How to Make Better Toastmasters Club Presentations

This is a major problem in Toastmasters. It won't be easy to implement, but it should be done nevertheless, and I know how to do it.

A couple of weeks ago I went to an open house put on by the Book Nook Toastmasters Club in Montague, Michigan. I was just going to drop by the club, I didn't realize they had an open house event going on that night. It worked out well. There were a few members from another local club. It was in a coffee shop/ bar/ bookstore that's a nice location, with a raised platform to speak from and everything.

The meeting included several different things, the best part was the impromptu speaking during Table Topics where I talked about how my family is descended from Leprechauns. It was a big hit.

There was also a club presentation made detailing what Toastmasters is about. I've given a few of these presentations. The powerpoints are made by Toastmasters and you are given instructions on how to go through them. I've seen many and I've never seen a good one. I've seen some that weren't bad, but they can't be good because there are issues built into the structure and design of the presentation itself. To the extent that you follow the rules and guidelines of the presentation you will give a bad speech. That puts everyone in a bad spot, presenters and viewers.

The speaker did well at dealing with the situation and pressing through it. But, it shouldn't be like that. A bunch of powerpoint slides with a bunch of writing on each slide, with complex explanations about technical things that aren't really that important at the moment. That's what these presentations are like. I'm going to show what it should be like here.

A common one of these speeches is about officer roles in the club. This is presented just about every year in every club to help people figure out where they might fit into an officer role and help their club. I've given the official presentation. It's dull, I livened it up a bit, but it was like trying to give a speech with your hands tied behind your back.

A few notes before we dive into the speech. One, the powerpoint slides should be fewer and they should have less writing on them. You shouldn't have a paragraph, or two, or three to read on slides, ever! There's no point in giving a speech like that. Just write an article and send it to them in an email. Two, you shouldn't be able to replace the speaker with a recording. If you can you have failed. And, with these presentations currently, you could.

The speaker needs to have a structure with the idea of personalization built right into it from the beginning. It needs to include personal stories and concrete examples so that it will engage and connect with people. I'm not going to go into the three different levels of knowledge here, or mimesis, or the zone of proximal development. Just know that it's important for learning and retention.

Here's what a club presentation about officer roles should look like.

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1. Start with a personal story about how Toastmasters has personally helped you. This is a speech, make it a good one. For instance, I was at my grandmothers funeral when the minister asked if anyone wanted to say anything. I had completely forgotten that that was going to happen. I thought "Oh no!", that should be me, I'm the speaker. So, I jumped to my feet with nothing to say and walked up to the front and took the microphone from the minister. He seemed surprised that I knew how to take a stage. Then I delivered this little story about how my grandmother used to tease me about being a smartass. It was funny and memorable and everyone liked it. I wouldn't have been able to do that without Toastmasters.

(This should be a dynamic speech, more engaging than this little written summary. If the person doesn't have a story about how Toastmasters has helped them then they aren't ready to deliver club or leadership speeches yet, they need more practice and experience. They can get that practice and experience right at the Toastmasters meetings.)

2. Give a breakdown of the roles. The purpose of each role and the process of fulfilling that role. Include examples and at least one story. I will do a little example here. The important thing to remember is that this is a speech, not a reading of a list.

President - "The President has the easiest job when things are going well and the hardest job when things are going poorly. When things are going well you tell everyone to keep doing what they're doing. When things are going poorly you have to fix whatever that is. The part I liked most when I was President is that you open and close every meeting. You get to set the tone. It's a lot like bracketing a speech, and it's great practice for running any other kind of meeting. I became comfortable with giving speeches long before I became comfortable doing the Toastmaster or General Evaluator role. I liked speaking, I just didn't like managing the front. That changed when I was President of the Grand Haven club. I grew into the role."

VP Education - "The VP of Ed makes sure that everyone is making progress on what they want to make progress on. We all join Toastmasters to get better at something. The programs are designed to help us do that, to challenge us enough that we keep growing and developing our skill sets and expanding our comfort areas. I've found that managing the schedule is quite a project. In every officer role there are two potential paths. One is to keep doing what was done before you, to maintain it. That's the best option if things are working well. The other option is to change things. That's the best option if there have been some difficulties. When Montague launched a new club I took over Education and decided to try to make the signing up for roles function distributed through an online shared page. I hadn't seen a club do that and it seemed like a good option. I made a shared document in Google Drive and shared it with everyone. It kind of worked, but not really that well. It was worth a try. I ended up having to make a lot of the choices for people. Sandy from the Muskegon group has a program that automatically puts in the names. That seems to work a lot better and I suggest doing it."

"I was the first person to complete a full Pathway in District 62. Sandy was the VP of Ed at the time. When I completed the whole thing it was hung up in the system a bit. I was the VP of Ed at another club and neither of us knew why the new system wasn't working. Finally, I figured out that there was a specific process that you need to do after someone completes a level for it to register with the District and with International. We had missed that step on all five levels. So, Sandy did that and then it appeared to the District leadership that I went from Level 1 to Level 5 in one day. They were surprised, lol. I was at a Toastmasters conference and a woman told me that she had thought she would be the first person to complete a Pathway until I leapt onto the scene. So, it's also the job of the VP of Ed to make sure that awards are filed, and correctly."

VP Membership - "The VP of Membership needs to make sure that people are being greeted and welcomed to meetings and given the information packets that we have in the back." (I'm not going to expand on every role here, these are just my short examples.)

VP Public Relations - "The VP of Public Relations works to promote the club. We are getting a bit more engagement with pictures from the meetings on Facebook. If the club is really struggling it might be best to contact some local companies and promote the idea of their employees coming. I tried a few ads on Facebook and didn't get anything of use there. I've used with a few mixed results. Special meetings where people bring friends can work too." (I might tell a story about one of these things, but I won't in this written example.)

Secretary - "When I became Secretary in the Muskegon club Roger already had a good system going with making the minutes available after every meeting. I changed a few small things, but otherwise I just kept running his program. I've found the weekly minutes to be great for keeping people engaged and informed. I highly recommend it."

Treasurer - "The Treasurer makes sure the money is right. It's important to make sure the dues are properly paid. If there's an issue with dues it can stop a member from receiving an award or even disqualify a member from the contests." (I would tell a story here about how when I was in a contest there was another contestant that had made it to the International level in a previous year and was disqualified because they hadn't paid the International dues.)

Sergeant at Arms - "The Sergeant at Arms makes sure there is a place to have a meeting and that that place is ready, and that it's taken care of when the meeting is over." (Etc.)

Just a basic rundown with examples and stories. This is a speech. Include examples of how it can go bad, how it can go well, how you can maintain it, and how you can change it.

3. Include a story here that emphasizes the importance of having structure in organizations and blend this into the conclusion.

"I was working at Baker College as a supervisor in the bookstore. I saw a poster one day about a Toastmasters group. I was surprised since I had never heard of this club, and I was currently a member of two other clubs in the area. I decided to stop by. It was a special club, a Youth Leadership Club. It was in rough shape. See, colleges have this unique challenge. Their members start getting good, then they graduate. This constant churn can really hurt the continuity of the club."

"When I got there they had a President and no other officers. The meetings had devolved into someone kind of giving a speech sometimes with no evaluation and some general discussion. It was a bit odd. The first thing I did was to show them how a meeting should run and why it works. They liked it and could see the value. No one wanted to do evaluations yet so I did three evaluations in the first meeting where we put speeches back in. That's okay, I can do that. As I continued to ease them into all of the roles I also had people choose officer roles. They became much more engaged once they were stakeholders and knew that they had a voice in how things were being done. Structure is important."

"Toastmasters exists to help people develop confidence, get better at running meetings, and to learn how to deliver powerful speeches. The key to doing all of these is to have good meetings. The key to good meetings is to have a good structure, a good meeting structure and a good organizational structure. Being an officer makes a difference."

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That's the general idea. This would have to be adjusted for individual people. I would also include more ideas to help people come up with their own examples, and I would collect examples that people could tell as stories at any meeting if they don't have great personal examples. This should be done with every Toastmasters club and leadership presentation.

Since we're here I'll point out that Toastmasters should also change how they promote themselves. It should be this, with fancy writing and logos and such.

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Toastmasters International
Find confidence. Find friends. Find your voice.

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We need to be clear on why people come and why people stay, and those aren't the same thing. People come for professional development, usually. I did. I came because I had done a two hour seminar where people were confused at the end. I knew I needed to learn how to present, so I looked up speaking development and found Toastmasters.

People stay for different reasons though, they stay for the personal development. It feels good and it's fun. It also helps to sharpen the saw. If I go for more than a month without giving a speech I get a little rusty.

Now, how do we get this implemented? I'm not exactly sure. Toastmasters International has a staff opening in their education department right now at headquarters. With that support I could role out this whole program in a major way in a handful of months and then do follow up and adjustments. The whole thing would be operating smoothly in a year. Or, I could do it as a consultant for the organization. That might work. Will they be interested? I hope so. Toastmasters has great potential. It's already doing good things. It can just be taken to another level and do better.


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