What is Toastmasters?

Toastmasters is a place where you develop and grow - both personally and professionally. You join a community of learners, and in Toastmasters meetings we learn by doing. Whether you're an executive or a stay-at-home parent, a college student or a retiree, you will improve yourself; building skills to express yourself in a variety of situations. You'll open up a world of new possibilities: giving better work presentations; leading meetings - and participating in them - more confidently; speaking more smoothly off the cuff; even handling one-on-one interactions with family, friends and colleagues more positively.

Through its worldwide network of clubs, Toastmasters helps nearly 280,000 people communicate effectively and achieve the confidence to lead others. Why pay thousands of dollars for a seminar or class when you can join a Toastmasters club for a fraction of the cost and have fun in the process?

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The environment in a Toastmasters club is friendly and supportive. Everyone at a Toastmasters meeting feels welcome and valued - from complete beginners to advanced speakers. In a club meeting, you practice giving prepared speeches as well as brief impromptu presentations, known as Table Topics. There is no rush and no pressure: The Toastmasters program allows you to progress at your own pace.

Constructive evaluation is central to the Toastmasters philosophy. Each time you give a prepared speech, an evaluator will point out strengths as well as suggest improvements. Receiving - and giving - such feedback is a great learning experience. In Toastmasters, encouragement and improvement go hand-in-hand.

How does Toastmasters work?

The Toastmasters program is not a college, trade school, or other formal course in public speaking.  There are no instructors, professors, or classrooms.  No one's work is graded and no tests are administered.  In Toastmasters, members learn by studying the manuals, practicing, and helping one another.  Learning takes place in the Club environment.  Club meetings are workshops where you study and practice communication and leadership skills with others who are there for the same reason as you.  You learn by doing and by watching fellow Club members.

During Club meetings you will build "quick thinking" skills as you give one-to-two-minute speeches on general subjects during table topics.  You'll introduce speakers, conduct meetings and perform other roles that will give you plenty of practice in a variety of communication experiences, but your greatest learning will come from preparing and presenting speeches based on the projects in the manual.

The initial manual has 10 speech projects, each designed to develop your speaking skills one step at a time.  Every project builds upon what you have learned in the preceding project, so you should present the speeches in numerical order.  The first speech is the Ice Breaker, the subject is yourself.  In subsequent speeches you will learn the importance of speaking sincerely, how to effectively organize a presentation, how to use body language and voice to convey your message, word choice and props.  Read carefully each project and "Evaluation Guide" in your workbook before you prepare your speech.

Most of your talks will be 5-7 minutes.  You will receive verbal and written feedback from an evaluator on each speech you give.  The evaluator provides a personal opinion of your talk, pointing out its strengths and offering suggestions for improving your next speech.  As you gain more experience you will evaluate the speeches of others.

Cast of Characters

When you attend your first few meetings it will be helpful to know the cast of characters. Other than the Presiding Officer, people volunteering fill all the following positions.

  • Toastmaster of the Day: The master of ceremonies; The Toastmaster introduces the various participants in the meeting and leads the meeting.
  • Timer: Because one of the purposes of Toastmasters is to ensure our members learn how to express a thought within a specific time, the time keeper times, records and reports the time used by each table topic speaker, speaker, and evaluator.
  • Ah counter and Grammarian: Checks participants' grammar and counts audible pauses such as "ah", "uh" and "you know". This person also praises participants for using the word of the day.
  • Speakers: Typically there are two or three speakers. Each one gives a prepared manual speech, usually 5 to 7 minutes. Each speech has specific objectives that are listed in the basic manual (that's why it's called a manual speech).
  • Table Topics Master: The table topic master helps members practice thinking on their feet. He selects topics of general interest and asks questions of members in the audience (you may be asked to participate).
  • General Evaluator: Provides constructive feedback on the meeting in general. He or she is in charge of the individual evaluators, the timer, and the grammarian.
  • Evaluators: The purpose of the evaluator is to motivate the speaker to both continue speaking and to improve. The evaluator lets the speaker know what areas he has excelled in, and also offers a few constructive suggestions to help the speaker improve.  The evaluator gives an oral review as well as a written review in the speaker's manual.

We thank Mike Rafferty, DTM TradeMasters Chicago, Illinois  for his contribution to the above explanation