The Purpose and History of
During my time serving as a students’ spokeswoman, our high school
celebrated the 350th anniversary of existence with a big festivity
and a special ceremony. At this ceremony some representatives of the state and
federal departments would speak as well as the school’s director, one or two
other teachers and me as spokeswoman. I do not consider myself to be shy, but
that morning when I was heading to the lectern to speak to a crowd of about 300
students, parents and other visitors, I felt sick as never in my life. At that
time I did not know that I was just suffering from the fear of public speaking.
The Fear of
Speaking nearly unprepared to a crowd of 300 people is certainly an
exceptional situation, but many people experience the fear of speaking in less
dramatic situations, like presenting themselves in job interviews, giving
presentations, participating at meetings at work or even asking for a promotion.
The fear of public speaking is wide spread: “Fear of public speaking
– a cousin of shyness – scored number one in a Book of Lists index of
Americans’ greatest fears, outranking death” (Frank and Corridan). Also, the
fear of public speaking continues in private life, like feeling uncomfortable at
parties making small talk with strangers or avoiding giving a speech to honor a
friend or family member at a special occasion. Even the one-to-one communication
with close friends and/or partners and family members can suffer because many
people do not know how to express themselves.
According to many scientists and psychologists, the fear of public
speaking belongs to an emotional disorder called social phobia. In one source it
is defined as, “the fear of scrutiny, humiliation, and embarrassment in social
situations that require speaking, eating, or writing in public. These fears may
occur in discrete situations, or in most or all social interactions” (Gropper
Hall states that there are two possible reasons for the development of
social phobia. The human brain produces neurotransmitters, which are chemical
substances that transmit nerve impulses across a synapse, like norepinephrine,
dopamine and serotonin. Experts believe that neurotransmitter-receptor
abnormalities play a part in the development of social phobias (Hall).
Another reason is easier to understand. “Negative social experiences,
such as being rejected by peers or suffering some type of embarrassment in
public, and poor social skills also seem to be factors, and social phobia may be
related to low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, and feelings of
Today many people assume that taking a prescription medicine like Prozac
is the easiest way to treat such disorders or inconvenient feelings, although
these medicines are not proven to help in treatment of social phobia. The fear
of public speaking is only one aspect of social phobia with more or less
significant symptoms. “Though there are many treatments for shyness – from
therapy to medication – for those afraid of public speaking, the cure is
usually the poison: Feel the fear and do it anyway” (Frank and Corridan).
There is a whole industry that offers expensive seminars to train
speaking skills or other aspects of self-improvement. There are also several
books on the market, which are less expensive but still do not substitute the
experience of public speaking. Another less expensive [i],
but extraordinary effective alternative is to join a club of Toastmasters
How Toastmasters Works
How Toastmasters Works
Members of a Toastmasters club learn in a friendly and supportive
atmosphere to speak to a group, to control symptoms of fear and to work with
others together. A typical Toastmasters club is made up of 20 to 30 people who
meet on a regularly basis (most of them once a week, some less) for about an
hour or more. These meetings have a special structure.
Usually a meeting
starts with a short business session in which the club officers give reports and
club business is discussed.
this part of the meeting two or more members deliver their prepared speeches.
These speeches are based on projects from the Toastmasters International
Communication and Leadership Program manuals. Each project addresses a different
topic, like organization of a speech, voice, language, posture, gestures and so
forth. An average speech out of the basic manual is about five to seven minutes;
some speeches out of the advanced manuals can be up to 15 or 20 minutes.
Members present a one-to-two-minute-speech on an assigned topic.
prepared speaker is evaluated by another member who points out the strengths of
the speech and gives some advice where and how to improve in a
two-to-three-minutes-speech. This part of the meeting also includes an
evaluation of the meeting itself, and how well the leaders of the meeting
handled their responsibilities.
meeting is led by several leaders and supported by some helpers.
officer (who is the president or one of the officers) leads the business part of
is the host of the meeting. He is responsible for the agenda, chooses a theme
for the meeting and leads through the part of the prepared speeches. He also
moderates the transitions between the different parts of the meeting.
topics master assigns the questions for the impromptu speeches.
evaluator introduces the evaluators for the speakers and gives an overall
evaluation about the meeting, including some helpers’ reports.
and kind of helpers vary from club to club. Some of these are:
choose a word of the day and listen to good or improper usage of English
language and grammar;
listens carefully during the whole meeting and asks questions when he’s called
by the general evaluator;
times the prepared speeches, table topics and evaluations and gives signals when
the speaker reaches the estimated time or when he’s going to exceed his time;
clicks the use of “Ahs” and other filler words;
who collects the vote for best speaker, table topics speaker and evaluator.
Also, there are some leaders in the background who take care that the
club and the meetings run smoothly and effectively. These are the president and
the officers: vice president for education, vice president for membership, vice
president for public relations, secretary, treasurer (some clubs combine these
duties) and sergeant at arms.
Each new member is involved step-by-step into being an active member.
Usually new members start with taking over some minor helper duties like
grammarian, timer and so forth and participate in table topics. As soon as they
feel more comfortable, they give their first, so called “ice breaker” speech
and work on the other nine themes of the basic manual. A mentor is assigned to
each member to give some advice about speaking techniques or choosing a theme
for the speech. Only the members themselves decide about the interval between
the speeches. In average an interval of four to six weeks between the speeches
works for most people the best.
After serving a couple of times as a minor duty holder new members later
put on the hats as table topics master, toastmaster, evaluator and general
evaluator, and some may even serve as a club officer. All these responsibilities
and activities besides the speaking aspect also help to train leadership skills.
Every single Toastmasters club is embedded in the infrastructure of
areas, divisions and districts of
Toastmasters International. There are special events like speech contests that
start on club level, and the winner participates at the contest the next higher
level. Training is offered for new elected club officers to provide detailed
information about their new responsibilities and club business. Conferences on
area or district/division level are the environment for the speech contests
above club level, and also offer some possibilities to learn or improve skills
or to qualify for other duties within Toastmasters like judges and chief judges
who rate the speech contests.
of a Survey
While I was preparing to write about this subject I strongly felt that
only describing how a typical meeting at Toastmasters goes on, or explaining the
different duties would not give an adequate impression that a membership at a
Toastmasters club can really help to overcome the fear of public speaking.
Therefore I set up a questionnaire and asked the fellow toastmasters of my club
for support. Fifteen of 24 members returned the questionnaire. According to the
guidelines for statistical significance these answers/results are not
representative or statistical significant, but they give some insights. I asked
For how long
are they members of Toastmasters;
reasons to join Toastmasters;
changed since they are a member;
benefits for professional and personal life that can be credited to
think Toastmasters can help everyone become a better speaker.
The range was from fairly new members (membership for only a few months)
about more experienced members (membership for more than two years) to very
experienced members with a membership about four years and more. Figure 1 shows
1 Duration of
There were five members being in Toastmasters for four months up to one
year, one member for 1.5 years, four members for 2 – 2.5 years, two members
for 3 – 3.5 years and three members for 4 – 6 years.
to Join Toastmasters
I asked the members of my club about the reasons why they joined
Toastmasters. These are the results:
2 Reasons to join Toastmasters
were not limited to one
The majority joined the club to loose the fear of public speaking (10
entries) and/or to improve speaking skills (11 entries) and/or to socialize (9
entries). Only three members wanted to improve their leadership skills, which
indicates in my opinion that this skill is still regarded as not so important.
I also asked my fellow Toastmasters what has changed since being a
3 What has changed since being a member of Toastmasters
were not limited to one
Only two members answered that they are not nervous anymore about giving
a speech. The majority (10 members) answered that they are still nervous, but
can control it. Eight members stated that they are able to avoid fillers like
“Ah”, nine members answered that they listen more carefully, and six members
stated that it is easier to answer unexpected questions. Toastmasters does not
claim to make everyone a perfect speaker, but that there is a realistic chance
for everyone to work on skills and improve. And the result of this survey
emphasizes this statement.
to Professional Life
I asked what benefits for professional life could be credited to
Toastmasters. The majority answered that they have “more confidence speaking
up in meetings,” or “helps me give presentation at work,” or experienced
“better group speaking ability” (responses to a questionnaire conducted by
the author). Other answers stated:
to feel more
comfortable and confident when dealing with supervisors and/or customers;
to ask for a
promotion with a positive result;
to have a
better presence at meetings;
to stay focused
on the topic of a meeting or project;
to develop a
more risk-taking behavior;
to be a better
listener, able to give constructive feedback.
to Personal Life
I also asked whether being a member of Toastmasters has given some
benefits to private life. Some people felt that their social skills were
developed. Other emphasized on the social events we offer in our club, as we are
a singles-club. Further answers
included meeting “lots of lifelong friends,” or “I am starting to listen
better,” or “stronger listening skills,” or “express myself better”.
Not surprisingly the benefits to professional life seemed to my fellow
toastmasters more important. Still the majority indicates that there are
benefits to private life too – although these aspects seem to be subtler.
Toastmasters Help Everyone?
Fourteen members answered the question
“Do you think Toastmasters can help everyone becoming a better speaker and/or
leader?” with “Yes” and one with “No”.
The one who answered with “No” wrote, “Toastmasters can only help
those people who have a genuine desire to overcome their fear, and put effort
into learning new skills” (response to a questionnaire conducted by the
History of Toastmasters International
Ralph C. Smedley worked at the
beginning of this century for a local YMCA club as director of education. He
quickly realized that these boys needed some training in communication. He
founded a club to create a friendly, but still realistic environment, where the
boys could practice in giving speeches and evaluating them as well as presiding
the meetings. He called this club “The Toastmasters Club” because the
meetings were set up as banquet with toasts and after-dinner speakers. Smedley
organized other Toastmasters clubs in other cities whenever he was transferred
in the following years. But unfortunately these clubs only blossomed as long as
he was a member.
Finally, the YMCA director arrived in
Santa Ana. Once more he organized a Toastmasters club, holding the first meeting
in the Santa Ana YMCA basement on October 22, 1924. In Southern California’s
optimistic climate, the concept caught on. Men from neighboring communities
sought out the group and liked what they saw. Smedley was quick to help them
organize their own Toastmasters club. The new clubs were united in a federation
designed to coordinate their activities and ensure uniform methods. (Biography
of Dr. Ralph C. Smedley)
This federation was incorporated as
Toastmasters International in 1932, and in 1941 Smedley resigned from YMCA and
opened a little office in Santa Ana where he and his secretary handled club
business. Since he started the club in Santa Ana, Smedley also wrote manuals for
Toastmasters and several books about public speaking and parliamentary
procedures, and was editor of The Toastmasters Magazine. The membership
of Toastmasters International increased rapidly after the end of World War II,
but it was not open for women until 1973. During the last two decades the need
to communicate effectively raised and so, not surprisingly, every year more
people decide to join a Toastmasters club to improve their speaking skills.
At the August Board of Directors
meeting in Chicago, Illinois, 1998-99 International President Terry Daily, DTM,
reported the organization’s progress during the past year. During 1998-99,
Toastmasters International recorded its highest membership numbers ever: 175,846
members in 8,801 clubs in 70 countries (as of June 30, 1999). He said TI also
“chartered 680 new clubs, which is almost two new clubs per day, making it the
third best year ever in term of club growth. (The Toastmaster, November 1999)
The growth of Toastmasters International regarding the number of clubs is shown
in figure 4.
4 Total Number of
From Top”, The Toastmaster, October 1999, 25)
More than 1,000 major organizations,
government agencies, military forces and so forth sponsor in-house Toastmasters
clubs for their employees. There are also specialized groups like clubs for
senior citizens, singles, handicapped people and bilingual groups.
I joined a singles Toastmasters club in
November 1998 to improve my English and to socialize. I attended a district
meeting two months later and was amazed and impressed how strong and effectively
volunteers run this non-profit organization.[ii]
I also find the whole concept (the structured meetings and the manuals with
different objectives) very convincing and effective. I watched members who once
avoided attending family celebrations because they were afraid they had to
deliver a little address growing into self-confident people. Being a member now
for over one year, I delivered recently the 10th (and last) speech
out of the basic manual and also served as a club officer. During my research
for this paper I read a short notice that even now some educational
organizations take the Toastmaster concept to teach language. Whether someone is
afraid of public speaking, or wants to improve his leadership or social skills,
or just wants to add some entertainment and excitement to her or his life, I
would recommend joining a Toastmasters Club.
Christina; Corridan, Kara. “Scared speechless: how I stopped being shy.
(joining a public-speaking group) (includes related articles on medication to
cure shyness and speech-making techniques).” Redbook,
Vol. 185, 05-01-1995, 98(6).
Michael; Bindelglas, Paul. “Fear of scrutiny, humiliation &
embarrassment.” Jerusalem Post, 03-26-1999, p. 8.
Lynn. L. “The Things That Go Bump in the Mind.” FDA Consumer, Vol.
of Dr. Ralph C. Smedley”.
reprinted with permission from Orange
Dreams Come True”. The Toastmaster, November 1999, 14.
From The Top”. The Toastmaster, October 1999,
conducted by the author
The average fee for a one-year-membership at a Toastmasters club costs $ 60,
including fees for Toastmasters International and the local club.
Toastmasters International does not employ paid promoters or instructors. It
has no salaried staff except the executive director and the people who work
at the world headquarter in California.
Reprinted by permission of Marianne Stiewi.
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