Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Through its member clubs, Toastmasters International helps men and women learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking.

Membership

In 2006, there were more than 215,000 members and over 11,000 clubs located across the United States and in approximately 90 other countries. Toastmasters members belong to local clubs, which generally have between six and 40 members, with 20 members being a typical size. The local clubs meet on a regular basis for members to practice various skills useful in public speaking, including giving speeches, speaking extemporaneously, listening, and providing each other with feedback and evaluation. Some clubs meet monthly, some meet twice a month, and some meet weekly.

Membership is open to all people over the age of 18 wishing to improve their communications skills. In certain rare cases, where previous links to TI can be found, people under 18 are allowed to participate, even though they are not allowed to join officially until their 18th birthday. Any speeches toward an official award completed before their 18th birthday are accepted retroactively.

Gavel Clubs (Toastmasters-sponsored groups for teenagers or other groups who may be ineligible for membership in Toastmasters International) may be set up upon request at schools and institutions to provide them with the Toastmasters experience. Other than the mix of membership and that no official Toastmasters titles such as CC, CL, AC, etc., will be awarded, the benefit received from a Gavel Club is essentially the same as that of a Toastmasters Club. TI also has a Youth Leadership program, which is an eight-session program that introduces school-aged children to the art of public speaking. These Youth Leadership programs are conducted by members of Toastmaster Clubs in the local area. They allow active members who put in effort to gain confidence and expertise in the art of public speaking.

Educational program

A Toastmasters club is a "learn-by-doing" workshop. The Toastmasters Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership Manuals are the heart of the TI educational program. These manuals were last updated in 2006 when the single Communication and Leadership Manual was split into two manuals. The Competent Communicator Manual consists of ten speech projects, each building upon the other in skills and difficulty. For each project, the member will prepare and deliver a speech in front of the group. After the member has given the presentation, it will be evaluated by another Toastmaster. This near-immediate feedback provides the member with information on how he or she can improve his or her presentation skills for the next speech. Upon completion of the Competent Communicator Manual, a Toastmaster is entitled to the designation Competent Communicator, and may add the initials CC to his or her name. Previously a similar designation was called Competent Toastmaster and the abbreviation used was CTM. The Competent Leadership Manual is used in a similar fashion. The member works through ten leadership projects, working on leadership skills such as giving feedback, critical thinking, team building and others. Most of these leadership projects consist of multiple assignments accomplished at meetings over a period of time.

When giving a speech at Toastmasters meetings, a member is expected to speak within a prescribed time limit. For most basic manual speeches, this limit is 5 to 7 minutes. For advanced program speeches, the limit can vary, with the maximum usually at 10 minutes. Some of the advanced speech projects can be up to 30 minutes. There are often Question and Answers sessions involved for some of the advanced manuals. At the conclusion of the speeches, other members will evaluate the speeches. The intent is to provide a positive experience for the speaker, encouraging him or her to build on the skills already learned and to improve other speaking and listening skills. This also creates opportunity for members to provide constructive feedback to help one another improve. In addition to providing the speaker with feedback, the evaluator learns important skills in quickly preparing a presentation and listening skills. Of note is that the evaluators evaluate the speech and not the speaker, a subtle but important difference.

After achieving their CC, the Toastmaster then can go on to more advanced projects. There are 15 advanced manuals in the Toastmasters program, each consisting of five projects. These include projects on sales presentations, speaking to inform, speeches by management, interpretative reading, speaking on television, entertaining dinner speaking, communicating with news media, interpersonal communication, and others. Completing two of these advanced manuals, and fulfilling some other requirements, will earn the Toastmaster concerned the title of Advanced Communicator, abbreviated AC.

Leadership training

Toastmasters also teaches leadership skills. This is motivated in part by the fact that TI is staffed completely by volunteers (except for a staff of about 60 paid personnel at the World Headquarters). Even the board of directors is composed of volunteers who still hold membership in a local club, and are not paid.

TI has developed a series of procedures and materials for training its members and officers in basic leadership skills. Many districts hold training sessions for officers, known as Toastmasters Leadership Institute (originally called Toastmasters University), twice a year for club officers and for any other members who wish to attend. Members also develop and practice leadership skills using the "High Performance Leadership" program and serving as leaders at various organizational levels.

Members who complete all ten projects in the "Competent Leadership" manual receive a Competent Leader (CL) award. Typically, this can be accomplished by attending about 20 club meetings. Members are encouraged to work on the projects in the Competent Leader manual, whether they are serving as club officers or not.

Members who meet the requirements including serving a term (6 months or 1 year) as club officer, working on the Distinguished Club Plan, giving two Successful Club Series and/or Leadership Excellence modules, and completing their Competent Leader and Competent Communicator educational levels, receive the Advanced Leader Bronze (ALB) award. Members who then choose to serve the organization as District or higher-level officers, and who complete certain other requirements, would then be qualified to receive the Advanced Leader Silver (ALS) award.

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Author's Bio: 


This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Public Speaking. The Official Guide to Public Speaking is Nancy Daniels. Public Speaking is speaking to a group of people in a structured manner with the intention to inform, influence, or entertain the audience. A good orator should be able to invoke emotion in their listeners, not just inform them.


Additional Resources covering Public Speaking can be found at:

Website Directory for Public Speaking
Articles on Public Speaking
Products for Public Speaking
Discussion Board
Nancy Daniels, the Official Guide To Public Speaking