After folks attend one of our public speaking classes, they will sometimes ask me or their presentation skills instructor for a way to practice their new found self-confidence in a controlled environment. One of the places they ask about most is Toastmasters International, because Toastmaster has thousands of local chapters all over the world, and it is fairly inexpensive. I have to admit that I'm always a little cautious recommending Toastmasters to a presentation class participant, because there are really good chapters, and there are also really bad chapters. The really good chapters are a good place to get additional instruction and practice, and the really bad ones are a good place to go to become terrified to speak in front of groups.
Background about Toastmasters
Toastmasters has been around since the early 1900's, and it was founded as an off-shoot of the YMCA, when Ralph Smedley, an education director at a YMCA, organized a speaking club to help his members develop public speaking confidence. As the organization grew and grew, Smedley left the YMCA to become the full-time director of the new organization. One of the advantages of Toastmasters, though, is also it's biggest challenge. Leadership within each chapter changes every single meeting in order to allow each member to develop leadership qualities and speaking skill, but because there is no single leader, the quality of each meeting will alter as the skill of the weekly leader changes as well. Still, though, theoretically, over time, the entire group should develop presentation skills. If you happen to begin going to a really good chapter, you will get good results, because you will see great leadership and receive great coaching from other members. So the key to getting great results from Toastmasters is making sure that you attend a great chapter.
So, you can see why I often hesitate to recommend a Toastmasters club. Since there are so many different chapters, and since there is no real way to know ahead of time which are going to be good chapters and which are going to be bad chapters, I usually don't recommend them. However, with the internet, we now have a way to identify the good from the bad. This article was designed as a way to help you keep track of the really good chapters.
What Makes a Good Toastmasters Club
Below are the things that you can look for in a chapter that will let you know if you will gain confidence or reduce confidence when you attend.
- Grammarian Role: This is the most important thing that will let you know good clubs from bad clubs. The Grammarian is a role within each club that was designed to help members increase their vocabulary and make sure that speakers are using complete sentences. However, because most clubs don't reinforce the role of the Grammarian, they will often just make their new members the Grammarian each week and ask them to count "uhms". Remember that whatever you reinforce, you get more of, so if someone is in the back of the room counting your uhms when you speak, you will often become more nervous and say uhm more. If the Grammarian is just a glorified "uhm" counter, look for a new club!
- Look at Most Seasoned Members: When you attend your first meeting, ask which members have been attending the longest, and then what these people when they speak. If they are at a level that you are striving to get to, then you are likely in a good club. If you watch the most seasoned members and still see nervousness or see a speaking style that is unnatural or forced, then you probably want to look for a different club.
- Table Topics: One of best tell-tale signs is how the group handles table topics. Table Topics is a section of each meeting where member are asked to give an impromptu short speech on topics chosen by a single member of the group. If the group throws a table topic to a brand new member without any instruction or training, then run, don't walk, away from the group. This activity is the number one reason why people who attend a Toastmaster meeting never come back for a second one. However, if the group gives new members good instruction and helps them have successes in table topics, you will likely get good instruction in other areas as well.
Post Comments Below When You Find a Good Club
With the internet and social media, we now have a way to list the good clubs so that you can be more assured that if you attend, you will get good results. So, when you find a club that has ALL THREE attributes -- (1) A good grammarian role, (2) Seasoned members who are confident speakers, and (3) Table topics that build self-confidence -- post something below to let others know that you have found a good one!