Level 1 and Level 4: Taking Risks

Level 1 Level 4 Take Risks Toastmasters 101

This week, I took a risk and went to an exercise class that was advertised to be a low-impact workout.  I have issues with my feet, ankles, and knees, so a lot of jumping or running is not an option for me.

This class is probably a lot of fun for someone who didn’t have to worry about her ability to walk the next day.  I took the risk and… it wasn’t for me.

If you’re new to Toastmasters, you’re starting at Level 1.  You’re not thinking about Level 4 at all.  But in both levels, it’s about taking risks.

We forget pretty quickly how much of a risk coming to a Toastmasters meeting and joining a club is for most people. 

Public Speaking is Risky: Level 1

Whether or not public speaking is more feared than dying – there is a significant risk in stepping up onto a stage when you know you’re not ready.  When you joined Toastmasters to learn and the first thing you’re expected to do isn’t to sit and learn but to get up and speak?  That’s terrifying.

In Level 1, the new member is introduced to the Toastmasters system:  the Ice Breaker introduction speech.  I’ve seen people tremble through the entire speech, a piece of paper with their entire speech written out clutched in hands  shaking so much that it couldn’t possibly be read… and then sit down,  already worried about the next time.

They took the risk.  And they’ll take the next risk …and the next.  That kind of bravery and commitment must be honored and recognized.

For me, getting through my first 4 speeches was stressful.  It took at least that many speeches before I thought, “I can do this.”  At that point, I’d been a member for at least 7 months and I had filled a few of the club meeting roles.

Level 1 Risks

I cannot complain about how we introduce the Toastmasters program in Level 1.

  • Evaluation – how to give it and how to receive it
  • How to research and write a speech.

I would probably suggest to anyone that I’m mentoring to do the Project 3 – Research and Organize You Speech before the double speech Project 2 – just because you need to learn how to write a speech before you give them.  No point in starting with some bad practices and then trying to unlearn them.

In 20/20 hindsight, I know that this is intimidating, but I also know that… you don’t conquer your fears until you act.  Until you face them.  I know there are some people who want to gently sneak up on your fears – coming sideways instead of straight on.  Both the subtle, slow method and the fast, in your face, deep end of the pool  immersion do work.

However our members decide to take on their fears, we need to support them.  Encourage them.  Invite them to participate in Table Topics.  Give a standing ovation at the conclusion of the Ice Breaker.

Level 4 Risks are different, but the same

Level 4 starts to put your skills to work.  Up till now, leadership and public speaking projects have been separate.  Not much overlap except to give a speech about the leadership style test on Level 2, or a basic leadership assignment in level 3.

No, Level 4 is time to integrate your skills.  There are two projects in there:  one required that specific to the pathway.  The other is a big elective project.

It’s interesting to me that this level is called Building Skills.  Isn’t that what Level 1 is supposed to do?

Well – every level is about learning new skills and building upon them, right?  And in a previous podcast, I talked about how taking on club meeting roles builds leadership skills.

But Level 4 is a whole nother set of skills that I wonder about – especially the leadership tasks.  What leadership training have you gotten before now?

  • Club meeting roles
  • The Leadership Style Quiz in Level 2
  • Leadership Pathway Required Project in Level 2, such as Managing Your Time
  • Leadership Pathway Required Project in Level 3, such as Planning and Implementing or Negotiate the Best Outcome.
Leadership Training?

So when you get to level 4, the introduction to leadership has been a bit elementary.

When you start public speaking training in Level 1, it’s also elementary.  I also strongly believe that your leadership skills are based on strong public speaking skills, so I guess I’m okay with the strong early emphasis in public speaking first, and then introduce the leadership skills training.  This is probably not intuitive to new members and maybe, if they’re on the Leadership Development or Dynamic Leadership pathways, it feels like it’s late in the game.  I get that.

Learning leadership is like learning public speaking – you have to do it.

That’s why I would like to suggest to you that you step up and take on another leadership role in your club – be a club officer.

Wait – what?  Be a club officer?

Yep.  I think it’s time to encourage you to be a club officer.  If you’re at Level 4, you might want to give some thought to becoming a club officer.  Every club has 7 officer roles that need to be filled annually.  Maybe your club just had its elections and you don’t want to think about it now.  I suggest that you do think about it now.  There are two training sessions that you can attend per year even if you aren’t an officer – you can learn the basics or even decide it’s not the job for you right now.  Free officer role descriptions are available on the Toastmasters.or website.  The link is in the show notes but you must log into the Toastmasters.org website to access them.

But put the idea into your brain and start watching the officer who is currently filling the role.  You might even help out a bit.  If the VP of membership is planning an open house, I’m sure they will want help.  Or you could plan an open house!

You’ll get a lot of appreciation from your club for taking that risk- and great leadership practical experience.

Supporting our members at Level 1 and Level 4

Back at Level 1, everything was new and you knew you had a lot to learn – not only how to write and give a speech, but how to understand the Toastmasters universe.  We are a bit quirky, you know.  What’s with all the clapping?

I digress

On a side note – all the clapping is important.  It’s encouraging to the speaker who may be feeling anxious about getting up to give a speech.  It’s also recognizing completion of a task and the conclusion of an event like Table Topics.  Applause seems a bit contrived anymore because we know the big name talk shows use signs to promote it to create excitement.  But just because they misuse applause doesn’t mean it’s wrong!

For example – I attended a conference recently where the MC told us that every time he introduces a speaker, he expected us to give a standing ovation to welcome that person to the stage.  Obviously, this was NOT a Toastmasters conference.  It felt manipulative and manufactured – not real and not genuine.  Compare that to the tradition that many clubs have for a standing ovation for a newbie Toastmaster’s first Ice Breaker speech.  We are honoring that person’s bravery and commitment by standing and applauding after their speech.

At Level 4, sadly, we don’t see a lot of standing ovations and that’s a bit sad.  Many of these speech projects are complicated and challenging.  I think some people deserve a standing O for all the work they do to complete this level.

What were we talking about?  Oh yeah, comparing Level 1 and Level 4 learning.

Level 4 is where we see the differences in the Pathways.  Each pathway has a unique required project that  will take some time to complete.  There are also eight other electives that you can choose one to complete.

Because Pathways doesn’t specify the sequence of these projects, you can do them in either order – or you can do them concurrently.  There’s no reason you can’t take the lead in a project and create a social media presence at the same time. These two projects might even complement each other.

Level 4 is risky.  Because – you might not be successful.  Not having a good first speech?  No one expects you to.  But at this point, you’ve completed 3 levels where you’ve given 9 or 10 speech projects.  By now, regardless of the success of your project, you should be able to give a speech that shows progress in those public speaking skills.

Those Level 4 elective projects aren’t small tasks.  You’re taking on a bigger challenge.  Look – I know what I’m talking about when I say that writing all those blog posts for social media or doing an hour’s worth of podcasting isn’t a task you do in one evening.

Decrease Risk By Increasing Work

I guess I’m saying that risk equals the amount of effort you need to put in.  The more effort you exert, the more likely you are to succeed.

The sweet thing about Toastmasters is that it’s a safe place to take these risks.  Here, you can really mess it up and learn from the experience without the mockery of the world or the pressure from your employer to succeed.  This is where you can try new things, bomb utterly and completely, and then move on.  You don’t have to release that podcast!  The blog can be taken down, the online meeting deleted.  That Q&A session can be forgotten.

You may find you like  it.  Running webinars or blogging or podcasting – but you won’t find out if you rush the projects to just get them out of the way.  So take the risks – go deep into the work, develop the skills you can from the project, and discover something about yourself.  All at the same time.


Thanks for listening to Toastmasters 101 podcast.  There’s no risk to take by going to our subscribe page at Toastmasters 101 dot net slash subscribe and choosing a free subscription for this podcast.  Tell a friend!

Our music today is from


Toastmasters101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.