Friday, April 22, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: There Are No Minor Roles

Feeling Small?

I hate the term "Minor Roles" in Toastmaster meetings. Oh, its just Ah-Counter, who wants it? Followed, invariably by the Ah-Counter's report that consists of "Oh, I was so enthralled by the speeches, I didn't hear anything at all! Ha Ha Ha!"

Roles such as Ah-Counter, Humorist, Grammarian, Listener, Vote-Counter, Wordmaster and Timer are only "Minor" if we as Toastmasters view them that way, and then treat them that way.

While the amount of speaking time given to each person will vary from club to club, all should get a chance to at least give a report during the General Evaluation of the meeting. Many meetings also give them time to introduce their role for guests, or for just the sake of doing it, during the meeting opening.

That gives us TWO solid reasons to never call these minor roles again:

A. Your Role Matters. As Grammarian, Ah-Counter, and Timer, you are evaluating, in a very specific way, each speaker. You fill in the holes the Evaluator doesn't have time to cover, as well as evaluate the Evaluators and every other role in the meeting! You let them know if they are using the English language well, interrupting themselves, using run-on sentences, and staying in time.

As Listener, you are encouraging folks to pay attention to details of the speaking content throughout the meeting. As Humorist, you get a chance to focus the audience and get them in a good mood. The Wordmaster offers up an opportunity educate the group and hold them accountable for actually learning through doing by tallying up who uses the word, both properly and improperly. As Vote-Counter, you hold the public trust, and play a vital role in encouraging fellow TMs by making sure they get their awards at the end of the meeting.

B. Speaking Time. Each role should get an opportunity to speak. If your club doesn't allow for that, I'd strongly suggest you find a way to change that, if possible. Taking the opportunity to introduce your role gives you a chance to exercise your skills - humor, vocabulary, conciseness, making a  point. During the general evaluation part of the agenda, I've heard Grammarian reports that are funnier than the humorous speech given during the meeting. Ah-counters can give wonderful and helpful reports when they take their role seriously. Vote counters often get short-shrift - why not let THEM give the awards, if your club doesn't already?

When we communicate that the "Major" roles are just the Toastmaster, Speakers, General Evaluators or Table Topics Master, we discourage everyone else in them meeting - some in a big way, some merely subconsciously. How much more likely are you to let something get in the way of your attendance if you are "ONLY" an Ah-Counter, as opposed to a Speaker?

Be a SuperStar!
If your club routinely considers these "Minor" roles, how much effort do you think the average person will put into them? When meetings end up with short, incomplete reports, the club is losing out on valuable feedback.

These roles exist for a reason - to add to the overall education of the group on every possible aspect of speaking and leadership in a 60-90 minute period. Treat every role as if were a starring role - and both you and your club will be the better for it - in feedback, speaking growth, and even attendance. Just as in corporate culture, when everyone feels important, the company runs better - and so will your meetings.


  1. Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors.
    Stanislavisky, Konstantin

  2. When attendance at meetings is low a club can combine some roles and give them to one member. Mine usually has an Ah/Grammarian who also is the Wordmaster.

    Some clubs call the Ah Counter by the more dignified title of the Wizard of Ahs.

  3. Hi Rich, what would you suggest a substitute collective term could be? "Feedback roles" perhaps? Thanks!

    1. Feedback roles are good, though I might opt for evaluation roles. Thanks for bringing some new thought to this post, 'Me'!



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