What is Toastmasters? Have you ever had to explain to your friends or family what our organization does? That is a question I have had to answer many times. I once heard the most asked question by people calling Word Headquarters is – Do you make Toasters? – My simple answer I always offer – Toastmasters is an organization dedicated to the advancement of the fundamental principles of public speaking and leadership. It was officially started in October of 1924 by Dr. Ralph Smedley and can be found in over 140 countries, with more than 350,000 members worldwide.
There are many volumes written on the subjects of Leadership and Public Speaking; however, Toastmasters is the foremost organization that provides its members with the opportunity to practice those skills. Toastmasters offers a safe and friendly environment and has become the best “do it yourself” organization for those who wish to develop their public speaking and leadership skills. Although the organization provides many instructional manuals and a newly minted Pathways Program, those manuals and Paths do not dictate what subjects members can speak on at club meetings. Members are free to speak on any topic that is of interest to them, as long as their content or language is not deemed offensive to others.
Most prepared speeches are five to seven minutes. Brevity teaches speakers how to say more by using fewer words. Members quickly learn the first rule of public speaking – speak when you have something to say, that is worth saying. – And any word can become a bad word when used too often. Toastmasters is a program that encourages better listening and better thinking. Better listening and better-thinking-habits lead to better speaking. At Toastmasters, you are encouraged to find your voice. Members receive training on how to listen and evaluate the speeches and thinking of other members. With that training, they are encouraged to form their own opinions, to speak for themselves.
When Dr. Ralph Smedley first started his “After Dinner Club” at the YMCA that would become Toastmasters, he believed individuals could improve themselves to their fullest potential through better communication. Toastmasters is a program based on the principles of learning by doing. It is a proven action plan that one can improve themselves through repetition, practice, and effective evaluations. It does not ask members to subordinate themselves to a club or the organization. It is a program dedicated to the development of the individual. Members are free to join at will and leave at will. Although the focus is on the individual, members work together to bring out the best in each other and then apply those skills learned and developed to help others.
The skills learned at Toastmasters are those we all use in everyday life. Our Communication and Leadership development improvement is most valuable not only in our private engagements but also in many aspects of our public lives. Daily, our peers and superiors evaluate us not only for our spoken words but also by what we have written. Opinions are formed based on how we interact with others. Most members join our organization to achieve some definite purpose. Whatever that purpose is, you will find someone at Toastmasters ready, willing, and able to help you achieve your goal. That is what Toastmasters is and will continue to be until the end of time.