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Do you remember the first time you had a big disagreement with your mother? Not that tiny skirmish about your curfew. You were upset but mommy dearest was not.
I’m talking about your first major fight. The one where your blood boiled. The one in which you proclaimed your adulthood. The one got her removed from your Christmas card list!
Yes that one.
I’m sure that picture is very vivid and clear in your mind. Do you remember all the emotions that you experienced? If it was anything like mine then you were dazed, confused, upset, livid, and 100% sure that you were right.
That’s how I feel as I sit down to right this article. I feel like I’m arguing with a parent. Toastmasters is the organization that spawned my interest in public speaking. Toastmasters has molded me as a speaker and leader.
In theory Toastmasters is great. In practice Toastmasters fails a good number of people. Continue reading to get my take on the CONS of the great organization known as Toastmasters.
Nice guy society
Your average Toastmaster is a very nice and well meaning person. They smile from ear to ear on command, they give encouraging feedback,and they’ll do whatever they can to make you feel right at home. This personality is generally good for an organization like Toastmasters.
The desire to be friendly often overrides the necessity to provide good hard nosed feedback. Attending Toastmasters meetings has given me the opportunity to experience the extremes of public speaking. I’ve experienced a small number of high quality presentations. These were met with rave reviews.
I’ve also listened to several dreadful speeches. These were also met with rave reviews.
I see that brow furrowing now so let me explain myself. I think it’s great that Toastmasters encourage each other. It’s fantastic that we want to keep people thinking positively. It can even be noble to shelter people from the painful reality of their weaknesses.
There’s only one problem with that. When you give a bad performance in the real world you find out immediately. People give their hard earned federal reserve notes to Toastmasters. There should be an obligation to provide a valuable speech evaluation, not the most popular speech evaluation.
Lose the Cheese
You have to be incredibly mature to stomach Toastmasters. The meetings can be borderline cheesy. Sometimes I have to check and make sure I’m not at a meeting of the National Clappers Society. All of the meetings have a portion that go a little something like this:
Toastmaster: “Will all our guests rise and say a little about themselves. You there in the green shirt we’ll start with you”
Green Shirt Guest: “Hello my name is Chris and I heard about your group in the newspaper. I decided to come down and check it out!”
Toastmaster: “Let’s give a round of applause to Chris!”
Toastmaster: “You there in the purple shirt I’ve seen you here before. Stand up and tell us about yourself”
Purple Shirt Guest: “Hello my name is Samantha and I’ve been wanting to join for a while. I’ve come several times and I’ve finally decided to take the plunge. Today is my first day as a member!”
Toastmaster: “Now I’ll have helpers stand and say what they’ll be doing today”
Table Topics Master: “I’m the table topics master and my job is to provide topics for off the cuff speaking.”
Grammarian/Ah Counter: “I’m the grammarian/Ah Counter and my job is to ensure that no one butchers the English language”
Timer: “I’m the timer and my job is to ensure that we stay on time with each and every speech!”
Toastmaster: “Any other announcements”
Member: “My cat made the transition from moist food to dry food!”
Toastmaster: “That’s fantastic. Let’s get this meeting started.”
After all that excitement the meeting starts. Some people say its good and it boosts morale. I say its overkill and it gives the meeting the dreary feel of a recovery support group. It begins to get a little bit corny when the fireworks are being fired off because a cat is now eating dry food.
No Participation Standards
Toastmasters can work wonders for an energetic go getter personality. From day one I was able to jump in feet first and reap the rewards. I made sure that I participated in each meeting. I always volunteered to either speak, participate in table topics, or fill a meeting role. As the days, weeks, and months went by I was able to witness myself growing by leaps and bounds as a speaker.
There were other people who joined along the same time as me and they got absolutely nothing from it. They never delivered a speech. They never participated in table topics. They never took upon a role. They never did anything. As a result they received zero benefit from the program.
Most outsiders view Toastmasters as a structured class that will teach them the ins and outs of public speaking. When they realize that Toastmasters is anything but that they often turn and run away.
Toastmasters is a very flexible organization. You speak when you want. You evaluate when you want. You participate in table topics whenever you feel up to it. Flexibility is good for some things. When you are trying to improve as a speaker the flexibility can lead to your downfall.
In my opinion the organization fails each and every person who leaves the same way they came in. The structure needs to go away from the flexible “do what you feel” to a more structured “do as you must”. This way everyone who picks up a manual will reap the rewards. Most people need the structure.
Show Up and We’ll Reward You
When you get a degree from a college you have shown a certain level of proficiency in a subject. You’ve taken quizzes, tests, and finals. You’ve written papers and thesis documents. You are graded on your output and rewarded accordingly.
If you are a musician who aspires to gain recognition you must create a lot quality music. Once you’ve created enough material you can begin approaching people and working towards signing a deal. After you’ve proven yourself and caught the eye of the right people you are rewarded with cash and a recording contract.
I can go on all day listing events and undertakings that require a proven level of proficiency before divvying out rewards. It’s the way of the world.
In Toastmasters you are granted titles based on the number of speeches and activities that you’ve participated in…not your competency.
The levels are as follows:
1 -> Competent Communicator (10 speeches and everyone has the same manual)
2-> Advanced Communicator Bronze (10 more speeches. 5 from 2 advanced manuals of your choosing along with leadership milestones)
3-> Advanced Communicator Silver (10 more speeches. 5 from 2 advanced manuals of your choosing along with leadership milestones)
4-> Advanced Communicator Gold (10 more speeches. 5 from 2 advanced manuals of your choosing along with leadership milestones)
5-> Distinguished Toastmaster (10 more speeches. 5 from 2 advanced manuals of your choosing along with leadership milestones)
The speakers at the advanced levels are usually the cream of the crop. I’ve only seen a few advanced speakers who were poor. I’ve seen many people receive the competent communicator award and be the same nervous speaker they were when they joined.
Toastmasters offers no tests, quizzes, or exit exams. You don’t have to show competency to move to the next level. You don’t have to do anything but show up and fill the air with words.
I, for one, don’t think awards should be handed out that way. The current Toastmasters model gives people the motivation to show up, give 10 speeches, get the competent communicator award, and then ride off into the sunset with no improvement.
In every other field you sign up, show competency, and then receive an award. Toastmasters should follow suit.
Toastmasters is a wonderful organization. I don’t want you to read this article and believe I think anything other than that. If it wasn’t for Toastmasters I’d have no idea what I want to do with my life. That doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t have tremendous room for improvement.
The purpose of Toastmasters is to create better public speakers. The organization would move much closer to this goal if it followed these 4 steps:
1) Abolish the “Nice Guy Society”
2) Lose the cheese
3) Create participation standards
4) Create competency metrics
Fellow Toastmasters don’t take this article personal. I’m only saying these things because I want Toastmasters to better serve each and every person that walks in the door.Write by george t shirts