A Toastmaster Wears Many Hats

The life of a Toastmaster is shrouded in mystery. Whenever you mention you’re a part of the club, people raise their eyebrows, automatically assuming you wear a long red coat, carry a gavel, and make announcements at formal dinners.

In truth, that’s not the case. Looking at the history of the organisation tells us that Toastmasters International started over the Atlantic in America, founded by a gentleman called Ralph C Smedley who set it up to help young men increase their confidence when speaking and help them secure jobs.

Since then, it has become a worldwide phenomenon and grown to include over 345,000 people in more than 15,900 clubs across 142 Countries. Not bad for a volunteer organisation or as some like to call it – a hobby.

The aim of Toastmasters International is to help people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators, and leaders.

There are many types of leaders in our day to day life, from The Prime Minister, and Corporate Directors, to The Chairman of the local Parish Council and sports team captains. But how do people find themselves in these positions of power? Are they natural born leaders? Possibly, but everyone has the potential to be a leader with a little training. Where could you learn the skills to become a leader in a safe, secure environment?

Toastmasters International, of course!

Let’s start at the club level. When you walk through the door to attend a meeting you probably don’t think of all the hard work and organisation that has taken place to get the meeting up and running. You’ll encounter various members as they greet you, but once the meeting starts one person should stand out very clearly - the Toastmaster. They manage the flow of the meeting, keep it on time and most importantly, introduce everyone before they speak.

The Toastmaster role is very important, and you soon realise that even a simple introduction needs to be practiced for it to be seamless and well-delivered, guiding the audience through the agenda.

During the meeting, other members will be introduced and asked to perform a short introduction to describe their role. Let’s look at some of the other roles that may occur in a meeting or that you may be asked to perform.

Timekeeper – probably one of the hardest jobs during the meeting. Keeping an eye on a timepiece of some sort, listening to the speaker, and jotting down the results is a real challenge for multi-tasking. The important part of the role is to ensure that you keep an eye on the overall meeting time and liaise with the Toastmaster to make sure everything runs on time. If you hate meetings that overrun, then you realise how important this role is.

Next, we see the Grammarian. The point of this role is to introduce a 'word of the day’ to the meeting that attendees can incorporate into their speeches, table topics or even past the meeting into their personal life - this makes our speaking more colourful and alive. In addition, the Grammarian keeps an ear out for interesting words or phrases used during the meeting and encourages others to use similar phrases or techniques to enhance our speaking.

Then we hear from the Ah Counter. This role encourages active listening and helps speakers identify their use of filler words such as ‘um’, ‘err’ and 'so' which can be very distracting from the point of the speech.

Other roles that have a leadership element include the Table Topics Master - who leads the improv session - and the General Evaluator who summarises the full meeting. These are both important roles during the night as play a key role in the structure of the meeting.

As you can see, a Toastmaster member can wear many hats, but what other Leadership roles are there to step up to? Behind each successful club there is an appointed Committee.

First we have the President. This is the figurehead of the club – managing the committee and all club business. They create a strategic plan for growth and functionality, driving forward the direction of the club to ensure we meet our targets.

Why is this important? Clubs that meet their targets tend to have more engaged members who are achieving their goals, and most imoprtantly they make it enjoyable. If it’s not a fun, engaging, motivating environment, then people won’t be motivated to come and take part. The skills are transferable to the workplace, helping those in the position step up into leadership roles such as management.

Other roles on the committee can be related to your place of work or home life. Take the VPE – Vice President of Education - responsible for helping members work through the programme and achieve their goals. They ensure members get what they want out of their time at the club by making sure they’re on track to completing their speech pathway targets.

The Vice President of Membership brings members in and introduces them to the club, ensuring they know what to do and when. Both of these positions involve mentoring and helping people, both vital skills at home or work.

The Vice President of Public Relations creates interest to draw members in through social media, website content and advertising - all of which are vital skills in business today.

The Treasurer looks after the money, making sure members pay their dues and ensure the club pays the organisation on time. Skills learnt in this role are vital for budget management - applicable for both work and home.

It does not just stop at the Club either. You can gain other skills by taking on roles in the Area, the Division, and the District.

Next time your President asks for volunteers, whether it’s in a meeting or as a member of the committee, why not step up to the mark? After all, the hat that you wear in Toastmasters might open the door to an even bigger hat in the real world. Go on, give it a chance and challenge yourself!

Join us as a guest at a meeting to find out Toastmasters can help you. We meet every second and fourth Tuesday of the month.

Phil Heath

Treasurer and Found Member of Strictly Speaking Harrogate Toastmasters

About Phil

Phil Heath – DTM As a trainer/consultant in International Standards, Phil visited many countries in the last few years. Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, every time he left the country there was a riot, a bombing, or an invasion! Phil joined Toastmasters in 2003 and has the honour of being a twice Distinguished Toastmaster. Before Phil became a professional speaker he was a trainer and sales consultant for many companies. As philthefunnel he now coaches organisations and individuals in the art of presentations with a focus on confident communication.

Phil Heath – Creating Confidence with Communication

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