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Toastmasters International FAQ part 1 of 5: What Is Toastmasters International?

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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge 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

     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

     Complete listings for all clubs in the world can be found at

     If you cannot access the World Wide Web, send email to 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

6. Is Toastmasters a social or drinking organization in some

     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

     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

     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
          * 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

     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

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

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

     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

     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  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):

     Daniel Rex (Marketing Division - Club Extension, New Member Processing,
     and Merchandising):

     Stan Stills (District Admin, International Convention, Trademarks, 

     Nancy Langton (Finance and Policy Administration, including Club,
     District, and International bylaws, policy administration, and 

     Debbie Horn (Education and Club Administration):

     Suzanne Frey (Publications and Public Relations, including Club 
     bulletins and "The Toastmaster" magazine):

Toastmasters is a great organization!  Check it out!

User Contributions:

Matthew Kleinosky
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 20, 2011 @ 7:07 am
fees are way out of date - need updating.

e.g. $16.00 New Member fee
should be

$20.00 New Member fee

and $3 a month should be $6

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