Just visited a Toastmasters meeting. It was fun, and I really do need a lot of work on my communication skills; getting rid of the "um"s and "ah"s, being able to think on my feet, just being able to talk and be heard, damnit! But, I have two concerns:
Some of the end of the meeting talk I overheard smacked of Amway; stuff like member titles, advanced course books, the need and incentives of increasing club memberships, etc. All in all, is it worth the $45.00 or so to join?
2)The club that’s most convenient for me to join has a lot of 40 and 50-somethings as members. I’m afraid that some of my alternative, atheistic, vegan, Dvorak-typing thoughts may come out and scare some of these people, if not offend them. Just how much freethought is actually allowed in these clubs?
Hint: You really do get out of it what you put into it.
As for any particular club and one’s ability to “fit in,” in many ways exists within the dynamics of any particular club. Members should be free to speak on any topic, because they are supposed to be evaluated on their presentation skills and not the content of their speeches.
Our club addressed this very issue head on. We have a diverse opinion base and regularly have provocative speeches concerning the election, gay rights, stem cell research, religion, etc. Now in the past this was not possible and in at least one case, caused one former member to be ejected from a meeting.
An irony on this is as an evaluator it is often easier to evaluate a speech when I don’t agree with the topic. It is easier for me to judge their presentation abilities because I can wipe out any thoughts concerning the speech content. It works for me because I’ve wone several evaluation contests within Toastmasters.
I was a member of Toastmasters for two years. I enjoyed it very much, and even held office in our local chapter, and won some area competitions.
You really don’t have to buy in to all those extras. Just the basic toastmasters kit. Once you complete that, you can just start over, or you can go for all the advanced stuff. It depends on how you view your participation – as a social event or an educational one. There is some groupthink and sales pressure, but if you object to being the target of it, say so.
As for the freedom of ideas, the members of my club did tend towards the conservative side of moderate, on average, but we valued our First Amendment rights, and were expected to receive people with different opinions with an open mind. This was before 9/11, so who knows what happened after that…
If you don’t like the politics in your current club, find another one. Most clubs are extremely happy to host visiting members from other clubs.
I noticed one thing about Toastmasters that wasn’t in any of the literature: FOOD! Every meeting was a potluck, especially the competitions, and most of the members were chubby, if not downright obese.
Is it like Amway? No. It’s strictly non-profit, and quite cheap, considering what you get. There are levels of achievement, and specific speech projects you have to give to get them, but the dues are the same for the most accomplished member as for the rookie.
Toastmasters are free to speak about controversial topics. Encouraged to, even. Your fellow TMs will teach you how to defend your position with research and facts, rather than emotion and name-calling. The impromptu short speeches teach you to think on your feet and organize your thoughts quickly. Every person in the room was a terrified beginner once, so they understand that.
Another Toastmaster checking in, encouraging you to go for it. You already have the only ‘requirement’ for membership, which is believing that you can benefit from being a member.
I belong to a corporate club (which means it’s not open to anyone; only company employees may join) that is only 6 months old, and so far it’s going really, really well. At least one member has already seen a noticeable difference in her public speaking confidence and skills, and even mentioned to me the other day that she has learned valuable things just from performing various meeting roles. Our new Area Governor came for a visit at our last meeting, and was surprised and impressed by how well we’re doing for a new club. I’m our Vice President of Education and the person responsible for getting the club started, so I’m pretty darn proud of our members.
If you want some more practice as an evaluator, just drop a line to redlands High School. Ask for Kami Smith. Tell her that you want to judge some high school speech competitions. These are held on Saturdays, and we need judges!
If you do decide to judge, be sure to look for the Yucaipa High School coach. You can’t miss the handsome devil!
I’ve been in Toastmasters for close to 10 years and it has really helped me a lot. My club is a singles group so it is more laid back, with age, background and professional variety than many of the others out there. It is, for me, about 50% social to 50% educational. Before I joined I could not have spoken in front of a group of people, but now, it is not much of a problem. In fact it has really benefitted at work because I am in charge of teaching various computer classes. Just last Thursday, I had a beginners class, and since everyone who showed up at least new how to use a mouse, I ended up abandoning the usual things I go over without batting an eye. A few years ago, I probably would have kept with the script regardless.
I do enjoy the group on a club level and am not terribly impressed with it at higher levels. One of the things TM tries to teach is that brevity is better than long winded, rambling. However, I have noticed whenever regional, district etc. officers show up they almost always talk on and on and on. It gets to the point I dread whenever one of them shows up. Another thing is that there are a lot of cliques and political nonsense at the higher levels of the organization. While I have been an officer on the club level, I am not interested in running for higher office.
Finally, I just want to say if you find a group you like with people you like, join, it really is a great organization. You can also proceed at your own pace and at your own comfort level. It is also very challenging on a personal and professional level. I went from someone who could barely stammer out a sentence in front of people, to someone who has won several club contests. Try several clubs and find the one that best fits your needs.
At the request of a psychiatrist with whom I have had sessions, I began attending meetings of a local group of Toastmasters last November. He recongized I have a problem with social skills and he said that participating with the TMs would help me overcome that.
For the record, one official of the local group said that sex, politics, and religion are the only subjects they steer clear of. (They recognize contemporary concerns: they’ve discussed and invited programs for aid to the Asian tsunami victims.)
I agree with everything positive said about Toastmasters in the posts above. I was a Toastmaster for several years.
You will find that each club has its own personality, for lack of a better word. You may find that you fit right in with the group you visited. Give it a try. After a while, if you feel that it’s not a good fit, try a different club. Many Toastmasters belong to more than one club - to get exposure to different styles and techniques.
Most clubs have a diverse membership and speech topics cover a very broad spectrum, as has been mentioned. You’ll learn a lot and have a good time doing it.
I might as well give you the obligatory disclaimer. We have heard the rumors that Toastmasters has no secret branch, the Toastmasterati, who rule the world. It’s just an urban legend. Not true in any form. Nope.
I’ve been interested in Toastmasters for years. I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking, including seminars with audiences of 600+ people. I also taught some college classes. I’m frequently selected as emcee for local events. I think I’m fairly good at public speaking, but I’d really like to get better at it.
The problem is, the nearest Toastmasters group I can find is 60 miles away. I can’t justify driving that far for the meetings. Someone suggested I start a chapter here, but I have three problems with that:
I don’t want to start a chapter of an organization I know very little about
I don’t want to run the group, I just want to participate. I’m already on the boards of two other local community service groups and I don’t have the time or energy to manage another group.
I don’t know if our small town of 2,500 could support a chapter of its own.
Again, jumping in with good things to say about Toastmasters. I benefit in my professional development and I enjoy my club. I like it because as people give speeches I get to know them beyond a “small talk” level. Our club has a tremendous variety of professional and personal backgrounds. I learn so much!
I also am very sensitive to anything Amway-like. The key for me is that Toasmasters is an educational non-profit with a mission I believe in. I don’t go around pushing it on anyone who doesn’t ask, but (as you see) if someone asks I don’t hesitate at all to recommend it.
And, to InvisibleWombat, I’d recommend getting in touch with the Division that your nearest club belongs to. Our Division has a VP of Marketing who is responsible for supporting development of new clubs. I think a town of 2500 could support a club, since some companies smaller than that have chapters. I’d recommend having a few angles in mind. Is there a school, large employer, church, or some other organization that is central to your town that could be a focal point for a club?