When I joined Toastmasters I honestly expected to walk into a room where people drank champagne, wore monocles, and said phrases like “chip chip cheerio” “good show ol’ chap” and “That was marvelous”. All of these in a 1920’s British accent. The logic behind this is truly mind boggling, but it makes complete sense in my own head.
I quickly learned that there would no champagne, nor monocles. Occasionally I would hear a Brittish accent, but that was only when a visitor from the across the pond made it to a meeting.
Four years later, I’m now the President of a newly chartered Toastmasters club. This is an exciting opportunity as nearly everyone in the group is new to Toastmasters. Of course, this does bring a number of unique challenges.
For those that are new to Toastmasters, here are a few lessons that I learned over the past few years. Following this few pieces of advice will greatly enhance what you provide to your group, and what you glean from the other members.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
In a new club, it’s critical that members and officers ask for assistance. It’s expected. In fact, if people aren’t asking questions that is an indicator of a bigger problem at hand. Each club has officers and club mentors that are there to help. If one of these individuals cannot answer the question, they will track down someone that can provide the correct answer.
The way I view it; it is up to the new member to ask questions until there is no doubt about what is expected. It is up to the club officer, club mentor, or assigned mentor to verify that the questions are answered. Clarity makes the path much easier to follow.
Own the role.
Some functionary roles require little pre-meeting prep work. Roles such as the “ah counter” and timer simply need five minutes before the meeting to recap on the responsibilities. Other roles, such as the Toastmaster, General Evaluator, Table Topics Master, and speech evaluators require more coordination.
The Toastmaster is responsible for making sure that the meeting is a success. This includes communicating with members to entice them to show up, making sure that the functionaries will be there, writing a speech that relates to the meeting’s theme, and much more. Honestly, the role of a Toastmaster is a short term project leadership role.
The General Evaluator needs to be keeping track of everything during the meeting AND what has to lead up to it. They are required to say what was good, and what could have been better.
The Table Topic Masters should have an open line of communication with Toastmaster and grammarian. They rely on these resources so that they can try to work in the meeting theme, and word of the day with the table topics questions.
The Evaluators need to be in communication with the speaker they are assigned to. They should ask for a background of the speech and ask the speaker what they want the evaluation focused on. When I first started I had an evaluator ask me to record my speech before the meeting. That would give them enough time to review it and provide a few pointers to make the speech even better.
Of course, the speakers need to write their speech, practice, and fine tune before the meeting. I’ve heard more than once that a seven-minute speech should have 20 hours of work put into it.
The point is; regardless of the role that you have, it is up to you to own it. Be accountable, put in the research, put in the effort and apply yourself. Toastmasters isn’t meant to be easy. Leaders aren’t made when everything is easy.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Everyone else in the club has or will go through the same process as you. We’ve made mistakes. Sometimes we royally mess it up, and other times the mistake is completely obscure to everyone. Really though, don’t stress it.
Personally, I’ve messed up and dropped an F bomb in front of an entire group of people while trying to remember what I wrote into the speech. That’s right, instead of having everything go blank I choose to throw out a four letter word. Honestly, the majority of people in the room cracked up laughing. Once the tension cleared, everything came back to me with crystal clarity.
Just say yes.
This completely contradicts everything you’ve been taught about peer pressure.
People have busy schedules. Sometimes a functionary or speaker has to cancel at the last minute or leave mid meeting. In that situation, the club needs someone that is ready to step up and take on a new role. It’s possible that you have no clue what you are stepping into, but often that’s a good thing. It gives you less time to worry, and more time to execute on what’s in front of you.
It’s not a bad idea to have a “pocket speech” either. This is a rough speech that you can give in the event that you step into a speaking role. The best advice for this is to have something related to what you do for a living, a hobby, or something else that you are passionate about.
Like everything in life, what you receive is relevant to the effort that you put in. Toastmasters is no different. I spend the first few months of my membership avoiding meetings, skipping table topics, and refusing to speak. I saw little value in Toastmasters until I stepped up, put myself out there, and went all in.
If you are a new or prospective member, I hope that you are ready to do the same.
#toastmaster #publicspeaking #leadership #communication