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An insider’s take on Toastmasters

Published: December 4, 2013 | Last Updated: April 2, 2016 By | 9 Replies Continue Reading
If you ever considered joining Toastmasters, read one member’s impressions of the organization…

When I recently traveled abroad, I met Faye Heffele of the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. She was warm, outgoing and poised. Moreover, she had an engaging sense of humor.

In the course of our conversation, she told me that she had been involved with Toastmasters for 23 years and mentioned the role it had played in helping her gain self-confidence and people skills.

Of course, I prevailed upon my newfound friend to answer some questions about the organization for readers of this blog. 

Faye, how did you get involved with Toastmasters and what motivated you?

I was invited to visit Toastmasters by a work colleague. He saw that I was somewhat introverted and thought it would be a good way for me to improve my communication skills. He was right! I initially joined to improve my communication skills, and in doing that I also greatly increased my self-confidence. As a bonus, when I became a club officer, I improved my ability to become a successful leader. I eventually ran for and was elected to the office of Rivers Division Governor for District 6 Toastmasters.

What was it like going to the first few meetings? How long did it take you to feel comfortable? Any tips for first-timers?  

It really depends on the club you attend. Most Toastmaster clubs (which typically have 10-30 members) are very welcoming and someone will greet you and sit with you during your first meeting. My home club does that, and provides newcomers with a guest packet containing information about Toastmasters in general and about how our club operates. This packet explains the roles individuals take on during the meeting, to help the guest understand.

The Vice President of Membership (one of the Club Officers) will often take on the role of guest mentor, but anyone in the club can do it. The VP of Membership provides his/her contact information in the guest packet, to allow the guest to ask additional questions later. Our club asks guests to sign a guest book, and the VP of Membership will send a follow-up email or phone call to the guest to thank them for coming and to invite them back.

It took me few meetings to really start to feel comfortable with Toastmasters.

  • Tip for first-timers – Do not hesitate to ask questions!

The Toastmasters Club members are happy to answer your questions and do as much as they can to make you feel welcome and comfortable.

What is a “typical” meeting like? How long? Who speaks? Who leads? Do you have to participate?

Most Toastmaster clubs meet weekly, for an hour at a time. A typical meeting will include a very short “business” section and a regular meeting.

One club member is assigned the role of “Toastmaster” for the regular meeting. The Toastmaster prepares a written agenda, and leads the meeting, introducing the various speakers and roles. She/he thus gets practice in running a meeting.

One or two club members give prepared speeches on a topic of their own choosing but guided by a manual that focuses on some particular aspect of speaking, such as vocal variety or using visual aids. Each speech is verbally evaluated by another club member (based on pre-established criteria) with the intent of giving feedback on what was done well and providing constructive suggestions for improvement.

A second portion of the meeting is called “Table Topics.” The Table Topics moderator asks other club members random questions, giving those members the opportunity to practice “thinking on their feet,” which prepares them for all kinds of situations that occur in everyday life when you are asked a question or asked your opinion about something. Additional evaluation roles are filled by other members – including a Timer who helps ensure the meeting stays on track, a Grammarian who monitors grammar and word usage, and a General Evaluator who coordinates the entire evaluation section of the meeting.

The Vice President of Education (another club officer) pre-assigns these roles to members, rotating everyone through all the roles over several meetings, but will accommodate specific member requests.

A new member will be encouraged to take on an easy meeting role soon after joining, and work their way up to more advanced roles according to their comfort level. Guests are welcome to observe the meeting. The guests may be asked if they wish to participate as a Table Topics speaker, but no one is ever forced to participate.

What skills do people take away from Toastmasters?

Skills we learn in Toastmasters include:

  • Clearer communication
  • Improved leadership skills
  • Enhanced teamwork
  • Effective meetings
  • Increased productivity
  • Positive mentoring

Is Toastmasters a place to make friends?

I have seen many friendships formed in Toastmasters Clubs. I have several friends that I met through Toastmasters. Since there are also many opportunities outside of the individual club to meet with other Toastmasters, it is a terrific way to network with others. I know several Toastmasters who have been able to promote their businesses and acquire new clients as a result of their Toastmaster networking.

Do people join multiple groups? If so, why?

I know many people who belong to more than one Toastmasters Club.  This can occur for many reasons, including expanded networking opportunities.

There are a number of “specialty” Toastmasters clubs that focus on one thing in particular. For example, Minnesota has four Humor clubs (whose focus is on incorporating humor into speeches), a Parliamentarian Club (whose focus is to improve knowledge and use of Roberts’ rules of Order), two clubs for Professional Speakers, a club focused on PowerPoint presentations, and one club focused on giving effective evaluations. Often people will join one of these specialty clubs as a second club, using their regular club for general skills learning, and the second club to help them in that one particular area.

Can you tell us a little bit about your humor group? Is being funny something that a person can learn?

I have always felt that I have a good sense of humor, but I really did not know how to use that humor effectively, especially in my speeches. I think most people do have a sense of humor, but that can be enhanced by seeing and hearing other people use humor, and of course you usually always learn best when you practice it!

The Humor Mill Toastmasters Club, which I belong to, follows the same basic format as other clubs, but adds humor into all aspects of the meeting. Also in every meeting, members have opportunities to practice stand-up comedy and improv, which is both fun for the participants as well as the audience. Often in their speeches, club members will exchange tips and techniques on how to more effectively use humor, which helps all the club members to improve. Two of our club members regularly do stand-up in various venues in the Twin Cities, and I have joined them on a few occasions.

How long do people stay involved with the group? 

Some people have one certain goal, and they stay in Toastmasters until they achieve that goal and they leave. Others stay involved for many years. I have been with Toastmasters for 23 years and I expect to continue for many more years.

I stay because although I have already learned “the basics” of communication and leadership, I am continually learning things from the other people in the clubs; I get continual practice to keep my skills sharp; and I also enjoy mentoring the new Toastmasters who join our club. Some people leave because of job changes. Some people leave because the club does not meet their needs in some other way.

About Faye Heffele, DTM 

DTM stands for Distinguished Toastmaster. Toastmasters awards designations to its members when they complete certain projects. The DTM is the highest award you can earn in Toastmasters, and Faye has earned this award twice. 

Toastmasters has more than 14,350 clubs worldwide, including more than 8,500 clubs in the US. To learn more about the organization, visit its website: Toastmasters International.

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  1. Kath says:

    Hi, are there many in the UK I see there are some in London but nowhere else apart from single members promoting their services. Looks like a good idea I must say.

  2. Erin says:

    I had similar feeling as Sienna at first but luckily the members of the club I went to were very encouraging and extremely friendly. I stuck with it for a year until I became involved with a sport that took up most of my time. During that year with Toastmasters I completed my first speech. I am very introverted so I am pretty happy with just getting the first speech done. I was starting to enjoy the table topics much to my dismay with my first experience. I stood in front of everyone for 30sec just trying to think of something to say. It felt like an eternity! I think almost everyone goes through that the first time. I’m even thinking of returning now that my life is a little more steady. It was a great experience!

  3. Sienna says:

    Toastmasters meetings left me feel embarrassed, worthless, and ugly.

    • Irene says:


      Would you be willing to explain why?


      • Sienna says:

        I was put on the spot. Horrible experience. Never go back. Wish I could forget ever going there. Made me feel alone and lonelier than before

        • Irene says:

          Thanks for sharing, Sienna. I’m sure there is a great deal of variation between groups and what works for some people doesn’t work for others~

  4. Great insight into an organization I’ve often wondered about!

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