Friday, November 25, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Who Are You?

Do you know who you are as a Toastmaster? Do you know who your club is?

Back in September, when I left my home club, I planned on heading to another to help coach it from within. I had originally been set up to be it's 'Club Coach' earlier in the summer, but first it didn't have enough members to stay a club, and when they finally did pay the minimum dues, I was no longer eligible since I wasn't a member of another club, and a Coach cannot start out as a member. Complicated. So my intention shifted to simply joining the club, perhaps be a mentor of sorts.

This particular club had a very independent identity. They didn't really care about Toastmasters on a larger level. They enjoyed getting together and following the Toastmasters structure, but not about the Distinguished Club Program (DCP), per se, or gaining a lot of members. At one point, their president even said they didn't want to grow to 20 members (what TI considers the minimum number for a healthy club) because it would limit speaking opportunities.

I ended up not joining this club, mostly because I knew I couldn't really DO anything for it. They were comfortable being who they were. They have since considered disbanding, which was followed by the District coming in with a new coach in an attempt to save it. What I have heard from my contacts since is that at least two of the driving members have left the club, not wanting to deal with the 'Toastmasters Dogma' - that is, being a legitimate TM club.

I've seen clubs like this in the past. Some are longtime clubs that have become social get-togethers for a select few, some are corporate clubs. Typically, as long as they stay charter strength, they are left alone. I suppose that could lead to a discussion about whether TI cares more about the dues than the nature of the club, but that's not really the point of this post.

Each of the 13,000 clubs throughout the world is different. I've only attended 100 or so across North America, but every one has its own flavor, its own culture, even as they all follow the basic Toastmasters structure of speak and evaluate.

Some are 55 minutes of tight-run efficiency (usually because members have to get back to work, and the membership is 100 percent working professionals), others are two hours of laid back fun (usually an evening or weekend club with a mixed membership).

We have prison clubs, clubs at monasteries and convents, clubs at Microsoft and Bank of America, clubs that meet at drinking establishments and IHOPs. We have executives, entrepreneurs, students, stay-at-home moms, retirees as members, and those descriptions just scratch the surface.

Who is YOUR Club?

In a western american city, there's a club for 'Adult Topics', which I've heard TI considered stepping in to police. Here in Denver, we have a club that is extremely political in orientation and they are expanding. Heck, there are some clubs built for 'Singles Only' - what goals might those members have?

What is OK for a club? I assume Orgy Toastmasters will never pass the litmus test, but how far can clubs push the envelope? If a club has paid enough dues, will they just be left alone?

Should the goals of Toastmasters trump the goals of the members of an individual club? Should the goals of the member trump those of TI, as long as it maintains charter status, and doesn't do damage to the reputation of the organization? What's the line, both for clubs and individuals? Perhaps these questions are better suited for the internal Linked In conversations.

The more important question may be, are they a club in which YOU can be successful? Are you able to meet your goals, whether they be speaking, leading, social, or otherwise?

The club I spoke of to open this post may survive, but it will likely look nothing like the club did a few months ago. Within the realm of TI, it will be a success. For the individual members who liked what they had, it will not. Is the lesson for clubs: if you want to be who you want to be as a club, at least be successful enough with membership that you can stay under the radar?

At the moment, I am a man without a club. Technically, I am not a Toastmaster.  The last 8 weeks without TM meetings (other than a District Conference I was asked to speak at) have been both cleansing and clarifying. I'll find a club soon enough, one that fits my time and geographic requirements, one that will allow me not to be too dogmatic about branding but still let me be a contributing factor. Toastmasters is in my blood, so I'd like to think I'm a TM regardless, as I write this.

Are you making the most of your Toastmaster experience? I believe, in general, that the TI method, the leadership and communication models, the DCP, even some of the dogma, will serve most members most of the time. So I am not suggesting the best clubs are the ones who ignore significant aspects of the program. The successful clubs I've been a part of balance TI practices with the individuality of the group.

My job is to find a Toastmaster club that will work for me again, and one that I will work for. What about you? Are you the right person in the right place? Should you be adding another club to the mix, moving to another club, or even starting a new club to fit your needs (if there are enough others whose needs match yours)?

Know your club. Know yourself. The better you know both, the better you'll be able to Toastmaster...and Deliver.


  1. Hey Rich, I feel your pain! I've been "auditioning" clubs since I arrived here in Houston about 2 months ago. I've been to 10 clubs, and you're right, no two clubs are alike. Heck, I even went to the Houston Singles TM club, which is HUGE here (45+ members, lots of guests)...I liked it, but it was "GU" (Geographically Undesirable...a rush hour commute of 1 hr plus). I too was looking to go in as a club coach but most of the struggling clubs I've seen really don't seem to care if they fold or not.

  2. Clubs are different, and yes, you have to find the one right for you. I begun at Monument TM in Washington DC when it opened to women (slowly) in 1977. And after three years TM was in my "blood" but back in Paris I did not like their club, "for rich and with expensive dinner". Three years ago, come to London and joined two different clubs, to be able to speak more. Finally, one that was the newest, and needed me more, is not more "my" club. Later, I also joined London's Advanced club, who makes more "innovations" that I like very much, and very very slowly I try to introduce some in my "main" club.

    I think as far as we do "manual speeches" "educational speeches" etc with good evaluations, helping each other not only speak and listen better but get more confidence, the differences are not so important. But I do believe now, (I finish now my AC Gold) that ANY speech can be put in a "manual" speech, either from CC or from "speaking to inform, storytelling, entertaining, etc" manuals. And, you can give those again and again, as many time as you want.

    I would like to have a Storytelling or Stand Up TM club or join, but we do not have those.

    Most important is we loose some members, every fall (and spring) but we get new ones who really need us and grow and get more confident, that for me in itself is the reward. (Of course also for myself to have become a Storyteller outside TM and this year at age 77 a Stand Up comedian, and a coach too who needs it) but I will continue to be TM like you, and even be official member, at least of one club.

    We have the special chance in London, to have now more then 40 clubs, a lot from which to choose. Or to make a new one, for those with enough energy. Diversity is good. "Dogmatic" no, but Ralph Smedley was pushing Toastmasters to experiment.

  3. Rich, as usual you make some excellent points. There is no single formula for success as a club, but there are some repeatable processes that make a club more likely to succeed, and therefore make the members successful.

    TI does care about clubs with more than 20 members. That's why AG visits are to all clubs, not just struggling clubs. Also, many districts offer incentives that are not just about rebuilding clubs, but making and keeping all clubs strong.

    I know you'll find a club that will meet your needs, and that you can be a strong part of.

  4. Thanks for mentioning my special "Western city" Toastmasters club with adults topics. Have a club that is completely devoted to freedom of speech where any subject is welcomed has been an incredible experience. I am so proud of my fellow members for the incredible speeches they have delivered on topics you would not hear at other clubs. Religion, Politics, Sex, Suicide, Prison...anything is welcomed on our stage. We absolutely follow the Toastmasters format with manual speeches, evaluations (plus round robins) and a chance for impromptu speaking like you will hear at no other club. The members of this club know what they are signing up for and they love it. As an advanced club, we meet the needs of this membership to have fun together, push boundaries and open our minds just a wee bit more than we did before. I am a very proud member of Frankly Speaking in Seattle. Of course, I am also delighted by the special nature of my other three clubs -- Totem #41 focuses on leadership, Notable Northgaters is a 20+ year community club with a variety of backgrounds, and Weecan Speak is a newer club that is growing into its own. Each club offers me something different and wonderful, and I'm glad they all exist.

  5. I enjoyed this blog. It was very apt for what I've been experiencing with my club. New member come and go; old members seem content with the stagnation.
    Lately work has been very demanding, causing me to miss a meeting here and there, but I've been asking myself if fighting my boss for the time to attend meetings is worth the effort.
    Indeed, know who I am and knowing my club is important. Thanks for pointing that out to me.



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