Leadership Notes #21 – Toastmasters International

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

As part of the Leadership Notes series I plan to highlight several organizations that may be useful to know or even be involved in as leaders.

Many people have probably heard of Toastmasters (www.toastmasters.org), but few probably know what the organization is all about. Toastmasters focus is on communication: helping people be better communicators and speakers, in their personal and professional life. People join (and stay) for a variety of reasons. Most to become better speakers, others to improve their skills in English or other languages. Those who are good speakers become better speakers. They stay because the organization is all about continuous improvement of our communication and leadership skills. You never stop learning.

The organization was formed more than 80 years ago, and since then has spread around the world. Anyone can join Toastmasters, so long as they are 18 years of age. That is the only requirement. The heart of Toastmasters is the Toastmasters Club. This is where things really work. There are a variety of Toastmasters Clubs, so one should take a look at local clubs to find the one that works best. There are morning clubs, noontime clubs, afternoon clubs, and evening clubs. Most meet for an hour, but some clubs may have meetings that run up to two hours. Some clubs may be corporate clubs, chartered to a company, and may restrict their membership to employees of that company. There are also specialty clubs of various sorts. Some are “advanced” clubs that restrict membership to those who have completed the basic education awards (more on this shortly). There are also clubs with particular focus: bilingual, humor, leadership, a foreign language, or the like. Some Toastmasters may be members of several clubs, as different clubs met different needs.

As noted, leadership is ALSO a big part of Toastmasters. This is because Toastmasters is leader by its members. Clubs are lead by the elected club officers. Above the club are other elected and appointed members, all Toastmasters members themselves.

Like Scouting, in Toastmasters one works on a variety of educational awards. And members are encouraged to do so. The education program has two branches: a communication track and a leadership track. When one joins Toastmasters, you start work on the two basic awards: the Competent Communicator (CC) and the Competent Leader (CL) awards. The CC award has you completing 10 speeches. Each speech project builds on the other, as you learn and practice your skills. You learn to organize your speech, use vocal variety, make use of gestures, and more. With the CL award, you get engaged in your club doing 10 projects that involved taking on meeting roles such as a speech evaluator or the toastmaster of the day or the like.

Once these two awards are completed, one then moves in to the advanced awards. On the communication side, Toastmasters has 15 advanced manuals, each with 5 speech projects. The manuals are on subjects like storytelling, technical presentations, informational speeches, discussions, and the like. There are 3 advanced communicator awards, bronze, silver, and gold. Each requires completing 2 advanced manuals along with other work. The leadership track has 2 awards. The first has you being a club officer and do other work within your club, and the second has you doing work outside your club as a district officer, helping other club, and leading a project. Completing the top communication and leadership awards gives you the top Toastmaster award of Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).

There are other Toastmaster programs that members can make use of. There are three series of short, prepared presentations that can be given. These are the Better Speaker, Leadership Excellence, and Successful Club series. Each has a dozen or so presentations. The Better Speaker series includes items like organizing your speech, coming up with topics, impromptu speaking and the like. The Leadership Excellence has leadership topics such as the vision, goal setting and planning, motivation and more. And the Successful Club has topics on improving the clubs such as evaluations, mentoring, meeting roles and more.

Toastmasters has additional, longer seminars that can be presented to members and non-members alike. These are under the Success/Communication and Success/Leadership series. The completion of these other programs mentioned are required to met the above education awards.

I find it interesting that in scouting we kind of deride the idea of adults earning awards, but in Toastmasters that is a big part of what we do. When you join, you are encouraged to earn your CC and CL awards within the year, if possible. And once you complete those, you are encouraged to take this further to earn your DTM. And once you’ve earned your DTM, you can continue to earn the awards and get a second (or third) DTM. Further, in scouting we have quality awards at various levels, and Toastmasters has the same thing, tho we called ours the “distinguished” program. Earning awards is a BIG part of meeting distinguished goals, both for our clubs and for other levels.

Ok, but what about Venturing? There are a few ways that Toastmasters can help. As noted, if you are 18 and older, you can join Toastmasters. If you want to be a better speaker and presenter (and leader) doing so can really benefit. Say what you will, but in my experience as both a scouter and a Toastmaster, the BSA really doesn’t have good training programs for people wanting to be better speakers and presenters. This was one of the reasons I joined (and stay) in Toastmasters. And I know other scout leaders who do the same. There are some other ways Toastmasters can help Venturing as well.

First off, as part of the Success/Communication program is a program called “Speachcraft”. It’s sort of a “mini-toastmasters” experience that can be presented by Toastmasters Clubs over a 4-8 session period. This is something that could be organized by local Toastmasters Clubs for older (18+) Venturers. Toastmasters ALSO has a program for youth under 18 called the “Youth Leadership Program” (YLP) that is very similar. HOWEVER, I have learned that this program is being overhauled with a new youth communication program, and the first part is available NOW (I have not yet gotten the material). This first part is called “Interpersonal Communication”, because it was found that youth needed to learn better intercommunication skills before they moved to public speaking. The second part on public speaking has not yet been released, but I expect it soon. Also, a change from YLP, the “Interpersonal Communication” module may be presented by NON-Toastmasters (no idea if this will be true for the second part). It’s available NOW from the Toastmasters website. There is a Team Leader Manual for the presenter (such as a crew adult leader) and a Team Member Manual for the youth.

If you have youth who want to be better communicators, speakers, and presenters, either as crew officers, officers above the crew, or training/presenters with ILSC, NYLT and the like, taking a look at how Toastmasters can help them is important.