The Hidden Value of Toastmasters

Are you an introvert who suddenly found himself thrust into a foreign environment? Did you just moved to a new city or a new country? Do you generally have troubles meeting new people and have no friends around? If that is you then I suggest you look around for some leisure time or professional circles and organizations. One of them is Toastmasters International. With more than 292.000 members in more than 122 countries the Toastmasters clubs are virtually everywhere and their focus is on teaching and practicing communication and public speaking skills. Sounds like an organization born in expat heaven, doesn’t it?

I moved from Europe to the Philippines for a work assignment a year ago and since the beginning tried to figure out a way how to get involved in the local community to get to know people and make some friends. I was looking for like-minded individuals and realized that Toastmasters are the right community to join. So how can this organization help an introverted individual to meet people?

Toastmasters are open to new people

One of the goals every club has is to grow its membership base and ideally spin off new clubs. The organization is voluntary and run by volunteers and that usually mean some really enthusiastic people who love the club and love to see it growing. Part of each meeting is also welcoming of visitors and potential new members and guiding them through the meeting so they understand what’s going on.

Toastmasters appreciate diversity

This is a truly global organization. It always depends on the language spoken but you can be pretty sure that in every reasonably big city you will find a club that uses English as the spoken language. This creates a great environment for expats and that then leads to diversity from cultural point of view. You can find there members of all ages and occupational backgrounds. There is no exam to get in, and everyone who wants to learn is accepted and offered an opportunity to participate.

Toastmasters focus on communication

It is all about communication. That is the whole point of Toastmasters. The official mission of Toastmasters International is “We empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” There are two educational tracks one focused on communication and public speaking and the other on leadership. Both of them obviously evolve around the ability to effectively communicate.

Toastmasters provide a friendly environment

The vision Ralph C. Smedley had when he started this organization in 1924 was to provide a training in public speaking skills in an environment that will appeal to young men (he worked at YMCA back then). Since then one of the key principles of every meeting is to learn something while enjoying the experience, and for some clubs even have lots of fun. Each club is of course unique and thus it is a good idea to hop around couple of clubs at the beginning to find one which atmosphere is close to your heart.

Toastmasters let you contribute at your own pace

No one pressures you to do anything. There are official manuals that guide your through your learning experience but it is completely up to you to decide how fast you want to go. The basic manual for public speaking, called Competent Communicator Manual, has ten projects (meaning ten prepared speeches you have to perform) and there are members who manage to finish it in half a year. There are also those who take several years to get through it or even decide to repeat it once completed. And then you have additional fifteen advanced manuals each with five projects. This gives you learning opportunities for a lifetime.

Toastmasters help you build self-confidence

The chance to practice speaking in front of a small group of people in friendly environment when the stakes are zero and you can fail without danger of someone laughing at you is the biggest gift this association can give you. It is a great way to gradually build self-confidence and if you participate regularly, take on some of the roles in the meetings you can be assured that your self-confidence on how to talk to others and in front of others will grow a meeting from meeting.

Toastmasters are fun

The impromptu speeches, also called table topics, is a way to learn how to speak without preparation and it is usually also lots of fun. Some clubs also meet after the official meetings for some socializing and this again helps in getting some friends and meeting people who like to talk to you.

Get it to the next level

And if you want to get things to the next level and you want to push yourself to meet people faster and to have a reason to talk to them? Get yourself nominated and elected as one of the club officers. I might be an introvert but I enjoy a good challenge when I see one and so I ended up very quickly being in a position of VP of Education in one of the Toastmasters club in metro Manila. This is an incredible role that is essentially responsible for running the day-to-day operation of the club. VP of Ed prepares and organizes the club meetings. This entails talking to members in between the meetings to get them plan their speech projects, motivate them to take various roles during the meetings and generally keep them on the Toastmasters educational path. In the day of the meeting VP of Ed oversees the organization of the meeting, meets with guests and potential future members and generally is the go-to-person for anything the club members need. It is a role that gives you a reason why to talk to people and they have a reason why to talk to you. It pushes you to communicate and helps you to find associates and friends.

Twitter type summary: “Toastmasters is a great organization to join if you want to meet people, make friends and improve your communication skills.”

Are you an introvert? How do you meet new people when coming to an unknown territory? And in case you are a Toastmaster what is your experience? If you want to read more on Toastmasters you can find some thoughts here and here.

One World…

This post is a bit different. It is not as much about leadership but about the social responsibility of us living in relative wealth. It is a transcript of my 10th basic project speech at Toastmasters. Since it was written to be performed on stage I have included parts in CAPITAL letters where I wanted to put some emphasis by modulation of voice. The dots “…” mean a pause to again give emphasis on a particular thought. [The brackets] indicate a section in the structure of the speech.

One World


[Capture the attention]

Planet Earth. EVERY SINGLE YEAR there are 800 million PEOPLE suffering of malnutrition. EVERY SINGLE YEAR there are 1.5 million children dying from hunger. EVERY SINGLE YEAR there are 1.4 million children dying from lack of access to safe drinking water

ONE… TWO… THREE… EVERY 3.5 second there is a person dying of hunger.

And every single year there is 1/3 of all food produced (1.3 billion tons) thrown away in so called developed countries

[Lead to the main topic]

What is WRONG with the World? Does it feel right? Does this feel like one planet? Does this feel like people really care for one another?


[Life if Europe]

I spent most of my life in the heart of Europe and even though I regularly complained about how miserable everything is I was at the end of the day pretty happy. I lived in a very safe environment, had a good education, free healthcare, had lots of food, fresh water and would get regularly mad at my parents for buying me the wrong toy.

And then I grew up and started to travel outside of my country. My first trip was to Australia. Beautiful beaches, smiling people, clean and busy cities. Everything seemed hundred times better. I felt like Europe is the worst place to live… and then I went to Africa.

Child in Tanzania

[Life in Africa]

I spent a month traveling around East Africa. I visited the vast savannas of Kenya, the beautiful national parks of Tanzania and the pristine nature of mountains in Uganda.

I stood in the middle of dessert seeing women walking hours with canisters to the nearest fresh water well, saw small children sitting in the dirt suffering from hunger and diseases.

I visited the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, the cradle of humanity and saw the kids in local school. Small, unhealthy kids who had to travel each day many kilometers through wild dessert to the school as it was their only chance for better future. I came to them and offered something sweet. And do you know what their teacher said? “Please, don’t give them sweets, they don’t have enough food and this will just make it worse.”

I went to Uganda walking in the mountains through villages that don’t see many tourists. And small kids would be curiously running around me, touching my white skin and giggling like they never saw such a strange individual with huge backpack. I have never seen such a joy in a kid. So I stopped and offered them something sweet. And the guide turned to me and said: “Please, don’t give them sweets, they don’t know what to do with it and they will never have it again.”

A year later I went to Indonesia, to Papua. Trekking in the wilderness and visiting some of the indigenous tribes. I was invited to tribe ritual where they slaughtered a small pig and had a feast. I got some meat and when saw the sad child sitting next to me I offered it a bite. And the guide said: “Please, don’t give the meat to the girl. She would get spoiled and she will never taste it again as meat is precious and only for men. Women and kids eat just vegetables.”


[Review and summary]

And then I came back to Europe and saw my niece who will never know what hunger or thirst means, who will never need to be worried about safety or unhealthy living conditions and who will have sweets and fresh water anytime she wants without even appreciating the gift of life she is receiving. And once again I need to ask “Do we live on the same planet?”

It is a responsibility of us who live in a relative wealth to share and care. And it is not just about money, it is about social responsibility and it is about the bigger responsibility towards the poor, the Mother Nature and the future generations.

[Call to action]

This is not the planet I want to live on

I WANT TO LIVE IN A WORLD where all the kids have enough food and water

I WANT TO LIVE IN A WORLD where all the kids can go to school and have all the sweets they desire

And I want to live in a world where everyone really really cares and that my fellow toastmasters needs to start with EVERY AND EACH OF US

Twitter type summary: “It is a responsibility of every and each of us to be socially responsible and care about those among us who need our help.”

Do you have an eye opening experience when travelling the world? Have it happened to you that you came from such a trip a different person?

How to organize your speech

Regardless whether you are in a professional setting or at home you are constantly required to talk, to share information, to answer questions, to influence others, to sell your ideas. It is not just about long public speeches. It is about every single communication or dialog you have. Toastmasters International, organization dedicated helping people improve their communication skills, provides you with some of the tools and skills you need to master the ability to communicate your ideas in a succinct matter and get the message across. So how do you organize your speech in a way that is easy to follow and gets the job done? The general rule is to stick with basics and have a clear beginning, body and end. Then you can follow one of the patterns for speeches described below.

Let’s say that you are supposed to respond to this question: “Would you like chicken or beef for lunch today?”

Position – Reason – Example – Point

Do you have a great idea and you want to persuade others to accept it? This pattern may help you. Just explain your position, reasons why you hold it, give examples to build credibility and finish with repeating your key point.

Example: [position] Chicken is much better than beef. [reason] It is easy to chew and easy to digest. It is also less demanding on mother nature to grow chickens than cattle. [example] Just remember last week when we got chicken with rice and everyone loved it. [point] Let’s get chicken also today.

Arresting Introduction – Interest – Desire – Action

Do you want to spark action? This might be a good patter to use. Grab the attention of the audience with a powerful image, build up the interest, focus on desires of the audience and finish with a call to action.

Example: [arresting introduction] Chickens rule the World! Do you know that it is the most popular meat? [interest] Every day there are millions of chickens being eaten in 200 countries and everyone loves them. [desire] Just imagine the great taste of roasted chicken with rice, it just invites you to get a piece. [action] So let’s go and get some chicken right now.

Story – Message – Gain

This is a good pattern to use when mentoring other people. You can pick a story from your past that carries the message you want to get across and ends with the point you want to make.

Example: [story] Remember last week when we went for lunch and got chicken with rice? We were also thinking about what to get and at the end decided that chicken is the right choice. [message] It was a great meal and in fact we all agreed that chicken is our favorite animal especially when cooked. [gain] We all enjoyed it, so let’s do it again.

Past – Present – Future

This pattern can be nicely used when creating a vision for your audience. You can start with the description of what happened, where we are today and what the future holds.

Example: [past] Since I was a kid I enjoyed chickens. They were my favorite food and I was always looking forward to have some. [present] Even today when I think about light lunch the first thing that comes to mind is a chicken with rice. [future] In fact I can see that there won’t be anything better even in the future so let’s just get chicken.

Advantage – Disadvantage

You can use this pattern when you want to persuade someone to pick one of several options.

Example: [advantage] Let’s look at pros and cons. The chickens are easy to breed, they are tasty, easy to digest and the chef in the restaurant we are going to really knows how to make them. [disadvantage] The disadvantage is that we had chicken last week but honestly, who cares, the advantages outweigh it. Let’s just get chicken.

I would suggest you consciously practice these in your everyday communication. And it is not just about your spoken communication, you can follow them even when writing emails or preparing powerpoint presentations.

Twitter type summary: “The ability to organize thoughts into a short and powerful speech is the first step towards communication mastery.”

How do you structure your presentation? Do you follow some guidelines that always worked for you? Share your tips and tricks below.

Toastmasters: a fun way how to improve your leadership and communication skills

There comes a day in a life of any professional when we are asked to give a speech, present our idea, offer an opinion, provide feedback, facilitate a meeting, or show a vision to our teams. In short, we are asked to communicate. How do you improve the basic skill every leader needs? How do you get better at communication? You join and actively participate in Toastmasters!

Fast facts

It all started in 1924 when Ralph C. Smedley held the first meeting of what would eventually become Toastmasters International. Smedley worked as a director of education for YMCA. He observed that many of the young men needed training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings so he decided to help them. The word “toastmaster” refers to a person who proposed the toasts and introduced the speakers at a banquet. Smedley named his group “The Toastmasters Club” to reflect the pleasant, social atmosphere he wanted to create.

Today, Toastmasters International is an educational (nonprofit) organization with mission to teach communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Headquartered in California it has more than 280.000 members in 116 countries.

The official Toastmasters International mission statement: “We empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.”

What are the benefits?

  • The Toastmasters communication and leadership program is a proven way to become better communicator as proved by 280.000 members worldwide.
  • The club meetings are held in a supportive and positive atmosphere. You should have some fun when learning.
  • The feedback you will be regularly getting will improve your skills faster than in any school. The feedback you will be regularly providing will improve your skills as a leader.
  • The experience you gain by getting involved in club functions will improve your leadership.
  • The access to the educational materials and resources on public speaking skills compiled over almost ninety years existence of the organization.

How does it work?

A typical Toastmasters club will have between 20 to 40 people who meet on regular basis, most often several times a month for 1 to 2 hours. The meeting is sort of social gathering but with strict rules and given agenda. The limited number of participants in each club ensures friendly atmosphere and opportunity for each member to regularly speak and get involved in various leadership activities.

Agenda for the meeting will look like this:

  • Introduction – introduction into the meeting, explanation of what Toastmasters are to new members and guests. Don’t be late for your first meeting so you won’t miss this part.
  • Prepared speeches based on projects from Toastmasters manuals – there are 10 projects (meaning 10 speeches) in the basic communication manual covering various aspect of public speaking such as body language, voice variety, organization of the speech or making the point. Furthermore there are 15 manuals to go through so you have enough learning materials for years.
  • Table topics (impromptu speeches) – one to two minutes long speeches that will be done without prior preparation on a variety of topics. By participating in this portion you will learn to collect your thoughts and organize a short speech “on the spot” – improvise.
  • Evaluations – the key to the learning process. Everything in the meeting is being evaluated. There is a constant stream of feedback coming to all the speakers so they can learn and improve. The evaluations are meant to help so they are given in a constructive and helpful manner.

Each new member of Toastmasters will receive manuals and resources about how to become a better speaker and a more confident leader. She will also have access to additional resources and variety of books dealing with various topics related to communication and public speaking.

Still undecided?

Think about some of these statements describing the Toastmasters program:

  • It is a self-paced program
  • You learn critical thinking
  • You learn flexibility
  • You learn to give and provide feedback
  • You learn to overcome your fears of public speaking
  • You learn to listen
  • You learn time management
  • You get confidence
  • You meet new people and make friends
  • You will have fun

How to join?

Just go to the Toastmasters International website, find the clubs that are near your location and visit one of the meetings as a guest. The meetings are geared towards welcoming new members so you won’t intrude, in fact you will be expected. When you see for yourself the value such club meetings bring talk to the club officers and sign up!

Twitter type summary: “Toastmasters International gives you a chance to learn communication and leadership skills while having fun.”

Disclosure: as of this year I’m a member of Fort Bonifacio Toastmasters club in Manila/Philippines and starting July 2013 also a club officer (VP of Education) responsible for organizing regular meetings and educating members and potential members on the value of Toastmasters.