The Toastmaster Method of Training

To improve our ability as safety, health, and environmental trainers we must be exposed to a variety of training methods and styles. Through each exposure we learn a little more and can improve our own training ability. It is for that reason that I was a member of my local Toastmasters International Club. I experienced firsthand the training method used by Toastmasters to make members better public speakers. “Dr. Ralph C. Smedley launched the first Toastmasters Club back in 1924” (Smedley, 1988). Dr. Smedley founded an educational organization to help its members improve communication and leadership skills. “The education program is the heart of the Toastmasters Club. It provides members with a proven curriculum that develops communication and leadership skills one step at a time” (TI Education, 2009). In this blog post I will briefly address the curriculum and how the teaching methods used are achieving outstanding results. I learned a great deal from this method and believe that all trainers can benefit from learning more about the Toastmaster’s International Training Method first hand by participating in the process.

The Toastmasters International Education curriculum is focused on the adult learner. Back in 1924 no one was focusing on the adult learner by adapting teaching and methods to his or her needs. That is except Dr. Ralph Smedley. Dr. Smedley developed a club that allowed its members to practice public speaking, listening, and critical evaluation techniques in a comfortable atmosphere where everyone was seen as equals. He did this for three very good reasons.

  1. The first result of speech training is self-discovery.
  2. Real communication is impossible without listening.
  3. We gain skill by practice, and we improve by heeding our evaluators. (Smedley, 1988)

As trainers we know that adults have a great deal of knowledge about a subject before they ever set foot in the classroom. How can we use that experience and knowledge to help the student connect with the learning material we want them to learn? Toastmasters has developed a great technique in the club. The club meets periodically and visitors are encouraged to attend. When a visitor attends he or she is immersed into the club activities of speaking, listening, and evaluating. They see first-hand the learning process in practice. They are then asked to join and if they choose to they become a member. As a new member they are afforded the opportunity of a mentor to help them with the first task of public speaking. That task is to make a decision to complete the Competent Communicator manual. This manual is broken down into ten speeches that give the newcomer as well as the old hand an opportunity to practice a variety of speeches. The manual provides an explanation of each speech and learning objectives. The first speech is called the “Ice Breaker”. It is simply the new member speaking about themselves.

What on earth has listening got to do with speaking? A significant part of public speaking is the ability to speak clearly and properly. To do that we must listen to how words are used, voice is adjusted, and how often filler words or mispronunciations occur. This is not to grade the speaker, but rather for the listener to hear how others speak and identify those same weaknesses or strengths in him or herself. New words and even new meanings can be learned through listening. In addition, the listener can learn through listening how other member’s speeches are delivered and speak in the same fashion when it is his or her turn. Listening is also key to proper evaluation and in the club method everyone has an evaluator to provide feedback.

There is no instruction in a Toastmasters Meeting. Instead members evaluate one another’s presentations (How Does It Work, 2009). “In Toastmasters, feedback is called evaluation, and it is the heart of the Toastmasters educational program” (Effective Evaluation, 2009). An evaluator is assigned to listen and critique each speech. Each speech is given an oral critique in front of the whole club and then a more detailed written critique in the member’s manual. There is also a grammarian, Ah Counter, and timer who will provide the speaker feedback about the speech. The speaker gains a lot of feedback on his or her presentation and a chance to improve and speak again in the near future. All critiques are done with the best interest of the speaker in mind. No one is there to demean or belittle a speaker, but rather to build them up. No one tells a member what to speak on and no one passes or fails a speaker, yet improvement occurs. That is because all members are there for the same reason to improve their public speaking skills. This works because of the club and cannot be learned in isolation (Communication Track, 2009).

Each member takes a turn at evaluation so that he or she can learn the skills of effective listening, developing feedback, and then providing that feedback. All of which are valuable life lessons in addition to good speaking lessons. The evaluator provides an honest reaction in a constructive manner to the speaker (Effective Evaluation, 2006). To help the evaluator Toastmasters International provides evaluation guides, but the evaluation is clearly the evaluator’s opinion and nothing more.

All speakers need feedback about their attempts to speak effectively and without it speakers are speaking with blinders on. The evaluator gives the speaker the information he or she needs to improve their speaking ability. It is still up to the speaker to choose what advice to take. This is where multiple evaluations come in handy. The speaker hears from a different evaluator after each speech and from these sessions he or she starts to see a picture of what the audience sees and hears. This is valuable information.

I think every safety trainer should be familiar with the Toastmaster’s method and I recommend each one give them a try for one year while you complete the Competent Communicator program.

References:

– Effective Evaluation, Toastmasters International, 2006, Toastmasters International, Inc., Mission Viejo, CA, USA

– Smedley, Stanley, PhD, Personally Speaking, 1966, 1988 Toastmasters International, Inc., Santa Ana, CA, USA.

– Education Program Toastmasters International (TI). Retrieved on August 18, 2009 from http://www.toastmasters.org/MainMenuCategories/WhatisToastmasters/CommunicationandLeadershipTraining.aspx.

– Communication Track Toastmasters International (TI). Retrieved on August 18, 2009 from http://www.toastmasters.org/MainMenuCategories/WhatisToastmasters/CommunicationandLeadershipTraining/CommunicationTrack.aspx.

– How Does It Work? Toastmasters International (TI) Retrieved on August 18, 2009 from http://www.toastmasters.org/MainMenuCategories/WhatisToastmasters/HowDoesItWork.aspx.

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning spent over 20 years in the safety profession. His final safety position was as the Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He began writing in 1994, published his first book in 1998, and began writing professionally in 2015. He has authored and coauthored articles, written books, and chapters for technical books and stories for anthologies.
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