Imagine a medium-sized (or larger) room. It looks like it has been set up for about 20 people to sit down. A nearby window shines with the early morning sunlight, as it lets in a little gust of wind, which gently makes a banner next to it flutter. The banner says something at the top, and the banner itself looks to be propped up with a metal structure of some sort. Upon closer observation, you see that above the mystery words on the banner, there’s a little blue circle that has words on it, too. Hmm…what does it say? You start to walk towards the banner to get a closer look.
Just when you get almost close enough to read the banner, the door from which you entered the room vibrates with the familiar thud of the knock of a hand. The door creaks open, and a man and a woman walk in.
“Oh, didn’t see you there! Hmm, I don’t recall you joining the club…” The man says. “You must be a guest! Welcome to the Sneoville Toastmasters Club!”
Now, let’s take a little pause. What is this mysterious place? Where could you be?
We are about to step into the weekly meeting of (drum-roll please)…dun-dun-dunnnnnn…a Toastmasters Club! Though the club in the short scene above was made-up, Toastmaster clubs are quite real. In facts, recent counts have shown that there are over 16,800 such clubs. If you’ve heard about Toastmasters before, and already know everything about it, that’s awesome! Pat yourself on the back. But for those of you who aren’t experts on Toastmasters, here’s some background info:
According to the official Toastmasters International website, , “Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Headquartered in Englewood, Colo., the organization’s membership exceeds 358,000 in more than 16,800 clubs in 143 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators, and leaders.”
I myself have experienced being a guest at one of these meetings, because my dad (Satish Shenoy) is a Distinguished Toastmaster! If you get the chance to attend (or even join a Gavel Club, which is a version of Toastmasters clubs that kids are allowed to join- more information about Gavel Clubs can be found at this link here) a Toastmasters meeting, I encourage you to try it sometime! It is a really cool and interesting experience.
Anyway, let’s take a little look into Toastmasters and what a typical club meeting would be like. Here is a look into a typical agenda (our imaginary meeting lasts an hour), including the actual schedule and also the roles of each person involved:
The official beginning of the meeting, or kickoff as it is often called, involves quite a few preparations. First, the Sergeant-at-Arms calls the meeting to order, getting everyone’s attention. Then the Presiding Officer welcomes everyone and introduces guests. The Toastmaster of the Day, who acts sort of like a host, describes the program for the day, and what will happen during that meeting.
After the kickoff, all the roles of the meeting are introduced. At every meeting, the members taking up these roles get changed around, so everyone gets a turn to do each job. These roles include the Grammarian (who says the Word of the Day, which should be used as much as possible by all members, and pays attention to the grammar involved in each speech), Ah-counter (who records how many times filler words like um, ah, and like are used inappropriately by each speaker), Vote Counter (who counts the votes to decide who wins awards like “Best Speaker or “Best Evaluator ”), Timer (who times each speech to make sure the speaker completes the minimum speech time and does not go overtime), Humorist (who tells the J0ke of the Day), and sometimes other optional roles like Book Leader.
After going over the roles, the speakers who have already prepared speeches, usually 2-3 speeches per meeting, give their speeches. While they give the speeches, the evaluators, who give them constructive feedback later in the meeting, analyze the speeches to come up with what feedback to give the speakers. It is quite amazing that they essentially prepare the evaluation “speech” during the meeting itself.
Later, when all the speakers have given their speeches, the timer announces the time. Then, all the members are free to vote for the best speaker assuming that more than one speaker qualifies. Then, the next part of the meeting begins: Table Topics! This part of the meeting is when everyone gets a little practice with thinking on their feet, or in public speaking terms, spontaneous (aka impromptu) speaking. Here’s how it goes: the person with the role of “Table Topics Master” has already prepared some questions based around a theme to ask everyone. After introducing the theme of the Table Topics session, the Table Topics Master asks a question from their list, and anyone willing to participate does so by volunteering. If no one volunteers, the Table Topics Master invites someone from the room to try. When someone answers a question, they go to the podium or stage and try to answer in 1-2 minutes. Depending on the time available for the Table Topics section, around 5-6 people take turns answering questions. The Table Topics session normally lasts around 10-12 minutes. After everyone finishes and timer announces the time taken by each of the Table Topic speakers, the members vote for the better Table Topics speaker.
Now, time for the evaluations! Each evaluator gives their feedback and compliments. After that (and you probably know the drill by now 😉 ), everyone votes for the Best Evaluator.
Now that everyone has voted on the Best Table Topic Speaker, Best Evaluator, Best Speaker, it’s time for announcements! After the votes have been counted by the vote counter, and the winners are decided, ribbons that say “Best Speaker”, “Best Table Topic Speaker”, and “Best Evaluator” are given to the appropriate people. The meeting is then adjourned.
The members, if they want to, then hang out for a few minutes afterwards to socialize and catch up with each other. They truly seem to enjoy each other’s company and then everyone goes home (or back to work if they are in a corporate club.)