentors and supporters here and there, and this keeps me doing what I need to learn the things I want to do. But the hurt is deep. The self-esteem and achievement of the clique is bought at the expense of those outside it.

  • December 11, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    I’ve been in Toastmasters a little over a year (two different ones) and this article nails it!

    When I joined, I was already speaking professionally (getting paid), so it wasn’t long before I began winning “Best Speaker,” “Best Table Topics,” and even a District workshop presentation.

    What I got most out of Toastmasters, was being able to memorize my speeches. But it is very clique-oriented and you can only go so far with it if you have bigger aspirations. I’ve had people in Toastmasters downplay my accomplishments, which seemed petty to me. And their Pathways website is a bitch to navigate too.

    When I watch successful speakers on You Tube, the best ones DO have many filler words in their talks. But that’s why I like them, because they are down to earth and unique.

    Toastmasters has too many rules, and I was always a bit of a rebel that made my own way.

    It’s not for everyone. I’m officially a member until March 2020, but I haven’t gone to a meeting in almost two months. I just don’t get excited about it anymore–and I’m fine with that.

  • September 7, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    I joined Toastmasters just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit despite its former president inviting me to go to another club. I elected to stay because it was the most accessible chapter. At first, I was not encouraged to do a speech other than a Table Topics speech. When I did start doing speeches, I received mixed results based upon the political biases of certain key members. One officer who didn’t happen to like me and apparently presumed that I must be some “flaming liberal” (I’m actually a lifelong Independent and moderate), based criticisms upon statements that I didn’t make in my speech at all, publicly knocking it with straw-man arguments.

    I chose Motivational Strategies for my pathway and applied for a mentor. The mentor was available at first but then disappeared He may not have survived the pandemic. Others who had practiced under a previous course of study complained about having to adjust to Pathways.

    We began to do Zoom meetings after our venue closed its doors due to COVID-19, the room being run by the same former president who had invited me to go someplace else. Immediately after a non-partisan speech I delivered on the subject of “hope”, my channel froze. I presumed that it was one of Zoom’s technical glitches so I tried to reboot to get back in. I couldn’t. Worse yet, I was blocked altogether the following week. I don’t know if this was due to political motivations on the part of the officer running the Zoom meetings or problems inherent to Zoom. I really don’t care. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to practice. I looked at other Toastmaster groups in my area, either finding their schedules impossible to accommodate or finding other red flags of similar types of trouble ahead.

    I also re-evaluated the effectiveness of Pathways. I was clearly speaking at a level that some considered to be advanced. Some of the criteria for later studies in communication included starting a social media account, which in my area would demand the use of Facebook. I had done social media for a couple of decades and was downsizing this after Cambridge Analytica and the draw social media had demanded of my time. I had deleted Facebook a couple of years before joining Toastmasters. I will in no way agree to start a new Facebook account. Another directive spoke of doing a podcast. I was able to do that already, but if I followed Pathways, I would find myself being held back.

    So I resigned from Toastmasters altogether, electing instead to start doing educational videos to practice public speaking without having to bow to Toastmaster’s agenda in Pathways.

    To Toastmasters, I say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t believe I would be in good hands if I stayed.”

    To all who might want to persuade me to reconsider, I’d respond with words much like those of that former president: “Thank you for your comments, but there are groups elsewhere to whom you can direct your appeals and whom I think can make better use of them than me.”

  • October 10, 2020 at 1:20 am

    Lot’s of great comments on here. I never got around to doing pathways, but I know a lot of folks were frustrated with it. Lynn – I’m so sorry about your experiences. It’s really unfortunate.

  • October 31, 2020 at 12:15 am

    I’ve been in Toastmasters for 5 years now. I love Toastmasters to the bottom of my heart. I am patriotic with Toastmasters as I am with my country, a lot of issues. With that said, I resonated with the message here.

    Like a tradition evaluation, I will lay out pros and cons. First, if you’re in the right club, you can develop some seriously dangerous skills in the marketplace. Not only can you develop speaking skills, you have leadership, sales, writing, organization, and many more skills. The apparatus of Toastmasters allows you to fully develop your skills. Secondly, you are a part of a community. These people can elevate you to a higher level in the workplace.

    However, few of these clubs are capable of unleashing its fullest potential. Most clubs are echo chambers and circuses. Even some “high” ranking members are clowns. I went to a club where they emphasize on TEDx talks. TEDx is a different institution from TED. These people came off very arrogant. They use the cheap scarcity tactics by say they’ll raise the price if we don’t buy today. The price was $120, which is twice as much as the average club. On top of that, they only meet once a month. So it’s not worth it.

    Now I want to bring up Pathways. The idea of Pathways is genius, but the execution is awful. The interface is a short term problem. The real issue is the content. Before Pathways, you had a foundational manual called the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership. The principles of Toastmasters flushed down the toilet. The Paths that you take are not unique to the path themselves. The first 2 levels are identical to each other. By the way, there’s 5 levels total. It’s incredibly frustrating regurgitating the same thing over and over again. The electives for all the paths are the same for all paths.

    The most aggravating part about this is Toastmasters outright refuses to acknowledge these problems.COVID-19 and the interface are short term issues. I’m thinking long tern here. The Paths on Pathways are terrible. There’s no focus on the path you need take to hone in on the skill.

    I do have a couple of solutions. First, bring back the foundation. Hell, you can copy and paste the CC and CL manual on the interface and the program would be 10x better. Second, Make some electives their own paths. Creating a Podcast and Creating a Social Media Presence are electives on level 4. These are complicated tasks and they need their own paths to make these assets truly cultivated. And finally, I’ll take larger leadership roles in Toastmasters i.e. Area Governor or District level positions.

    If there are no changes despite my efforts, I will see no point of return, I will resign from Toastmasters and start a new institutions to fill in our deep gaps.

  • December 14, 2020 at 11:32 am

    David-I totally agree with your analysis of Pathways. It allows little diversification and does not focus on honing individual speaking skills. All paths seem to be the same path with just a change of name. As a long time member, I wish there were a club could “opt out” of Pathways and go back to the old manuals.

  • December 29, 2020 at 1:00 am

    David, I agree with so much of what you have shared and have had similar experiences. Have you had any luck with getting any progress made around these issues?

  • December 29, 2020 at 1:02 am

    Willard, I agree that the manuals were better than pathways.

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