All about Toastmasters – What is it, My Journey and Why you Should Try It

AWE. If I were to ever describe my first meeting with a Toastmasters club then awe is the word I’d use. I was a guest that day and it was unlike any experience. I saw a bunch of young and determined people come together to become and make each other better communicators and leaders.

The energy in the room, the laughter, and the warmth was all just too contagious. It was an overwhelming experience but something I definitely wanted to be a part of.

As I write this, I am just a year and a half old into this movement but the transformation that it has left me with is impressive.

For someone who always loved public speaking and did insane amounts of it back in school I was no noob to it neither someone who had stage fright.

I came here to learn public speaking the right way and along with it there is so much more that it has left me with.

More on my journey later in the blogpost, let me first begin by introducing you to Toastmasters International.

What is Toastmasters International?

Toastmasters International is a Not for Profit educational organisation that aims at inculcating public speaking and leadership skills among people. Presently, TI has close to 3, 58,000 members in 16,800 clubs in 143 countries. 

When and how did TI come into being?

The seeds of the formation of TI were laid way back in 1905.  Ralph Smedley, the founder of TI during his time with the YMCA saw the pressing need of inculcation of public speaking, better planning of meetings etc. in the youth of the community.

In his desire to help them he decided to start a club and call it a Toastmasters Club. The term toastmaster being denotative of someone who presents toasts at weddings and other functions.

The first unofficial meeting was held in 1905 and the response that Smedley got pushed him to make this movement bigger. It was however only in 1922 when the first official Toastmasters Meeting was held in Santa Anna, California.

Soon Smedley started getting offers from other people about replicating these clubs and it was then that Toastmasters International was born.

Since then, it has grown from one club in California to the whole of North America and now in other parts of the world as well.

There are clubs in corporates, in colleges, in communities and even in prisons. It has become a global movement that is aiming to create better communicators and leaders.

Fun Fact: Toastmasters International did not admit women until 1973 and today women comprise almost 52% of the total Toastmasters Community.

What does a Toastmasters Meeting look like?

A Toastmasters Meeting is often a warm and welcoming space for all and especially for the guests. I still remember attending my first meeting as a guest. I recall walking in the venue to have everyone who was attending greet and guide me. The warmth was palpable and it made me feel at home immediately.

Any normal meeting comprises of three sections-

The Prepared Speeches Section – This section consists of speakers who have prepared their speeches beforehand. These speeches are usually done in compliance with the project requirements of the various levels of the path every speaker is on. The speaker is supposed to read and understand the speech objectives and then prepare a speech, run it by his/her mentor, practice and then come on stage and deliver.

2. The Table Topics Session – This is perhaps the quirkiest part of the Meeting. The Table Topics session refers to an impromptu speaking round.

Here participants are called upon by the Table Topics Master and given a topic on the spot and are required to speak on it for about a couple minutes. This is a place where members and guests both can participate.

Related Article: How to deliver an Impromptu Speech – A Comprehensive Guide

                          How to Best Perform the Role of a Table Topics Master

3. The Evaluation Session – The last segment and perhaps the most important part of any meeting is the Evaluation Segment.

Every speaker has a dedicated evaluator who is sitting in the audience who then presents in this segment his commendations and recommendations. Apart from this, there are a set of auxiliary role players namely the TAG team.

The TAG team comprises of the timer, the Ah Counter, and the grammarian. These role payers are also called upon in this segment to present their reports.

The conclusion of this segment is marked by the General Evaluator presenting his/her report. Here the G.E. discusses the overall quality of a meeting and gives recommendations on how to make it better.

Related Article – How to Best Perform the Role of General Evaluator

Everyone’s first meeting with a Toastmasters club is often a see-saw of emotions. Your expressions will oscillate from “woooow”, “oh okay”, “whoaaaa, did he just say that” to the most important question, “if I sign up for this, will I ever be able to do this?”

If this has already happened to you, relax. It is bound to happen to everyone. A Toastmasters Meeting can sometimes get overwhelming since it’s a completely new forum for most people they are often taken aback.

Most clubs have some senior and experienced members who are so talented that watching them leaves even the members in awe, let alone the guests. So just relax.

If these are the reasons that are holding you back, don’t let them. I am also not asking you to sign up immediately. Attend a couple more meetings as a guest, probably even go to other Toastmasters clubs.

Sometimes certain clubs may not be right for you. You know a club’s a right fit when it vibes with you and in spite of being overwhelmed, there is a tiny voice inside you that asks you to try.

What exactly does a Toastmasters Experience feel like?

Warm, fuzzy, loved and welcomed with open arms. That’s what I felt like when I first became a member. I remember I couldn’t process the amazement at the ease in my transition from a guest to a Toastmaster.

Before I knew anything I had everyone at the club guide me and pushing me gently to become better.

It feels like to be back in school albeit this one was a little cooler. Here there never will be a teacher and you will always see everyone learning from one another.

Most often than not you will see a DTM walking up to a new member or even a guest and asking for feedback. That’s how it works. Everyone is a teacher and everyone a student.

Fun Fact: Some notable MNCs that have Toastmasters Clubs include AT&T, Apple, TCS,etc.

My Journey with Toastmasters

Wow. Honestly, I never thought there would be so many thoughts spinning in my head as I begin to write this. I first came across Toastmasters in grade 11 when a school senior made me watch Dananjaya Hettiarachchi’s speech that won him the World Championship of Public Speaking in 2014.

That speech left me mesmerised and I remember reading up on Toastmasters. At that point not only did my city not have a club but also I couldn’t become a member till I was 18.

High School work swamped me and I forgot about this. When I changed cities for college, attending a meeting had been on my list. I eventually went to the one nearest to me and it was only after another four months that I finally became a member.

I walked into Toastmasters as a young twenty-year-old college student. Unlike others, I strut in with the confidence of someone who had done public speaking in school and as someone who loved being on stage.

Cut to my first speech. I had written and rewritten and prepped harder than I ever had for any speech and the Big Day comes. I get onstage, shake hands with the TMoD, look up, smile at my audience and begin loud and confident.

I knew I was going to kill it and everyone was going to be impressed to their wits end as to how could someone be this awesome in their very first speech.

Little did I know that within the first thirty seconds I would forget something and though it wouldn’t break my flow of speaking it would ruin the speech flow in my head.

This led to me speaking really fast and feeling wretched all along those six minutes that I had failed to make a good first impression. My confidence went for a toss.  I remember going home that afternoon almost in tears.

That was lesson no. 1 at Toastmasters – Stay Humble for there is no other way you learn.

If this wasn’t enough, a few months later at a meeting I was asked to do the role of a Timer which practically is one of the easiest meeting role. I messed up there as well. I showed the wrong cards and ended up confusing the speakers. This further hampered my confidence.

It was only another couple meetings later that the VP Ed cajoled me to do the role of a grammarian and that was when things changed. I did a decent job but what pushed my confidence was to see how everyone was supportive of me.

That was the first meeting I stayed back till the end because I was busy talking to everyone who was walking up to me and congratulating me for a job well done.

 My confidence sky rocketed. Did things change overnight post that? Nope. I was still sceptical about taking other roles.

But, it did give my confidence a massive boost. I did the contest chair for a club level contest once and post that I have been slowly and steadily finding my footing in all club roles.

If you read through my story again you will realise that for the first six months I just did one speech and one role both of which I messed up while doing. In spite of this I barely missed any meetings.

Why? Because of the supportive and encouraging environment of Toastmasters. I knew that I could make mistakes and not be reprimanded for them but taught how to rectify them.

It’s been a year and a half and I have made some amazing friends and met some super awesome speakers. Toastmasters has changed a lot in me. It has taught me things I never thought it would.

The fact that I did poorly in my Icebreaker pushed me to do much better in the next month. I wrote and rewrote countless times. Ran my drafts not only with my mentors at Toastmasters but also with friends from school and college.

I practiced at least three weeks before going on stage meticulously working on actions, expressions, intonation and modulation etc. Doing that speech taught me a lot.

It taught me how important it is to write, edit and rewrite. It taught me how to ask for and implement constructive criticism but most of all this was my first lesson in understanding what creative satisfaction is and how hard you have to work to attain it.

There have been many such first lessons. Some in leadership, some in giving feedback but a whole lot in understanding that Robert Ingersol was right when he said “We rise by lifting others”.

I have just begun mentoring a bunch of members from my club and the more I do it, it just seems that I am working on myself along with them.

That’s the magic of Toastmasters. Too many learnings that just happen but it is only much later you realize that. To be honest when I became a member I never understood the noise around the benefits of TI.

A year down the line, I see them for myself.

I have become more confident a speaker, much better a writer and learned a thing or two about leadership. It is true, the noise around the benefits of Toastmasters is genuinely true.  The only thing to remember you won’t see results overnight. Constant hard work and honest efforts will be rewarded but after a few months.

The idea is not to start as an enthusiastic member and then drop out should you not see the benefits immediately. The idea is to slowly and steadily keep going up on stage doing all roles with equal dedication and preparation.

Toastmasters is a place where you will be lightly reprimanded and remonstrated, sometimes even mocked and ridiculed in good spirit but always loved and celebrated.

Does Toastmasters actually work?? Yes. Believe me it does. Give it an honest try, some time and you will reap the fruits for yourself.

What are the people like at a Toastmasters club?

They are the BEST. Believe me, I am saying this from experience.

The friends that I have made here have pushed me to become better on all fronts. They have made me a better student and a better dancer too. These are people I know whenever I need them they will be just a phone call away.

Yes, I have always had my mentors around whenever I needed feedback and guidance but on most occasions I have had other senior and junior members also come up to me with constructive criticism. That’s how nice the people at Toastmasters are.

Everyone here is genuinely concerned about your growth and betterment and in most cases will often go out of their way to help you.

Fun Fact: James Lovell who is a former US Astronaut who worked on the Apollo 1 mission and Late Walter Schirra who is the only man to fly in the United States’ first three space missions are both Toastmasters

What else can Toastmasters leave you with?

If you thought better communication skills is the only things Toastmasters will leave you with then you are wrong. It is going to leave you with a lot more than that. The best being a platform to showcase these skills in the form of contests.

A normal Toastmasters year is peppered with two contest seasons. The first is in March which is the International Speech Contest and the Table Topics Contest. The second is in the month of September which is the Humorous Speech and Evaluation Contest. There are various levels here and each begins with the club level.

Members of the club who clear the eligibility criteria for the contests are free to participate and the winners then proceed to Area level, Division level, District level, Regional, and then International level. These contests are perhaps the best platforms to learn.

 Often I have seen people work all year round to succeed in these and that in turn leaves them with loads of learning.

Toastmasters is also a great place to learn and develop leadership skills. There are various opportunities here too. From club level to the district and eventually the international level as well. These leadership roles are always open to new and enthusiastic members. All you need is the conviction to work and a vision to make Toastmasters a better community. Most members begin with the club level ExComm roles and eventually move up the hierarchy.

Related Article- Toastmasters Executive Committee – Roles and Responsibilities

Apart from this, Toastmasters promises to be an excellent platform for networking. Toastmasters are often an indigenous community that comprise of people from all different walks of life.

You will often encounter doctors, nutritionists, bankers, students, teachers, entrepreneurs all under one roof. They will often go out of their way to help you become better not just at Toastmasters but even beyond that.

A fellow club member who is an insurance consultant introduced me to a linguistics student cousin of his. She helped me immensely in my undergraduate dissertation. My first internship was also for a fellow Toastmaster.

I have often seen people use their Toastmasters network within the Toastmasters circuit as well. Often, especially for club officers who do exceptionally good work with are noticed by visiting District and Division officers and recommended for higher positions on a district level.

I saw this happening to the VP PR of my club whose brilliant work landed him an opportunity to work on the district PR team. The opportunities within as well as beyond the club are plenty only if one knows how to leverage this platform the right way.

Related Article – Are you getting the most out of Toastmasters?

Should I Toastmaster?

Yes, Yes, YES. Toastmasters clubs are found literally all around the world. All you have to do is log on to the official website, click on the find the club option, enter the name of your city, find a club nearest to you, and contact the VP Membership.

Take from him/her the details about the meeting time and venue and drop by for a meeting. To become a member or not is obviously a personal decision but then there is never any harm in dropping by as a guest.  I strongly recommend you to at least attend one meeting as a guest.

Related Article – Should I join Toastmasters to learn Public Speaking?

When I attended my first meeting as a guest the VP Membership told me that regardless of whether I become a member for three months or for three years or thirty, this place is going to leave me with friends for life.

I remember smiling at him and saying that it might just never happen with me because I am too shy and don’t make friends quickly.

He smiled and asked me to wait and let the magic happen. Today I am only a year and a half into this movement but every time I take a friend back home from the club I can’t help but recall this.

Toastmasters are an amazing set of people. They are energetic, driven, passionate, supportive and most importantly lifelong learners. The diversity in each club ensures that you meet different people from different walks of life and sometimes different cities as well, the only common thread – passion to become better.

These friendships have often transcended beyond the club. They have translated into impromptu cycling trips, lunches, movies, dance recitals etc.

These set of friends have not only at every step pushed me to become a better Toastmaster but also a better student, a better dancer and a better leader.

The best part about Toastmasters is the Mentor Mentee Initiative. I have had the fortune of being mentored by people who have changed me as a person and as a Toastmaster and pushed me to become better.

They have become close friends and I know that every time I need guidance whether it is related to Toastmasters or not, they are just a call away.

Just like most people I also came to Toastmasters only to become a better public speaker. I never anticipated that I will end up with friends for life or mentors who will guide me all along or that Toastmasters will put me back in the habit of writing!!!

There are plenty of surprises on this journey and the best part, they are different for everyone. So buckle up and just take the plunge. Believe me, there is only flying higher from here.

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