Thursday, September 1, 2011

Toastmasters Thursday: Revisiting the Rebrand - and YES, I Still Love Toastmasters

This week I created a bit of a stir on my Facebook wall after announcing that I have stepped down from President from my home club and chosen to switch membership to a smaller club where I will not have an official leadership role - and that it was my feelings on the re-brand that led me to this decision.

A little background. Over the last few years, Toastmasters upper leadership has put in a new strategic plan, which included a re-brand of our organization. This re-brand was more than changing colors and updating a logo. This re-brand is designed to change the way our organization is perceived in the world.

For over 80 years, Toastmasters has been viewed as a place to overcome your fear of public speaking. If you wanted to speak at work, in church, or just in general, Toastmasters would get you over your fears - help your 'butterflies fly in formation' so to speak. TM does a spectacularly good job at this mission, and members join specifically for this benefit.

As people become more and more involved in the organization, they find themselves in a position to take leadership roles - a club officer, a district officer, even International Board positions. Because of the need for leadership in a worldwide organization, leadership became a co-existing, if somewhat secondary, aspect of Toastmasters. A formal leadership track was introduced, and over the years has continued to transform. It's still not as complete or comprehensive as the speaking track, but they are committed to continuing to 'beef it up'.

So committed in fact, that the re-brand has essentially changed the direction of the organization from a 'Speaking Organization that offers Leadership Training" to a "Leadership Organization that offers Speaking Training". The new tagline changes our first impression to the world from "come learn to speak" to "Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made".

This strikes me as a poor move for our organization for a few reasons:

1. After 80 years of marketing ourselves as a place to learn to speak, we are now marketing as a place to become a leader. This is a confusing message. If I want to be a speaker, does this mean Toastmasters is no longer the place to go? If I want to be a leader, and then go to a club where all I really see is speaking, am I the victim of a bait and switch?

2. The re-brand comes with no change in our leadership program. No new manuals, awards, programs. People keep saying "Rich, nothing has changed, your club won't feel a thing" essentially. Well, yeah, that's part of the problem. If the organization really wants to shift gears, then launch more than lip service. Launch an actual program. When people ask me what the re-brand means to them, and my only answer is "nothing yet, we just need to update our banner, lectern and website, and start telling people Toastmasters is Where Leaders are Made, it feels more than a little empty.

3. I don't think the organization is really intending to make speaking secondary - even if the marketing makes it look that way. If this is the case, then the marketing campaign needs to reflect the facts - that speaking and leadership training exist in Toastmasters on a level plane. Don't toss aside our speaking message just to push leadership. Push them together. To use a very tired cliche - don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

4. IF, and this is a BIG IF, Toastmasters really does want to make leadership the primary component of our organization, then our programs and clubs and culture will be changing drastically over the next 5-10 years. We will essentially go from building cars to building planes. And, IF this is what they want to do, so be it - but it won't be an organization I want to belong to any longer. But again, that's a BIG IF, and I tend to think #3 is closer to reality.

So, why did I step down as a president and switch clubs? Did I do it to 'stick it to the organization'? Uh, no. Don't think they would really care anyway. Did I do it to 'stick it to our local Brand Ambassador'? Uh, no. He's a friend of mine - and we agree to disagree.

I did it because I disagree with the move to the point that I couldn't be a good little footsoldier/mouthpiece for the organization in a leadership role. That's just not my personality, for good or bad. For the good of the club, they needed a leader willing to buy in to the new direction.

Did I need to leave the club? Probably not. But there's another club closer to my location that is rebuilding, and they need some experienced members. I don't need to officially 'lead' as a TM leader, but I can lead as a speaker, and experienced TM, without getting mixed up in what TM wants me to say or think about the organization.

I still recommend Toastmasters for those who want to overcome their fear of public speaking, or get feedback on speaking they already do. I owe a lot to Toastmasters for leading me to my current avocation as a speaker and coach. If TM changes to the degree I mention in Scenario #4, I probably won't be around for it - because it won't be the organization I knew, or owe the debt to. Until that doomsday scenario plays out, I'm still a Toastmaster - a speaker and a mentor to the best of my ability.

Many of you will disagree with my viewpoint on the branding, my choice to step down and switch clubs so that I can change my role in the organization. I've been called out as a quitter in public by a few. That's fine. Many of you will agree with me as well. Perhaps a Board Member or two will run across this post, and revisit the plan. Perhaps not. In the end, I did what I felt was right for my club, for me, and even for the good of Toastmasters. We all are entitled to our opinions - and if you disagree with me, that's OK. It's also OK that I disagree with YOU - and hopefully we can all be friends anyway.

My long-term hope for Toastmasters is that this over-correction in course comes back to center - and that our marketing message again reflects who we are and what we do. Speaking AND Leadership vs. Leadership which includes Speaking. It's Marketing 101 - sell to your strength, then up-sell. Even McDonald's, which has been working on going upscale with its coffeehouse branding continues to sell its core - consistent fast food at a low price. Toastmasters offers inexpensive speaking training, and if you want a leadership latte, we have that too.

Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made? Yeah, sort of. Truthfully, I believe its: Toastmasters, Where Speakers are Made, and Given the Chance to Be Leaders - If They Are So Inclined.


  1. Rich,
    I commend you for your commitment. Many within the organization do not agree with the new tagline as evidenced by long conversations on Facebook & LinkedIn. We can only hope that by letters to the Board, they will take a step back and put speaking and leadership on the same level playing field. We can not move one in front of the other just as you state,but we can have both.

  2. Rich,
    Thanks for the courage of your conviction. I agree with your point of view and commend you for speaking out. I enjoy change an embrace it as a sales professional. Yet, this change still has me scratching my head. Although I will go along with the program and see how it evolves, I think TMI is having a "new coke" moment. I think the "old coke" will come back on the shelf if TMI does not deliver with new leadership programming. Bradley Beck-DTM

  3. Mostly my sentiments as well. Although, I feel you could have stayed on as club president because clubs are not creatures of TI management. As club president you are not like a corporate supervisor or manager. You are the elected head of of a member club and largely independent from, rather than, subservient to, TI management. (Now, district office is a different kettle of fish.)

    That said I understand your feelings and your decision.

    Today I posted an article on my blog that relates to an aspect of this problem within TI, though TI is not mentioned.

    All my best!

  4. Hi Rich,

    You have very articulately expressed my feelings as well. One of the reasons I never pursued the leadership track beyond division governor (before the big leadership push) is because I have enough of this at work. Leadership also involves dealing with a lot of strategy and politics as well as communication. It can be stressful. I don't come to Toastmasters to get more of what I already do at work. I do have opportunities to get leadership education through my work and to get hands-on practice. I also get support and real-life feedback. What I have developed through improving my speaking at Toastmasters is like nothing I get anywhere else and it does help me with my leadership and it has opened up a lot of doors for me at work and elsewhere. I do also have a lot of gratitude for Toastmasters for that. Thanks Rich.

    Angela Louie DTM

  5. For all the articulate people who called you a quitter, I deduce they come from the Larry Winget school of Tact. I recommend they find an organization that teaches them how to articulate their feelings in a more conducive manner. You did the correct thing as a leader who felt in good conscience not be an an effective leader supporting something you didn't believe in and agree with vs doing a 'do as I say not as I do' approach. You are still a member trying to effect change from the inside if possible and I commend you for that.

  6. Rich,

    I too applaud your decision. I think the rebranding has gone in entirely the wrong direction and I have publicly expressed my opinion while, at the same time encouraging clubs to go with the rebranding.

    I follow several Toastmasters related blogs and groups and the membership overwhelmingly agrees that the leadership push is wrong. At least that's what I get from the posts and comments - maybe those that approve just don't say so.

    I get the sense from District leadership that my opinion should be kept to myself. Do I fault the leadership for this? No, they are going with the flow as they think they should. But my sense is that District and above have the philosophy that if the majority is silenced, the silent majority soon becomes the minority, and are no longer relevant. To me, that's even a bigger step in the wrong direction.

  7. Hi Rich,

    One of the most valuable commodities of being a Toastmaster is understanding and integrating others' perspectives.

    I think that I understand your perspective, but I would like to share some additional thoughts for your consideration.

    First and foremost, what follows here are my opinions only - this is not any particular organizational opinion.

    A couple of thoughts on the current Toastmasters direction and how it relates to the rebrand: I think that the new tag line, "Where Leaders Are Made" recognizes not necessarily a new emphasis or new family of progamming material, but represents an outcome that intends to appeal to a modern generation.

    I joined Toastmasters in 2002 not to become a better public speaker, but because I observed the evaluation process (for prepared speeches) and realized that over time, whomever receives that evaluation and successfully integrates it into how they think and how they communicate, they will, very probably, think better and communicate better. Yes, improved communications - and, not coincidentally, improved leadership skills.

    The new brand did resonate with me because of this difference in perspective.

    I have likened the Toastmasters experience (without anyone's authorization) to a real-life Harvard Business Review case study - except that we, as participants, have real intellectual and emotional investments in the outcome. Each club operates like a very small business. As you advance up the governance ladder, the leader positions resemble something like a franchise management organization, until, ultimately, you have regional advisor, a board of directors, and the president-- any position of which any Toastmaster could, ultimately, fulfill without losing their day job!

    The Toastmasters programs, both communication track and leadership track, have given me skills and experience that I would not get on my job as an engineer-- and now I'm more than an engineer. (I don't think "Toastmasters: More than Engineers" would be good for a tag line.)

    I also think that you have a lot to offer as a Toastmaster, as a communicator/leader, and as a devil's advocate :).

    I think that the path that you've chose was based on a principle-- I am not sure if you think that it's too late to reconsider where you stand. When I was younger, I used to cling to my principles a little too strongly, misunderstanding the relationship between credibility and principles. I do not mean to suggest that anything like that is going on here, I'm just suggesting that holding tight to a principle does not always produce optimal results.

    Either way, I continue to welcome your thoughts and ideas.

    Jim Kohli
    District Governor, D35

  8. Hi Rich,

    Nice to read a thoughtful and balanced article on the subject. I echo your feelings about the rebranding. I don't mind the new logo (even if it does look like they ran the Nissan logo, the Daily Planet from Superman and the flag of the Japanese Imperial Navy together).

    I do, however, side with you on the new tagline.

    First, I think it sounds like TM will churn out leaders like widgets on an assembly line, which is not the case. Yes, people can acquire good leadership skills at TM, but true leaders draw on experiences from all facets of their lives to become the leaders they are.

    Second, I agree that the main focus of TM for the vast majority of its members is (and will remain) public speaking. Unless there are radical changes to the programme, as you have noted, that is not going to change. And so it will be potentially confusing for new members.

    I like Bradley's analogy to Coca-Cola. Whether TM will revert to the real Coke, remains to be seen.


    John Zimmer

  9. Last night we conducted a demo meeting at a prospective corporate club in Quezon City, Philippines. There were about 70+ participants who were mostly young IT professionals eager to avail of communication and leadership training through Toastmasters.

    Most of them have never heard of Toastmasters and some even thought we sell and repair bread toasters!

    I evaluated an ice breaker speech from one of the employees of the company and I will never forget the look of pride and motivation on her face. She was ready to take on the world, so to speak.

    It is these moments that make me proud to be a Toastmaster. Our program changes lives. We empower people to be the best they possibly can.

    I really don't care much about this rebranding. If the people we are trying to reach don't even know of Toastmasters, I don't think logos and taglines would really make a difference.

    But I believe in our programs. For as long as we deliver communication and leadership development to the world, I'm in. And the reverse is also true.

    If all the energy spent on venting about this rebrand was used to conduct more demo meetings to bring the benefits of Toastmasters to more people, I think our organization and the world will be much better.

    So enough already. Let's do what we do best.

    Tony Cortes, DTM

  10. Rich,

    On target once again. I often think about the woman who I called my "Toastmaster Mom" who joined Toastmasters in the 1960's to overcome her shyness. She had no college at the time she joined and had a very limited goal of just getting a job to help pay the bills.

    Over the years, she gained confidence, two college degrees, many job promotions, and even served as a District Governor. She remains one of the best leaders I have ever known but I don't know if she would have joined "Toastmasters the leader factory" when she was a young woman looking to overcome her shyness.

    I think the new branding could scare away some excellent future speakers AND leaders.

  11. Rich,

    Where to start? As always, your post is well written and insightful. I could applaud your decision to help another club, but I'm confused by your primary motive being branding-related.

    I can understand why some members may not like the new brand. But what amazes me is some of the total crap some districts have passes off as taglines and logos over the years, and through all of that no one seemed to step down (at least not publically).

    I’m sorry that I can’t call what you did courage. If you left one club because you wanted to help another, I could be behind that. And no, I’m not calling you a coward, but I my opinion stepping down over a tagline isn’t courage.

    What about "Courage to Conquer", "Confidence. Leadership. Service." or "Achieving Greatness Together"? You might say those weren’t taglines, but they were. They were on every e-mail that every WHQ staffer sent out. Even while districts and their officers had a separate tagline. No one seemed to get upset when we were fragmented, disjointed, and putting out conflicting messages (and logos) with gusto.

    Now, we have a line that can attract more corporate business, while allowing our speaking excellence to continue unabated. Suddenly, voices must be heard, changes must be made and some pretty unsavory remarks are being made out there (you know, you've read them too).

    Why not concentrate on what’s best, not only for ourselves and fellow Toastmasters, but for future Toastmasters too? When they see the logo, the colors, and the tagline we can be ready with what it means to us. We can tell our story, how improving our speaking has led to [fill in your success here]. Why is that idea so worthy of hatred by so many?

    I hope your readers will choose to focus on the good here. Put half the energy into what’s right about this, and we’ll all be better off. Those who continue down an intentionally destructive path (you know who I’m talking about), will contribute to the problems you predict.

    If we do make the change as your fourth point suggests, then I expect I won’t be far behind you. But for now, Toastmasters needs us to be here, to keep speaking and keep leading in our speaking and leadership organization.

  12. Thanks Rob (and everyone) for their comments both for and against.

    Rob - one aspect of this decision is that the Brand Ambassador is a member of the club - a stalwart member, who recently ran for ID. I could continue to be a dissenting voice in the club, which wouldn't be helpful at that level, ignore my own opinion, which I don't do well, or move myself out of an official leadership position and focus on my other club instead, from behind the scenes.

    I have never touted my decision as courageous, but have simply presented it as simply as I could to the masses, backing it up with my analysis of the marketing change.

    Was our old marketing great? No, it was all the things you describe. But does that make this direction a good direction simply because it IS a direction? I don't think so.

    I'm not trying to topple TM, be negative about the organization, or discourage people from joining. I'm simply stating my opinion, and removing myself from a situation that would force me to support a direction change that I do not, in fact, support.

    Sigh - so much for the Definitive blogpost.... :)

  13. Rich,
    When I joined Toastmasters ten years ago I did not expect or need to have a say about the organization's logo or slogan. I found value at the Toastmaster's meetings. Today, I don't expect or need to have a say about the organization's logo or slogan. I'll remain a member so long as there is value in the meeting.

    I benefit so much from TM that I tend to ignore the things I don't care for and cannot change. I beleive in working for what should be, but dealing with what is. I can deal with the new slogan.

    I appreciate your point of view. I just don't find the changes, including the slogan to be upsetting.

    TM makes us better speakers, and those who stay with the program to become better speakers are, obviously, better communicators. Consider how many entrepreneurs--motivational speakers, coaches, etc. that TM has helped launch. All leaders. Consider how many Toastmasters improved their job interview performance, and how well those Toastmasters do in their new jobs because of increased communication skills. They are leaders. Consider the club officers, area officers in Toastmasters - Leaders.

    There seems to me to be a logical progression from improved communication skills, being a better speaker, to leadership. After all most of us aren't speaking to ourselves. We spend our speaking skills in our communities, religious organizations, jobs, with our families,civic organizations, political groups, in Toastmasters.

    Wherever we speak and speak well, we are leading others to our point of view.

    Your actions, deciding to resign as president and join another club are the actions of a leader and a leader with the courage to take some risks based on principles.

    Your expressed reasons for why you did that show excellent communications skills, which you chose to use in this act of leadership. What organization helped make you that leader?



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