Working Toastmasters Pathways

Toastmasters Pathways: Skipping a level

What Order Should You Follow in Toastmasters Pathways?

“What good is skipping a step on a ladder?” Toastmasters Pathways were built to be done in order, right?

I saw this ladder analogy on the Official Toastmasters International Members Facebook Group this morning about a member who has completed their level 5 project – but had to skip completing Level 4 first.

I’d like to discuss the ways that we work our paths. How are you doing it?


To be a leader, you have to have a good foundation in public speaking. In one hour a week at Toastmasters, you can learn the communication skills to reach your goals and achieve your dreams. This is Toastmasters 101 podcast. I’m your host, Kim Krajci.

Dropping the Walls

One of the biggest improvements in Toastmasters Pathways that I’ve seen is the dropping of the barriers between the levels. In Toastmasters Pathways program, we can now see the entire path project options, the required as well as the options. Some Toastmasters don’t know about this change yet – so why not tell them about this podcast? Toastmasters 101 podcast is here to help us understand Pathways – especially about the parts that seem complicated. Like how to work through a path. What good is skipping a step on a ladder?

I can understand the idea that we need to work Toastmasters Pathways in sequence. You don’t teach algebra to kindergartners. Believe me, my dad tried to teach my kids and they were not having it.

Sequence allows us to build on already established skills and techniques. Right. I see that. The problem is our Toastmasters Pathways sequences and real life do not schedule with each other first.

Toastmasters Pathways and Real Life HPLs

I had an opportunity to work on a project during my first year in Toastmasters – my church needed a series of dinners prepared over 8 weeks. I was unable to manage this project alone.

I’d heard about the High Performance Leadership project from a speech at my club and decided this fit the bill.

I’d been a Toastmaster for a mere 8 months at that point.

While the project went sideways – 8 weeks became 16 – I was able to use the High Performance Leadership project to help me complete it and to do it well.

I’ve long said that I think the best product Toastmasters produces is the High Performance Leadership manual. While I find spider-webby-looking personality tests to be slightly – oh, I’m just gonna say it – useless – the rest of the manual laid out the steps I needed to take to handle this project. Important steps that I never considered – I learned how important they were to do them. Suggestions of how to recruit, report, and survive the project made it possible for me to manage when the length of the project doubled and I couldn’t be there for the extension. Because of the manual, I’d known to train others to take on the management of the meals for the dates I couldn’t be there.

That was huge – and made the difference between success and failure.

But the High Performance Leadership project was part of the Advanced Leadership Silver projects – not before I’d finished my CC and certainly not before I finished my CL!

Not on the same schedule

Life and Toastmasters Pathways projects aren’t always on the same schedule.

When we’re on leadership paths, sometimes the opportunities come up at inopportune times.

Toastmasters Pathways and Learning

I say, if you’ve got the chance to take on a leadership role in Toastmasters, you take it. There are a finite number of them and you can’t count on the next one coming through when you want it or when you need it.

So you grab it and hang on for the ride.

Toastmasters is a place to learn. A place to practice. And therefore, a place to make mistakes.

My first High Performance Leadership project – the church dinners that went 4 months instead of 2 – was the perfect training for me for my second – running a district conference. That’s doing things in sequence. Small to big.

The Ladder of Toastmasters Pathways

Is the ladder analogy the best way to look at the Toastmasters learning process?

I sort-of followed the sequence – if you ignore my HPL being completed before I’d finished my Advanced Leadership Bronze award. I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the confidence to step up to be the conference chair without having done the other project first. I do know – I never would have done it. I wasn’t ready and would have had zero confidence that I could do the job.

I see the value in following the sequence. But Toastmasters does say that you work the program at your own pace, maybe your pace is… different. Maybe you’re coming to Toastmasters with a set of skills that you’re comfortable doing a big project without the Toastmasters training. Should you delay taking on an HPL project because you haven’t managed a small project first? Who defines what’s big and small?

That doesn’t make any sense. And that’s why I love that the barriers are down.

Planning Life and a Path

For example, I see a keynote in my future. With the walls down, I can look ahead and see that I can use it for my Level 5 project in my path. I can certainly plan for it.

That’s good because I can plan other projects with that Level 5 project in mind. Maybe before I give that keynote, I can work on some skills in some Pathways projects to get me ready.

Doesn’t that make sense?

But with the keynote date in mind, with everything else in my life, maybe I won’t have all of the blogging posts I want to do to be completed before then – should I have to give up applying the keynote to my Level 5?

Here’s the deal: my life doesn’t wait on Toastmasters’ project scheduling. But I have plenty of chances to apply the skills I’m learning in Toastmasters in my life.

A ladder analogy doesn’t fit perfectly to the Pathways projects.

Take the Leadership Roles

If you have a chance to step up and take on a leadership role – in or outside Toastmasters – I’d say it’s smarter to say yes than no. I read a book by Shonda Rhimes called “Year of Yes”  (non-affiliate link in the show notes) where she tells the stories of choosing to say yes to all requests for a year. Her first challenge was to give a speech – something she’d been avoiding most of her life. That sounds familiar, right?

By choosing yes, you might find yourself in precarious positions, but you’ll learn fast. You’ll have opportunities to do things you never thought possible and achieve goals you barely dreamed. Doors open because of yeses.

Being hobbled by a number on a Pathways level number is not reasonable.

Oh, I know you people who want to do things in order. I’m exceedingly grateful for people like you – because I am not. You control the chaos. I prefer to think that I provide the fun.

When I think about ladders, I think about my father painting his first house. Up and down, up and down. Scraping and painting. In my mind, it took all summer. It was a rough time – he was working a full time job, teaching a class, my mom was pregnant and it was hot.


To me, ladders aren’t fun. I’m not superstitious about walking under them, but honestly, why walk under something that may fall? So I don’t like a ladder analogy for Pathways. No disrespect to that Toastmaster – he does make a valid point. Skipping a step does mean that you’re missing something. In my dad’s case, skipping a step meant skipping a portion of the wall that he was going to have to paint anyway and methodical engineers don’t skip steps.

I’m not a methodical engineer. To me, skipping the step on the ladder gets you to the top faster. You might miss something, but hey, was that step important? I do tend to learn the hard way that yes, that step was important and now I have to go back to tend to it.

Fortunately in Toastmasters, you can go back and do it later.

Does that mean I think you can jump directly to the projects you’re interested in?

Skipping Levels

I personally see no problem in looking at Level 3’s presentation skills projects and picking from most of that list as early as possible as you learn public speaking. There are a lot of important skills and in my mind, the sooner you learn good skills, the less likely you are to develop bad habits that have to unlearned – a much harder process. Then go back and take the Leadership Style or Communication Style or the Mentorship Project on Level 2.

I know that the reason we have a single specialized speech in Level 2 is to give the Toastmaster an introduction to their specific path’s focus. It makes us feel like we’re moving forward toward our goals and that’s not trivial. I think – and this is strictly my opinion – it’s skipping a step!

You’re moving up into speaking without an introduction on how to speak well.

It all depends on how you look at the ladder, doesn’t it.

If you’ve joined Toastmasters to build leadership with innovative planning or project management skills, you might not agree with me. Why would you need public speaking skills if your goal is to be a better leader?

Because Toastmasters believes that public speaking is the foundation of leadership. If you can’t communicate well, you can’t be a good leader.

Previous Podcast Episodes

This is also why, back in episode number 22, I strongly urge people not to jump directly into the Career Building speech projects – Prepare for an Interview and Making Connections with Networking, along with the Using Presentation Software project. Those projects need the basics first – such as the essential speech skills I talk about in episode 18. Build the basics, then move up.

That sounds like I’m advocating for a sequence. I am – just not necessarily the one that Toastmasters Pathways lays out.

Then again, you may be like one Toastmaster I know who came to her first meeting because she had to give a PowerPoint presentation next month – going directly to the Level 3 Visual Aids projects might have helped her immediately.

It’s about what your life path needs – not always about what Toastmasters Pathways has laid out.

Do I sound like I’m too casual about completing Pathways?

I hope not. I think that the Pathways system is a great way to improve your life by developing the skills you need to thrive.

But I’m realistic, too. Opportunities come on their own timelines. You decide what you want to do. What are you doing now? What project has your attention?

I’m still working on the repurposing of the Visionary Communication path into a storytelling focus, but I just got a new project that’s making me think that Innovative Planning should be on my radar.

What are you doing?  Leave me a note on the Toastmasters 101 podcast Facebook page.

Wrap it up, Kim

I promised an update in the last podcast about my area contest on my path to Paris. Sadly, my path to the World Championship of Public Speaking came to a sharp end last Saturday. I’m not complaining or blaming anyone. I presented a non-traditional speech that simply could not have won with the judge’s matrix that is provided by Toastmasters. It took me a bit of time to get over my disappointment – but I made the decisions about my presentation that directly led to that conclusion. Possibly for the first time that I’ve ever said this and not been sarcastic – I’m not bitter.

Our music is from Toastmasters 101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.