How Toastmasters Clubs Work

How Toastmasters Clubs Work Toastmasters 101 podcast

Have you ever walked into a situation where “pandemonium” and “disorganization” and “Who’s running this mess?” crosses your mind?  (I hope it wasn’t a Toastmasters meeting.)  You know there’s a leadership problem when you find yourself in this place.  People aren’t doing the work, or it’s unclear what they’re supposed to do.  Fortunately, in Toastmasters, we have some leadership roles that should prevent that chaos.  Today on Toastmasters 101 podcast, we’re talking about how Toastmasters clubs work.


How do you develop your leadership skills?  Are you looking for simple steps that stretch you slowly but teach you in a safe place to find the leader inside you?  Then you need Toastmasters.  We will give you the training and  opportunities to become a leader.  This is Toastmasters 101 and I’m your host, Kim Krajci.

Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made

Leadership doesn’t come naturally for everyone.  We all know those charismatic people who draw followers.  It’s not just Instagram influencers.  I’ve met a few young people in my life that became leaders in the schools or social groups without any specific training.

I never thought of myself as a leader.  I’m just inviting my friends to come along and do things with me.  But that threatened the leadership of an organization I was a part of and they wanted me out.  I went to my friends and family and asked “Am I a leader?” and pretty much everyone laughed at me and said, “Of course you’re a leader.”

It took me quite a while to believe them.

Leadership is one of those success metrics that gurus talk about.  Leaders get the money.  Leaders get the power.  Leaders define success.

Um… no?  Yes?

If I was a leader in that organization, I didn’t have any of them.  No power, no money, no success.  But apparently, I did have some influence that threatened those who had the titles.

At that time – which was long before I joined Toastmasters – I didn’t understand leadership and power.  I’m not sure I do yet.  But what I do know is that I probably would have handled that situation differently now because I’ve gotten leadership experience in Toastmasters.  What’s more, I didn’t even really think that I was getting it at the time.

Starting at the Bottom

I was willing to become a club officer.  I just didn’t want one that I knew I could seriously harm the club.  My choice was to be the Sergeant at Arms.  It’s the lowest ranking officer in the club.  How much damage could I do?

I personally also believe it’s the most important.  Without the SAA, we didn’t have a meeting site OR the equipment to hold the meeting OR the materials we needed to make it a successful meeting.

I can manage stuff, I thought.  At that time, the meetings were held in an office building every Thursday morning at 7:30 am.  We did not store our materials on site.  I had to haul everything in and out for every meeting by myself.

I’m not complaining.  In fact, it was fun.  Because we started at ground zero every week, I had lots of opportunities to change things.  Which I did, regularly, because I enjoyed so much seeing our club president’s face when he walked in and the room was backward.  Or sideways.

I made that officer role my own.

How Toastmasters Clubs Work for Members

I get that most Toastmasters join because they want to improve their public speaking skills.  The vast majority – close to 90% – say that they want to overcome stage fright and become public speakers.

So becoming a club officer isn’t on their agenda at all.

Maybe you’re that person.  Maybe you’re in Toastmasters because you’re looking to improve your career.  Or you’re giving a toast at a wedding.  Or a eulogy.  Or a thank you speech to a retiring mentor.  Whatever.  Being an officer is going to take time away from your life and give it to this club that you’re only here for one reason.

Let’s chat about that.

Clubs need officers to create the meeting.  Without the organization behind the curtain, you don’t have the space to grow and improve.  Somebody has to put together the agenda.  Someone has to set up the meeting space.  New members need to be recruited – while you don’t think that’s a problem, it’s actually a considerable effort to recruit new members to listen to these speeches and give feedback for people to improve.  The club’s records – including your dues – have to be maintained.

New Members and Toastmasters Officers

If you’re a new member and this is your first club election, you probably haven’t heard about the structure of a club until now.  It’s not extensive – only 7 officer roles total.   It’s likely that your club president has already recently given you a presentation about the roles and asked for volunteers to run for the offices.  If that hasn’t happened yet, you can listen to episode 25 of this podcast – that’s – link is in the show notes – that explains all of the club officer roles.

Committing to a club officer role doesn’t look like it’s going to help you improve your public speaking.

Do you know what Toastmasters tag line is right now?  It’s Toastmasters:  Where Leaders Are Made.

Do you know how leaders are made?

It starts with great communication skills – and that’s why you’re here.  In fact, leadership roles in a club give you more chances to speak, so you can improve your public speaking skills faster.

In some clubs, it’s the Sergeant at Arms who opens the meetings.  In other clubs, it’s the president.  Either way, it’s more stage time.

If you want to improve your public speaking skills, an officer role helps.

Your roles in your life change as you improve your communication skills.  People pay attention to good communicators.  They look up to you.  Suddenly, you’re a leader.

Maybe that’s why I was scary to those who wanted me out of that organization.  I talk to people.  I listen to people.  Key parts of leadership – and what do we teach you how to do in Toastmasters?  Communicate and listen.

You need to get leadership training along with your public speaking training.

Toastmasters Clubs Work With Safe Space

The other thing about an organization dedicated to teaching public speaking and leadership skills is that we provide a safe space for you to step out and try something new.  Something you’re not entirely sure you can do.

When I’d been a Toastmasters less than 3 years, the district conference was to be held in my division.  We rotate the divisions that host the conference – does your district do that?  Maybe they all do.  Anyway, it was my division’s turn.  I’d been to one district conference in the past and to be honest, it was… not my cup of tea.  In retrospect, it was probably a fine conference.  But as a newbie, I was neither impressed nor found any value, especially in the venue.  When it was time for the conference where I was being awarded my DTM – in my city – I wanted to have some input on where it was to be held.  I knew the only spaces in the area were either grossly over our budget or not suitable.

So I volunteered to provide a selection of sites to the district leadership.

Let me confess here and now:  I stacked the deck.  I knew what was available.  I just made sure that the site I wanted was the site that the leadership saw first and that it made the best impression.

What I didn’t expect was the district governor (the name of the district director back in 2013) would ask me if I’d consider being the conference chair.

I knew I could help do one thing:  find a site.

I didn’t know if I could chair a conference.  I’d never done anything on that scale before, including my stint as area governor, my wedding, or my son’s graduation party, my parent’s wedding anniversary party… nothing that big.

Should I do it?

Part of it was the faith that then Lt. Governor Education and Training Debbie Curtis put in me.  Part of it was my year as the area leadership where I’d gotten to know the leaders in my division’s clubs.  Most of it was my year as sergeant at arms, where I’d decided to have fun but learned the keys to managing a team and thought – why not?

Just because I communicated (and admittedly, sold my district’s leadership on a conference location) I became a leader.

If you’re working to improve your public speaking, leadership is going to be right behind.

Being a club leader

Here’s the other deal with being in Toastmasters.  We expect you to not do great.  That’s not that we don’t want you to become excellent – it’s part of our 4 key values.  But there’s a lot of space to

  • Try new things and not have them succeed
  • Try new things and gain wisdom from the experience.

I used to get frustrated with the district conference process.  Every year, new people with no experience took over the conference and frankly, they had lots of support from the district trio, and a written handbook that a past district officer had complied years before. But there wasn’t much to help the new team learn from the mistakes of the previous year.

It turns out that’s a feature, not a bug.

Giving someone the space to try – and to help them succeed either by support or by evaluation after the fact – is the key to Toastmasters’ ability to help you learn.  The only thing a turn-key operation teaches is… how to turn the key.

Do you want to turn the key?  That’s fine.  But if you want something more, consider what Toastmasters is offering you – a bigger understanding of leadership, a vision for yourself, and a bigger impact on the world.

Toastmasters clubs work because there are people like you who want more than removing the filler words.  Toastmasters clubs work with people where they are and encourage them to step up and reach new opportunities for growth and wisdom.  Toastmasters clubs work because of people like you.

How about you decide to help your Toastmasters club work this year?

If you’re interested in a club officer role, talk to your current club president.  You won’t be left hanging – there are multiple opportunities to get training to help you succeed.  Club officer training webinars are offered around the globe in June and July.  Mentoring from past officers is always available.  I can tell you how to play with your club president’s mind.  I did it for a year and we’re still good friends!

Talk to your club president today and find out what you didn’t know you can do.

Wrap it up, Kim

Toastmasters 101 is podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.

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Don’t forget – your club gets credit for your attendance at the club officer training.  A minimum of 4 club officers need to be trained twice a year.  In District 10, we have special awards for clubs that get all of their officers trained.  Your district may have some too!  Don’t miss out – get to the training and you’ll learn how Toastmasters clubs work.