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alt.org.toastmasters Frequently Asked Questions part 1 of 5: What is Toastmasters International? 1. What is Toastmasters? Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational corporation headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, Califor- nia. Its mission is to improve communication and leadership skills of its members and in general. Mainly, this works out to 'improving public speaking skills' but there is also a potent leadership and management aspect to the organization if you aspire to reach that level. 2. Is this just a group for people in the USA or for people who speak English? No. The organization includes approximately 180,000 members in 54 countries, including Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philip- pines, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Toastmasters International publishes a complete set of materials in English and basic materials in French, Spanish, and Japanese. As translators make themselves available, more materials are translated. 3. How is Toastmasters organized? All Toastmasters members belong to one or more clubs. Clubs consist of at least eight members and may have forty or more. The recommended size for a club is twenty or more. Clubs exist in communities around the world, especially in North America, and it's a rare locality in the United States that doesn't have at least one Toastmasters club within thirty minutes' driving time. There are, at present, over 8,000 clubs around the world, and most of them are in the United States. There are many sorts of clubs: community clubs, military clubs, company clubs, prison clubs, collegiate clubs, and so on. At this time, the majority of the *new* clubs being chartered are 'company clubs', i.e. clubs chartered at and meeting at businesses and organizations, in many cases open only to employees or members of those organizations. Never fear, however; there are thousands of community clubs already in existence as well. 4. Where can I find a club? If you'd like to visit a club meeting, simply telephone Toastmasters International World Headquarters at (714) 858- 8255 and ask for the locations of the clubs near you. Alternately, drop a postcard to TI WHQ, P.O. Box 9052, Mission Viejo CA 92690 and ask for the local clubs' listings. You may be VERY surprised by how many clubs there are in your area. Quite a few clubs don't get around to advertising in the newspaper. Complete listings for all clubs in the world can be found at http://www.toastmasters.org/index.html If you cannot access the World Wide Web, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask; be sure to include your postal address so the information can be mailed to you. 5. Do I have to ask permission before attending a meeting of a club in my area? Usually no. If you're visiting a community club, it might not be a bad idea to let them know you're coming so they can tell you any details like what time members arrive to eat and what time members who don't come to eat arrive, but community clubs are almost always open to all and they'll be delighted to have you come to the meeting. Clubs that meet at companies and organizations, on military bases, or in prisons are often, but not always, restricted to members or employees of the sponsoring body. These clubs are happy to have guests but you sometimes need to call ahead to get through security or to find out specifically where the club meets. Unlike some other organizations, where one must have a sponsoring member who _invites_ you to the meeting and introduces you to the group, Toastmasters welcomes all guests. If the club is open to membership from the community, you will usually be offered a membership application at the end of the meeting. 6. Is Toastmasters a social or drinking organization in some regard? The name "Toastmasters" is a holdover from the founding of the organization, when one of the main types of public speaking a member of society would engage in was after-dinner speaking, a.k.a. toastmastering. It is rare that formal drinking and toasts take place, and these are usually at major banquets or conferences. In general, though, you'll find two types of clubs: those that have a meal with their meetings and those that don't. Clubs that have a meal with their meeting may charge their members for the meals in advance and pay the restaurant in one lump sum or may have members order off the menu. Since breakfast and lunch clubs are popular with the business community, you can often kill two birds with one stone by joining Toastmas- ters: educating yourself and having a meal with business associates. You'll also find some clubs that get meeting space by having dinner before their meetings -- and half the members wait until dinner is over to arrive. There's infinite variety to it all. This is one good reason to call in advance. Many clubs do *not* have meals with their meetings, though. Quite a few clubs meet after dinnertime in a public meeting room at a bank or library or at a church, have their meeting, and go home. 7. What happens at a meeting? The format varies slightly from club to club, but the basics include: * the business meeting (usually very brief) * introduction of the Toastmaster of the Meeting, who presides over the program that day and explains the meeting as it goes along * prepared speeches from members (of which more below) * impromptu speeches from members (also known as Table Topics, of which more below) * oral evaluations of the prepared speeches (of which more below) * reports from other evaluation personnel, such as speech timer, grammarian, "ah" counter, wordmaster, and General Evaluator. Meetings last anywhere from one hour (especially at lunch or breakfast) to three hours (if the club meets infrequently or has long-winded speakers). 8. What's a "prepared speech?" When you join Toastmasters (see the "Membership" FAQ) you receive a basic speaking manual with ten speech projects. Each project calls on you to prepare a speech on a subject of your own choosing but using certain speaking principles. Each manual project lists the objectives for that speech and includes a written checklist for your evaluator to use when evaluating the speech. Thus, if you're scheduled to speak at a meeting, you generally pull out your manual a week or two in advance and put together a speech on whatever you like but paying attention to your goals and objectives for that speech. Then, when you go to the meeting, you hand your manual to your evaluator and that person makes written comments on the checklist while you speak. At the end of the meeting, that person (your evaluator) will rise to give oral commentary as well. The purpose of the extensive preparation and commentary is to show you what you're doing well, what you need to work on, and driving these lessons home so you're constantly improving. 9. What speech projects are there for me to work on? In the basic ("Communication and Leadership" manual), there are ten speech projects: 1. Icebreaker - 4 to 6 minutes - getting over nervousness by introducing yourself to the club. 2. Be In Earnest - 5 to 7 minutes - continue to get over nervousness by speaking about something you believe deeply in. 3. Organize Your Speech - 5 to 7 minutes - work on giving a well-organized speech. 4. Show What You Mean - 5 to 7 minutes - not a "Show and Tell" speech, this project calls on you to work with gestures and body language during your speech. Unfortunately, many members somehow confuse the issue and show up with a bag full of props that they use in a "Show and Tell" style speech. Don't do that. 5. Vocal Variety - 5 to 7 minutes - work on rate of delivery, volume, speed, pitch, emphasis, etc. 6. Work with Words - 5 to 7 minutes - work on proper word choice, avoiding jargon and generalizations, etc. 7. Apply Your Skills - 5 to 7 minutes - go back and practice everything you've learned up to this point. 8. Be Persuasive - 6 to 8 minutes - give a persuasive speech on a controversial issue. 9. Speak With Knowledge - 7 minutes, plus or minus 30 seconds - research an issue, write a speech, and then *read* that speech to the audience (as opposed to using notecards or notes or whatever you used for the previous eight speeches)... and have it well-rehearsed, so it doesn't run long or end too soon. 10. Inspire Your Audience - 8 to 10 minutes - The final speech in the manual calls on you to move and inspire your audience in a well-presented and well-prepared speech. As you can see, all ten projects above are wide-open for you to choose whatever topic you like. Even if you pick a controversial subject, most Toastmasters audiences will evaluate you on how well you presented your subject, not on whether they agreed with you or not. For further information about the speaking program, see the "Educational Advancement FAQ." 10. What is "Table Topics?" Table Topics is fun! It's also terrifying. Basically, it calls on you, the guest or member, to present a one to two minute impromptu speech on a subject not known to you until the moment you get up to speak! A member of the club assigned to be Topicsmaster will prepare a few impromptu topics and call on members (or guests, if they've given assent in advance to being called on) to stand up and speak on the topic. Topics might include current events (e.g. "What would you do about Haitian boat people if you were President?") or philoso- phy ("If you had no shoes and met a man who had no feet, how would you feel?") or the wacky ("Reach into this bag. Pull an item out. Tell us about it."). 11. What is Evaluation? The Evaluation program is the third of the three main parts to the meeting. All prepared speakers, as noted above, should have their speaking manuals with them and should have passed them on to the evaluators beforehand. During the speech, and after, each person's evaluator should make written notes and furthermore, plan what to say during the two to three minute oral evaluation. Evaluation is tough to do well because it requires an evaluator to do more than say "here's what you did wrong." A good evaluator will say "here's what you did _well_, and here's why doing that was good, and here are some things you might want to work on for your next speech, and here's how you might work on them." It's important to remember that the evaluator is just one point of view, although one that has focused in on your speech closely. Other members of the audience can and should give you written or spoken comments on aspects of your speech they feel important. 12. What's all this emphasis on time limits? As noted above, speeches have time limits, Table Topics have time limits (1-2 minutes, usually) and evaluations have time limits (2-3 minutes, usually). This is in order to drive home the point that a good speaker makes effective use of the time allotted and does not keep going and going and going until the audience is bored. In the real world, quite often there are practical limits on how long a meeting can or should go; by setting time limits on speeches and presentations, partici- pants learn brevity and time management and the club meeting itself can be expected to end on schedule. Time limits are rarely enforced to the letter. In only a few situations will you find yourself cut off if you go too long, and that's up to the individual club. Most clubs don't cut speakers off if they go overtime. It is common for clubs to use a set of timing lights to warn the speakers of the advance of time. All speeches and presentations have a time limit expressed as an interval, e.g. 5 to 7 minutes. A green light would be shown at 5 minutes, amber at 6, and red at 7. In Table Topics, the lights would go 1, 1.5, and 2 minutes respectively. When the green light comes on, you've at least spoken enough, though you need not finish right away, and when the yellow light comes on, you should begin wrapping up. If you're not done by the time the red light comes on, you should finish as soon as possible without mangling the ending of your speech. The only times you're actually *penalized* for going over or under time is in speaking competition; in speech contests (see the "Contests FAQ") you must remain within the interval or be disqualified. Some clubs hold an audience vote for "best speaker," "best topic speaker," and "best evaluator" during the meeting and it's a practice in some clubs to disqualify people who go over or under time from these meeting awards. Check with the particular club to see what they do. 13. Why all this structure to the meeting? If meetings sound complicated, we're sorry. Meetings general- ly are not complicated once you get used to the timing lights in the back and the different roles members of the group play. Since the average club is expected to have 20 or more members, you need a lot of roles for people to play in order to involve everyone. And, since meeting assignments vary from meeting to meeting, everyone gets practice doing everything over the course of several meetings. One meeting, you'll be assigned to give a speech; the next, you might be timer; the next, you might be the Toastmaster of the Meeting, running the whole show. It keeps you flexible and it keeps you from having to prepare a speech EVERY meeting, which would get old quickly. 14. I'm scared to death of speaking! Why should I look into Toastmasters? EVERYONE is afraid of speaking. In poll after poll, "public speaking" comes up as more feared than "death." Public speaking is the nation's #1 fear. You are no different. Even if you think you're really good at speaking, there will come times when your heart stops and your palms sweat and you freeze before an audience. Toastmasters can help with that. Remember that EVERYONE in a Toastmasters club is there because at some point they realized they needed help communicating and speaking before audiences. Almost everyone will remember how wretched they felt when they gave their first speech. You may be startled to find out how supportive a Toastmasters club really can be. [The author of this FAQ recruited a friend to Toastmasters who was so overwrought and nervous that she sobbed as if her heart was broken after her first speech. Ditto for the second. Some tears after the third. Eventually she realized that we weren't going to eat her alive and she came to enjoy it. By the time she earned her CTM, she consistently won "best speaker" votes at our meetings.] If you're aware how nervous you are but aren't convinced that you should do anything about it, stop and think what skill is more important than any other when it comes to getting and keeping a good job? Think you're already an excellent speaker? People who think they're really good sometimes come into Toastmasters and find out how unstructured and sloppy they really are. Being comfortable doesn't mean that you're actually GOOD. Even if you ARE good, you can always get better. Toastmasters can give you a lot of skills and keep good speakers improving. If you still don't know whether you'd like Toastmasters, why not visit a meeting? If you still don't think it's your cup of tea, we'll still be happy you came by. 15. How is Toastmasters more beneficial than other forms of speaking improvement? College and high school courses in public speaking usually involve the students sitting through dozens of lectures followed by one or two speaking opportunities. When the speeches are over, you get a grade. Often, you get graded on what you did wrong. This isn't a way to build reassurance and motivation. Then too, you rarely get much of a chance to practice by doing. You get up at the end of the semester, give your speech, and sit down. Toastmasters is constant reinforcement and constant improvement. You learn by doing, not by sitting there while someone lectures for hours. For-profit courses such as Dale Carnegie can be very good for their participants. They also cost a lot and when they're over, they're over. Toastmasters costs $36 per year (plus club dues, if any) and it can last a lifetime. 16. Where should I go for further information? See the Membership FAQ, the Educational Advancement FAQ, the Leadership and Organization FAQ, and the Speech Contests FAQ. Ask questions in alt.org.toastmasters. Write the poster of this FAQ. Call Toastmasters International at 1-714-858-8255. Write Toastmasters International at P.O. Box 9052, Mission Viejo, California, 92690-7052. 17. Can I send mail to Toastmasters officials via the Internet? If you need to send email to department heads at TI World Head- quarters, there addresses are as follows (although be warned that not every person listed below regularly checks their email -- some are more accustomed to the Internet than others. If it's important, send a letter through the regular mail.) Terry McCann (Executive Director): email@example.com Daniel Rex (Marketing Division - Club Extension, New Member Processing, and Merchandising): firstname.lastname@example.org Stan Stills (District Admin, International Convention, Trademarks, etc.): email@example.com Nancy Langton (Finance and Policy Administration, including Club, District, and International bylaws, policy administration, and proxies): firstname.lastname@example.org Debbie Horn (Education and Club Administration): email@example.com Suzanne Frey (Publications and Public Relations, including Club bulletins and "The Toastmaster" magazine): firstname.lastname@example.org Toastmasters is a great organization! Check it out!