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Being the Toastmaster

A speech given by Steve Hollingsworth, ATM-B

The following is from a speech I gave some time back about doing the Toastmaster duty. They reflect my own opinions and not that of management, Toastmasters International, or the CIA. I'm submitting them in the hope they will make the job of being the Toastmaster for a meeting a bit easier…

The first thing you should know is that preparation for the meeting is 95% of the work, and most of the pressure. You have help with your meeting right off the bat. A good VP of Education will have lined up most of the meeting participants for you, and determined who is out of the picture for unassigned duties. We've had very good luck in having good VPs of Education, he/she will have a full slate for you. Another key helper is the VP of Membership. If you have an up-to-date roster, you can do a good job of making pre-meeting contact. During the meeting itself, the Sergeant-at-Arms will help insure the room is set up. The Presiding Officer will have an active role in the meeting itself, and will call on the other officers.

Your part of the preparation is made successful by two things, thoroughness and timing. Start early, preferably on Thursday but definitely no later than Saturday, in contacting people. Some modern tools will help you; if you have them, make maximum use of them. They include a telephone, an answering machine, e-mail, and a computer with a text editor and a printer for preparing the program. I've provided a checklist, which will help you organize your preparations.

Doing things in order is very important. Your speakers require the most lead-time. Contact them first. They most likely won't be able to tell you all their key information (the speech title, time, manual name and speech number, and some introductory information), but it's important that they confirm that they will be making a speech, and if you can find out the approximate length, you can coordinate other factors. Get introductory information from the speakers. If the speakers are going to have to cancel or are uncertain, you will want to find other speakers or warn the Table Topics person to adjust the number of questions. Try to have three speakers if possible.

Next consider the theme of the meeting. A theme helps raise the spirits of the audience, and if the Grammarian and Table Topics Master wish, they can tie the Word of the Day and the Table Topics into the theme. Where can you find ideas for the theme? Try the calendar (for nearby holidays), the newspaper (for current events), or a party supply store (for decorative accessories). You are in charge of the meeting; as long as you stay within the realm of good taste (loosely defined), you can select anything you want as a theme. If you can think of, and can afford it, find some materials to accentuate the theme. These would include table decorations, clipart for the program, some small giveaway for each attendee, or a prize for some contest. Don't spend much; tiny items can be just as fun, and you'd be surprised what you can find for cheap at a party store.

If you're really stuck finding a theme, talk with the Table Topics Master for ideas. The Table Topics doesn't have to match the theme, but the meeting has more continuity if it does. Either way, this is the time to contact the Table Topics Master. Talk about the rough number of questions to have ready, about 4-5 if there are 3 speeches, more if there are fewer speeches. Often the Table Topics Master will have an innovative idea to try out. Within reason, the Table Topics Master should have free rein. Remind the Table Topics Master that they should mention using the word of the day, and after the questions, should call for a timer's report, a grammarian's report, and then a vote. Also remind the Table Topics Master that they should never call on evaluators, that others are game except visitors (and even those if they have volunteered), and it's best to call on people who have had no other duties as first choices.

Next you should contact the rest of the duty holders. Leave messages if you don't get ahold of someone, and never assume someone on the roster will be available for their assigned duty. If you get to Monday without getting a callback from someone, try to line up a backup for that duty. If you have to, coordinate with the Listener or the Jokemaster to fill a vacant duty instead. Although these duties contribute to the meeting, they are more expendable than other duties. Unless you know from experience that a particular individual is skilled at their assigned duty, take time with each duty holder to go over their duties, and how to best accomplish them. The more new members there are in a club, the less likely it is that the duty holder will have witnessed enough good examples of that duty to have a solid perspective of the right way to perform it.

You will need to insure you have Evaluators for each Speaker, unless the Speaker is speaking from the Better Club Series. Even then, they may want to be critiqued. Sometimes you will have inexperienced evaluators. Generally, evaluators should have several speeches themselves under their belts, but this is not always an option. Generally, you will want to match more experienced evaluators with more experienced speakers, but you cannot always do that. Use your best judgment. Most important, you have to assume responsibility for these assignments. I do not recommend last minute changes nor do I recommend letting speakers choose their evaluators from the pool. A speaker may have some legitimate reason for not wanting a particular evaluator (like having already been evaluated by that person an excessive proportion of the time) but just on the basis of like or dislike should not be a factor. If you have an inexperienced evaluator, discuss their duties with them, and stress that criticism should be constructive and nurturing, and to avoid "shoulds".

Finally, you need to prepare the program. A well-organized program can save you lots of hassles during the meeting. Before printing it, triple check that it is accurate. If it's your first time, use an old program that you thought worked especially well as an example. Usually once you have a format you like, you will re-use it over and over, so look for leftovers from the previous time. My idea of an ideal program will include: indentions made in a way that clearly shows which major duty holder calls upon which minor duty holders, the times for all timed duties, and if you know far enough in advance, the word of the day. Your trade-off is to print the program as late as possible so it includes last-minute changes, and soon enough so if there are disasters like running out of printer ink or a broken computer, that you can go to "Plan B".

Try to come to the meeting 20 to 30 minutes early. Help the Sergeant-at-Arms prepare the room, get out the ribbons, stopwatch, timer cards, ah clicker, and comment sheets. Coordinate with duty holders as they come in to insure they remember their role, and give them their tools. Double-check with speakers about their speech times, and point out on the program who their evaluator will be. Make sure the speakers and their evaluator coordinate before the meeting for special speech criteria, timing changes, etc. Check with each speaker if they have special needs, like moving the furniture or using the chart-board, and if so, assist them when they come forward. As people arrive, look for substitute candidates, in case you have no-shows. If you have any blank spots on the program, corner prospective substitutes as soon as you spot them. (Visiting TM officers are especially good candidates.) If I have lined up a last-minute substitute for a duty when the official duty holder is running late, I will usually do so with the disclaimer that if the original duty holder arrives before time to be announced, I'll revert back to the original duty holder. This leaves the printed program more accurate, and the late person may still be more prepared more than the substitute.

Try to start the meeting within a few minutes of on time. The Sergeant-at-Arms will look to you for a signal of when to start. This is the moment of truth; don't hesitate. The Sergeant-at-Arms will bring the meeting to order, and introduce the Inspiration/Pledge duty holder. They will give the inspiration and pledge, and then call the Presiding Officer to the front. The Presiding Officer will call for all the officers' reports, and then turn the meeting over to you. Keep a copy of the program with you; it will keep you out of trouble. If a duty is still unfilled (hopefully not at this point), call for volunteers. If you don't find any, you may have to do it yourself. Tell everyone about changes to the program, and give them time to mark the changes. Talk about the theme a bit (and interspersed within the program), and introduce the duty holders, having each describe their duties, and involve them with the theme if possible. Listen to each duty holder's explanation, and if they miss anything, gently add the missing duty. Explain the comment form, and encourage visitors to comment and vote. Try to use the word of the day during your comments. Work in introductions whenever possible, but always with the speakers. There are some general guidelines I use. If someone is coming to the front, always applaud until they get to your handshake, and don't leave the front until they get there. If they have no need to come to the front, for example, during minor duty holder explanations, I usually hold applause until after they have finished speaking. Remember that you are in charge; the audience will normally take their cue from you. There will be mistakes made; roll with the punches and make the best of any mistakes.

Introduce each evaluator and have them give their speaker's objectives. Listen for any mistakes, like a changed time, and validate a correction with the speaker if necessary. Then introduce the speaker, and turn the meeting over to them. Be ready to come back to the front whenever they are finished. Then repeat the cycle for each speaker. After the last one, call the Timer to see if all speakers qualified, and then call for the vote. While the vote is being taken, you can introduce the Table Topics Master. With respect to introductions, stick with some factual background on the individual which you have cleared with them. Attempts to be witty or provide too much detail introducing a speaker can throw them off; the goal is just the opposite, to make them at ease.

You may or may not want to interject yourself between the Table Topics Master and the General Evaluator. Discuss this with Table Topics Master before the meeting, and if you want him/her to introduce the General Evaluator directly, be sure they know that. Be prepared to do anything the Table Topics Master forgets, like calling for the reports or votes.

Listen to the General Evaluator's comments. Don't repeat them, but when you're called to the front for closing comments after the GE finishes, add any key comments thing you think the GE left out. Thank the people who extraordinarily helped you in preparing the meeting. Then introduce the Presiding Officer. At this point, you are done.

Here are just a few more hints:

  • Always be gracious. You'll get more flies with sugar than vinegar.
  • Listen to the advice of others, but always remember you are ultimately responsible.
  • Be careful trading creative originality for tradition. Creativity is fun; tradition incorporates previous successes. Both are useful.
  • A successful club involves everyone's participation. Try to educate duty holders in a way that leaves them comfortable, prepared, and confident.
  • Leave as little as possible to chance. Things will go wrong; try to minimize their impact.
  • Be nice to Steve. He's elderly.


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