Some Toastmasters prefer to do just the speeches, others just evaluate, and there are even some “small-job” experts who only ever sign-up for the ah-counter or a timer, I am a strong proponent of a balanced “Toastmasters Diet”. Same as eating a beef steak every day might not be the best for your digestion, taking the same role in Toastmasters meetings may slow down your development as a public speaker.
Below is a list of my personal likes and highlights for each of the “classic” meeting roles. Feel free to expand it by your comments!
In meditation, I’m trying to pay attention to my breath instead of my thoughts. As a timer in Toastmasters, I learned to pay attention to my stopwatch instead of what the speaker is actually saying. A great way to drastically improve my ability to focus in the environment of distractions.
Gave me awareness all the ridiculous meaningless sounds people make when they have nothing to say. I also got some blackmail material on my Toastmasters colleagues (e.g. “said ‘ah’ 20 times during a 3-minute evaluation).
Having a tiny bit of self-reflection, the ah-counter role keeps me aware that my “ahs” sound as bad, and so it’s a good idea to keep working on eliminating them. Even better, of course, is watching a video of myself speaking.
The Grammarian is likely the only person who actually learns the word of the day. By paying attention to other people’s use of grammar, I realized that 1) they make more mistakes than I had thought and that 2) unless there is an active “grammarian” in the room, people don’t pay much attention to the grammar (mine or anyone else’s). A revelation for most non-native English speakers, which helps them relax about the level of their English for ever after.
Table Topic Master
By looking for questions such as “Whom would you invite for dinner, if you could pick anyone in the world”, “How would you justify to your boss a 2-year holiday request?” or “You’re dead. What do you do now?”, I expanded expand your list of “unusual conversation questions”. Actually, right now I’m wondering, why don’t I use them in real life more often?
Plus, once I got comfortable bridging “speeches” on topics such as “why Elephants like strawberries” and “the future of tigers in Sweden”, hosting any corporate conference or real-life panel discussion became piece of cake for me.
Table Topics Speaker
Clear takeaway here – not taking myself so seriously. Answering a question with less than 30 seconds to think may end-up with me sounding confused or ridiculous. And so what? Moreover, practice with Table Topics got me relaxed with uncertainty – and committing to speak not only before knowing the answer, but before knowing the question.
After a handful of times of doing this, I realized the set of categories one can commend/recommend on is rather limited. So is the list of possible actions to recommend to the speaker for getting better. After I captured those categories in a list, giving evaluations became a piece of cake.
This role is a very good bang for the buck in terms of “looking cool”. Evaluator does not need to do practically any work besides their couple of minutes being a “nice person” highlighting the pluses, and being a “smart-ass” about what the speaker should have done better.
At least in the “Czech Variant”, the GE role is a true “ego booster”. In most of Czech clubs, the only job of the GE is to get to the stage at the end of the meeting, and for about 8 minutes (depends on the club) deliver feedback to everyone who hasn’t received it yet (usually the Speakers and Table Topics).
While evaluators look smarter than the speakers, the GE is cool squared. He gives feedback to the evaluators! The long list of victims/objects of the evaluation (can be 10+) encourages rapid pace and offers itself for an extra helping of good-hearted jokes. In a good meeting, this can turn into something close to a stand-up routine.
My personal favorite in terms of “fun per minute of preparation”.
Toastmaster of the Meeting
The tagline of Toastmasters is “Where Leaders Are Made”. This is the role. Put a 90-minute meeting agenda together using a dozen people with public speaking skills ranging from total beginner to seasoned (most often way heavier on the beginner side) – and ensuring it does not all explode in the middle. More importantly – being able to put the pieces back together when it explodes (and it did when I was Toastmastering a couple of times).
Also, I learned about the importance of creating the environment for the speakers / everyone else coming to the stage to look good. If you ever imagined what it would be like to host a talk show – you can try as the Toastmaster of the meeting.
“It’s not that hard to use sandpaper. It’s a lot more difficult to use a bandsaw, or even to use a pencil to draw the plans in the first place.”Seth Godin, The Practice
The Toastmaster gets the most stage time, but it’s the speakers who are the stars. I said earlier the evaluators are the ones looking cool. The speaker often doesn’t. Lack of time for preparation, lack of inspiration, or simply wrong assessment of how the topic would suit the audience made me fail in this role – and look very “uncool” – many times. And yet, if there is just one Toastmasters meeting left before the end of the world and I have one role to take, I will take the Speaker without hesitation.
This role has the biggest bang for the buck in terms of learning. Most of the work is done before the meeting (even today, after 9 years, writing and rehearsing a speech I’m happy with takes me usually more than 5 hours spread over a couple of days).
And the most important thing I learned as a Speaker in Toastmasters was to be able to create something out of nothing. Come up with an idea, develop it, draft the script, rehearse it, package it, present it. This is not only about speeches – it is about creating a guide for remote meetings, proposing an approach for a strategy workshop or a Breakfast & Learn sharing session. The speaker role in Toastmasters taught me the habit to “grab a pencil” and start sketching plans when all there is is just a blank piece of paper.
The list above (of the roles and the learnings) is not exhaustive. If you’ve been to a Toastmasters meeting before, why don’t you try what your learnings were? And if you have not – why don’t you visit us and try for yourself?
The speakers The simple reason is that it’s only the speakers who create something out of nothing. Creating something out of nothing is hard.
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