Why I Love-Hate Toastmasters

By | May 12, 2015

I grew up in a culture that did not allow drinking. So the word “toast,” to me, never meant anything other than that crispy browned bread that pops out of a small kitchen appliance after 3 or 4 minutes.

What is Toast? This is [a] toast.

What is [a] Toast? This is.

We never raised our glasses to “cheers,” and no one ever stood up before or during a meal to give any type of speech unless it was a special religious occasion, in which case there would be a prayer before we sat down to eat.

Eventually, through friends and movies I wasn’t supposed to watch, I learned about “giving toasts.” But still, the first time I heard the term “Toastmasters,” it conjured up an image of a group of experts in white chef coats standing around a long table in the kitchen with their fancy toasters in front of them, comparing different varieties of toast. (“The range that this toaster offers is not consistent with industry standards of quality toast delivery.” — said in a nasally tone.)

When I learned it was more of a speech club, I still didn’t make the connection right away. I imagined that the best speech-giver was given some sort of bread-like prize at the end of the year, making her the “Toast MASTER.”

Nope. I was so wrong.

Toastmasters is named as such because in the most basic sense, it can make you better at giving toasts—both planned and impromptu.

But it’s so much more than that. And also much less than that.

Toastmasters is actually a lot of fun

What a Toastmaster really looks like.

I don’t want to bash Toastmasters, because there is a ton of value to be found in it. But I also want to be real about my experience with it so far, which means I can’t quite wax eloquent about the myriad benefits you will garner from being an esteemed member.

Here are a couple easily-digestible bullet points about Toastmasters:

  • It’s a huge international organization
    • with over 300,000 members
    • in over 14,000 clubs
    • located in over 120 countries around the world

(That gives it tons of credibility, by the way!)

  • Each club mission is “to provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth”
  • It was founded in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley and had male-only membership until 1973
  • As a member you can give prepared speeches following the structure of a manual you are given
  • You can also participate in other “functionary” roles and give short reports to the group at the end of the meeting based on your role
    • Ah Counter—keeps track of “filler words” and “ums” and “ahs”
    • Timer—keeps track of how long each person speaks, because each type of speech has a certain time limit
    • Word Master—introduces a “Word of the Day” for people to try to incorporate into what they say that day. Some past words include monolithic, choreographed,
    • Table Topics Master—prepares questions for the impromptu portion of the meeting and calls on people at random to answer the questions
    • Grammarian—notes incorrect usage of the English language as well as eloquent or interesting phrases or words
    • Evaluator—gives an evaluation of one of the prepared speeches or of the meeting as a whole
    • Toastmaster—runs the meeting and incorporates a theme to the day

The benefits you receive as a member are considered life-changing. Completing milestone speeches and manuals are treated as great accomplishments. And maybe it is something to be proud of to be given recognition for reaching certain goals.

But I’m skeptical and haven’t fully embraced the Toastmasters culture. I don’t know why that is exactly. Since I joined last November, I participate in every meeting, giving a speech or performing one of the functionary roles. I like having the opportunity to give speeches, and the feedback is always honest and useful. I am also currently in the leadership role of Vice President of Public Relations. So I feel weird not being able to sell Toastmasters as “The Best Thing Ever, and You Should Totally Join!”

I think it’s just that I haven’t yet experienced the life-changing-ness of the club. I haven’t seen tremendous progress in the other people I’ve seen give speeches and I myself haven’t noticed personal progress, either. I’ve seen leaders from some of the other clubs, and watched one of the promo videos on the Toastmasters website, and haven’t come across many speakers that I consider really dynamic. And that’s what I want. More dynamic and interesting speakers to emulate, and progression by speakers not just in “getting through” their manuals but in actually improving in their abilities to captivate an audience through speech.

Maybe I’m too critical, too soon, which is why I’ve decided to continue on with Toastmasters. Give it a chance to prove itself. Give myself time to make more speeches and get better.

Are you a member of Toastmasters? What do you get out of the club?

Convince me that it’s awesome.

For those of you who aren’t members, I encourage you to find a club near you and go as a guest to one meeting. Then come back here and share your experience with me. Tell me what the club culture was like (they are all different), whether you would consider joining, and why or why not.

I just realized something. You know what is really missing for me?

The bread-like prize.

Maybe I just need to introduce real toast to our meetings. I think that will make all the difference.

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