The success of a Toastmasters meeting depends on the program’s participants. There are many roles to fill, and each job is designed to improve the members’ public speaking and leadership skills. Program participants must know and understand their duties so they can prepare to perform them.
The Toastmaster is a meeting’s director and host. You won’t usually be assigned this role until you are thoroughly familiar with the club and its procedures. Ask your mentor or the club’s Vice President of Education (VPE) for pointers well before the meeting.
Begin preparation for your role several days in advance. You’ll need to know who will fill the meeting roles and plan a theme for the meeting. You’ll also need to create an up-to-date meeting agenda to share with those who attend the meeting.
Next, contact the general evaluator and make sure you’re both working from the same agenda. Ask the General Evaluator to call other members of the evaluation team – speech Evaluators, Table Topics Master, Timer, and Grammarian—and remind them of their responsibilities. Remember, as the “director,” you’re responsible for ensuring all of the meeting’s players know their parts and hit their marks.
As the Toastmaster, you’ll introduce each speaker. If a speaker will not write his or her own introduction, you will write it. Introductions must be brief and carefully planned. Contact speakers several days before the meeting to ask about:
- Speech topic and title
- Project title
- Assignment objectives
- Speaker’s personal objectives
- Delivery time
You need all of these elements to create your introductions. Remember to keep the introductions between 30-60 seconds in length.
Of course, you want to avoid awkward interruptions or gaps in meeting flow, so your last preparation step before the meeting is to plan remarks you can use to make smooth transitions from one portion of the program to another. You may not need them, but you should be prepared for the possibility of awkward periods of silence.
The Big Show
On meeting day, show up early. You’ll need time to make sure the stage is set for a successful meeting. To start, check with each speaker as they arrive to see if they have made any last-minute changes to their speeches – such as a speech title change.
- You and the speakers will need quick and easy access to the lectern. Direct the speakers to sit near the front of the room and make sure they leave a seat open for you near the front.
- When it’s time to start the program, the club president calls the meeting to order. Sometimes he or she will make announcements, introduce guests, or conduct other club business before introducing you.
- When you’re introduced, the club President will wait until you arrive at the lectern before being seated. (This is why you should sit at the front of the room.)
Pay attention to the time. You are responsible for beginning and ending the meeting on time. You may have to adjust the schedule on the fly during the meeting to accomplish timeliness. Strive to ensure each meeting segment adheres to your schedule.
In Old Town Toastmasters, it is customary for the Toastmaster and the person assuming control of the lectern to offer a handshake each time control of the lectern is exchanged. It’s sometimes done to help new members recognize when control of the lectern passes from the Toastmaster to the speaker and vice versa.
- Introduce each portion of the meeting when it arises—that is, General Evaluator introduction, prepared speeches, Table Topics, and General Evaluation.
- During the prepared speech portion of the meeting, introduce each speaker in turn by stating the speaker, the speech title, pause, the speech title, and the the speaker
- When each presenter has finished, you return to the lectern so the speaker can be seated and you can begin your next introduction.
- At the conclusion of the speaking program, transition to the next by introducing the Table Topics Master.
- At the conclusion of Table Topics, reclaim the lectern and re-introduce the General Evaluator. Your performance as Toastmaster is now complete.
Serving as Toastmaster is an excellent way to practice many valuable skills as you strive to make the meeting one of the club’s best. Preparation is key to your success.
Don’t worry, there’s no capital punishment during Toastmasters meetings. Unless, of course, the Grammarian is in a bad mood.
If you think of a club meeting as a project, then you can see the General Evaluator as a kind of project manager. As GE, your responsibilities include:
- Making sure meeting each activity is performed correctly
- Ensuring your speech Evaluators know their responsibilities
- Supervising your Timer, Grammarian, Table Topics Master
- Evaluating everything that takes place during the club meeting
- Presenting your General Evaluation report
Several days before the meeting, contact the person who will be Toastmaster of the meeting and confirm the meeting program. You should also develop a checklist to follow during the meeting so you don’t have to keep all the details in your head.
You need to contact your “Evaluation Team” and ensure that each will be able to perform their role:
- Table Topics Master
- Speech Evaluators
Remind them of their assignments, and brief Evaluators of their responsibilities and the speaker each will evaluate. Make sure the Evaluators understand that evaluation is a positive, helping act that enables fellow Toastmasters to develop their skills. Point out that an evaluation should enhance the speaker’s self-esteem and encourage Evaluators to prepare thoroughly for their role. Recommend that they contact the member they’ve been assigned to evaluate and discuss specific project objectives.
Your final task before the meeting is to prepare a brief verbal explanation detailing:
- The purpose, techniques and benefits of evaluation so guests and new members will better understand the function of evaluations.
- How evaluation is a positive experience designed to help people overcome flaws and reinforce good habits in their presentations.
On meeting day:
- Arrive early.
- Make sure all Evaluators are present and that they have the appropriate evaluation form (the speaker should provide it upon request)
- If an Evaluator is absent, consult with the Vice President of Education to arrange for a substitute.
- Ask each Evaluator if he or she has any questions about the project objectives to be evaluated, verify each speaker’s speech duration, and notify the timer if there are any changes.
- Take your seat near the back of the room. This will ensure you have a good view of the meeting and all its participants.
Early in the meeting, the Toastmaster will introduce you to introduce your “Evaluation Team.” Ask each member of your team (excluding Speech Evaluators) to provide the audience with a synopsis of their roles. Upon completion, return control of the meeting to the Toastmaster.
Later in the meeting, at the appropriate time, the Toastmaster of the Day will introduce the General Evaluation portion of the meeting. The General Evaluator assumes control of the meeting during the evaluation portion—introducing each Speech Evaluator to perform their evaluation followed by the Grammarian’s and Timer’s reports.
During the meeting, use your checklist and take notes on everything that happens (or doesn’t, but should). For example: Were there any unnecessary distractions that could have been avoided? Did the meeting, and each segment of it, begin and end on time? Were meeting procedures followed correctly
Study each participant of the program, from the Sergeant-at-Arm’s invocation to the last report by the Timer. Look for exemplary and less than desirable examples of preparation, organization, delivery, enthusiasm, and general performance of duties. Prepare tips for improvement.
Finally, give your general evaluation of the meeting:
- Use your checklist and the notes you took during the meeting.
- Phrase your evaluation so it is helpful, encouraging and motivates club members to implement the suggestions.
- You may wish to comment on the quality of evaluations. Were they positive, upbeat, helpful? Did they point the way to improvement?
- When you’ve completed your evaluation, return control of the meeting to the presiding club officer.
Being General Evaluator is a big responsibility and it is integral to the success of every single club member. People join Toastmasters because they have a goal – they want to learn something. The club is where they learn. If the learning environment isn’t focused and fun, members won’t learn what they joined to learn. Your observations and suggestions help ensure our club is meeting the goals and needs of each member.
And what do you get out of the deal? You get the chance to practice and improve your skills in critical thinking, planning, preparation and organization, time management, motivation and team building!
As Timer, you are responsible for monitoring the duration for each meeting segment and each speaker. You’ll also operate the timing signal, indicating to each speaker how their use of time is progressing. Serving as Timer is an excellent opportunity to practice giving instructions and officiating time management – something we do every day.
Here’s how to succeed as Timer:
- Before the meeting, contact the Toastmaster and General Evaluator to confirm which members are scheduled program participants. Then contact each speaker to confirm the amount time allocated for their prepared speech.
- On meeting day, retrieve the timing equipment from the Sergeant at Arms. Be sure you understand how to operate the signal device, make certain the timing equipment works, and sit where the signal device can be seen by all.
- The General Evaluator will call on you to explain the timing rules (below) and demonstrate the signaling device.
- Throughout the meeting, listen carefully to each program participant and signal them appropriately when they have reached timing milestones (rules):
- Green = Speeches, two minutes remain • Table Topics, one minute remains • Evaluations, one minute remains
- Yellow = Speeches, one minute remains • Table Topics, 30 seconds remain • Evaluations, 30 seconds remain
- Red = Allocated time reached
- Important Note: All speaking performances allow a 30-second grace period below the allocated minimum times and above the allocated maximum times—for example a 5 – 7 minute speech qualifies as successful if performed for no less than four minutes-30 seconds or no greater than seven minutes-30 seconds. In either event, time the speaker to the conclusion of the speech.
- Record each participant’s name and time used. Make a note indicating when a speaker did not speak within their allotted time with deference to the 30-second grace periods mentioned above. Report such “disqualifications” to the presiding officer during Ballot Counting procedures (see below).
- When you’re called to present your report by the General Evaluator, announce the speaker’s name and the time taken.
- After the meeting, return timing signal device to the Sergeant-at-Arms.
The Timer also performs the role of Ballot Counter:
During a typical meeting, the audience votes for Best Table Topics Speaker, Best Speaker (performer of a prepared speech), and Best Speech Evaluator. The role of the Ballot Counter is to collect and count the ballots cast for each category:
- Voting occurs after each related portion of the meeting. For example, as Table Topics ends there is a one-minute moment of silence offered in order to vote.
- The audience prepares their votes and the Ballot Counter collects the ballots.
- The Ballot Counter then tabulates the votes, notes each speaker who incurred a time disqualification, and provides the presiding officer with the names of the winning members for a short award presentation toward the end of the meeting.
Take on this role and the new habits formed will serve you well in your private life and your career. People appreciate a speaker, friend, or employee who is mindful of time and deadlines.
One benefit of a membership in Toastmasters is that it helps members improve grammar and word use. As Grammarian, you perform the first line of service to guide members to seek and execute self-improvement and skillfully deliver their speaking acumen across the interpersonal communication spectrum.
The Grammarian holds three responsibilities:
- Introduce the Word of the Day.
- Serve as the “Ah-Counter,” requiring you to note any word or sound used as a crutch by anyone who speaks during the meeting. Words may be inappropriate interjections, such as and, well, but, so, and you know. Sounds may be ah, um or er. You should also note when a speaker repeats a word or phrase within their speech, such as “With that…” or “This means… this means…” Such filler-words and -sounds should be substituted with a pause—the audience will allow it. Upon eliminating such fillers, the speaker gains greater credibility among the audience due to a perception of flowing thought and unbroken knowledge of their subject. The Ah-Counter role is an excellent opportunity to practice your listening skills.
- During your end-of-meeting Grammarian’s report, comment on language usage during the course of the meeting. Provide examples of eloquence, exemplary language usage, and language usage that requires improvement.
Before the Meeting
Several days before the meeting, select a “word of the day”:
- It should be a word that will help members increase their vocabulary—a word that can be incorporated easily into everyday conversation, but is different from the way people usually express themselves.
- Adjectives and adverbs are more adaptable than nouns or verbs, but feel free to select your own special word.
- Print your word, its part of speech (adjective, adverb, noun, verb) and a brief definition in letters large enough to be seen from the back of the room.
- Prepare a sentence showing how the word is used.
At the Meeting
Before the meeting begins, place your visual aid at the front of the room where everyone can see it. Also get a blank piece of paper and pen ready to make notes.
- Briefly explain the role of the Grammarian and Ah-counter.
- Announce the word of the day, state its part of speech, define it, use it in a sentence and ask that anyone speaking during any part of the meeting use it.
Throughout the meeting, listen to everyone’s word usage. Write down any awkward use or misuse of the language (incomplete sentences, sentences that change direction in midstream, incorrect grammar or malapropisms) with a note of who erred. For example, point out if someone used a singular verb with a plural subject. “One in five children wear glasses.” should be “One in five children wears glasses.” Note when a pronoun is misused. “No one in the choir sings better than her.” should be “No one in the choir sings better than she.”
In addition, throughout the meeting, listen to everyone for sounds and awkward pauses (too long) used as fillers and not as a necessary part of sentence structure or dramatic effect. Write down how many filler sounds or words each person used during all portions of the meeting.
Also be sure to write down who used the word of the day (or a derivative of it) and note those who used it correctly or incorrectly.
When called on by the General Evaluator during the evaluation segment:
- Stand by your chair and present your report.
- Try to offer the correct usage in every instance of misuse (instead of merely announcing that something was wrong).
- Report on creative language usage and announce who used the word of the day (or a derivative of it) correctly or incorrectly.
No doubt you’ve guessed that the speaking program is the center of every Toastmasters meeting. After all, what’s Toastmasters without speaking? But members don’t just stand up and start yakking. They use the guidelines set forth within the Toastmasters Pathways® program to fully prepare their presentations.
Typical speeches last 5-7 minutes. Advanced speeches may have longer requirements. Your speeches’ requirements described within Pathways will include a speech or project evaluation form for you to provide to your assigned Speech Evaluator (details below).
Every speaker is a role model and club members learn from one another’s speeches. Prepare and rehearse to ensure you present the best speech possible. Don’t insult your fellow club members by delivering a poorly prepared speech. However, it’s also true that no speech is perfect. So, get out there and try! Here’s what to do:
- Check our club’s meeting schedule regularly to sign up to speak. Begin working on the speech at least a week in advance of the meeting. That way, you have enough time to devote to research, organization and rehearsal.
- If you don’t write your own speech introduction, make sure the Toastmaster of the meeting prepares a good one for you.
- Generally, several days before the meeting, your speech Evaluator will contact you. Contact the club’s leadership if this does not occur. Discuss with your Evaluator the speech you plan give. Apprise your Evaluator with your develomental goals and personal concerns. Let your Evaluator know where you believe your speech ability needs strengthening, so he or she can pay special attention to those aspects of your presentation.
- You should arrive at the meeting early to assess your physical speaking space. If you have props or are using a projector/screen then perform a check that all has been provided, is set up, and is operating properly. Don’t rely on those who are administering the club meeting to ensure that the means for your successful speech are met—that’s the speaker’s responsibility
- During the meeting, give your full attention to the speakers at the lectern. Don’t study your speech notes while someone else is talking. When you’re introduced, smoothly and confidently leave your chair and walk to the lectern. After your speech, wait for the Toastmaster to return to the lectern, then return to your seat. Listen intently during your evaluation for helpful hints that will assist you to build a better communication style.
- After the meeting, reclaim your Evaluator will return your completed evaluation form. Discuss any questions you may have concerning your evaluation to clarify and avoid any misinterpretations.
- Finally, complete the project in according its instructions in your online Pathways Base-Camp account.
You’ll enjoy a growing sense of confidence as you repeat these steps with new speech projects. Don’t be afraid to do the work, enjoy the applause and reap the educational benefits. Your courage will be rewarded. Remember, speaking is a learning process—there is the speech you planned, the speech you presented, and the speech you wish you presented. Take that to heart and improve yourself.
Observe, formulate, relate, assist—the general rules for the Evaluator
People join Toastmasters to improve their speaking and leadership skills, and these skills are improved with the help of evaluations. Members complete speeches and projects and you may be asked to evaluate their work. At some point, everyone is asked to participate by providing an evaluation. You will provide both verbal and written evaluations for speakers. Sometimes verbal evaluations are given during the meeting and sometimes they are given privately, after the meeting. Check with the Vice President of Education or the Toastmaster if you’re not sure about the process.
Several days before the meeting, review the Effective Evaluation manual. Talk with the speaker or leader you’ve been assigned to receive a review of what the member’s project entails, the project’s goals, and what the speaker seeks to achieve.
Evaluation requires careful preparation if the speaker. Study the project objectives as well as the evaluation guide provided by your speaker. Remember, the purpose of evaluation is to help people develop their skills in various situations or under certain conditions. By actively listening, providing reinforcement for their strengths, and gently offering useful advice, you motivate members to work hard and improve. When you show ways to improvement, you’ve opened the door to strengthening their ability.
When you arrive at the meeting, speak briefly with the General Evaluator to confirm the evaluation is to transpire. When the speech begins then pay attention and observe closely.
Record your observations and impressions in the evaluation form. Be as objective as possible. Remember that good evaluations may give new life to discouraged members and poor evaluations may dishearten members who tried their best. Always provide specific methods for improving and present them in a positive manner.
If you’re giving a verbal evaluation, you will be introduced and summoned to the lectern. Though you may have written lengthy responses to manual evaluation questions, don’t read the questions or your responses. Your verbal evaluation time is limited. Don’t try to cover too much in your talk—two or three points is plenty. Adhere to observations and avoid subjective generalizations—say, “I saw that you did [this]… next time try [that].” rather than “You kinda messed up. You can do better.”
Begin and end your evaluation with a note of encouragement or praise. Commend a successful speech and describe specifically how it was successful. Don’t allow the speaker to remain unaware of a valuable asset such as a smile or a sense of humor. Likewise, don’t permit the speaker or leader to remain ignorant of a serious fault: if it is “personal” then use discretion. Either write it down or tell the speaker privately, but don’t mention it aloud. Give the speaker deserved praise and tactful suggestions in the manner you would like to receive them (hence, the “Golden Rule”).
After the meeting, return the evaluation form to the speaker. Add another word of encouragement and answer any questions the member may have.
By giving feedback, you are personally contributing to your fellow members’ improvement. Preparing and presenting evaluations is also an opportunity for you to practice your listening, critical thinking, feedback and motivation skills. And when the time comes to receive feedback, you’ll have a better understanding of the process.
The Table Topics Master gives members who aren’t assigned a speaking role the opportunity to speak during the meeting. The Table Topics Master challenges each participant with a question or subject, allowing the speaker to respond with a one- to two-minute impromptu answer or speech.
Not only does this role provide you with an opportunity to practice planning, preparation, organization, time management, and facilitation skills; your preparation and topic selection help train members to quickly organize and express their thoughts in an impromptu setting.
Preparation is the key to leading a successful Table Topics session:
- Several days before the meeting, check with the Toastmaster to find out if a theme for the meeting has been chosen. If so, prepare topics reflecting that theme.
- Confirm who the prepared speakers, evaluators and general evaluator will be so you can call on other members at the meeting to respond first. You can call on program participants (speakers last) at the end of the topics session if need be.
- Select subjects and questions that allow speakers to offer opinions. Keep it simple and uncontroversial, you are not there to trip-up the respondent, provoke, or seek a potentially uncomfortable answer. Don’t ask questions that are too long or complicated and make sure they don’t require specialized knowledge.
- Phrase questions so the speakers clearly understand what you want them to talk about.
Remember, too, that your job is to give others a chance to speak, so keep your own comments short.
When the Toastmaster introduces you, walk to the lectern and assume control of the meeting:
- Briefly state the purpose of Table Topics and mention any theme.
- Encourage speakers to use the word of the day in their response.
- Be certain everyone understands the maximum time they have for their response.
Then begin the program:
- Give each speaker a different topic or question and call on speakers at random.
- Avoid going around the room in the order in which people are sitting.
- Don’t ask two people the same thing unless you specify that each must give opposing viewpoints.
- State the question briefly then call on a respondent.
- You may wish to invite visitors and guests to participate after they have seen one or two members’ responses. Allow visitors the option to decline to participate if they feel uncomfortable. If you have the opportunity, ask guests before the meeting begins if they would be willing to participate in Table Topics.
Watch your total time. You may need to adjust the number of questions so your segment ends on time. Even if your portion started late, try to end on time to avoid the total meeting running overtime.
- Offer a one-minute period of silence and ask members to vote for best the Best Table Topics speaker (awarded at the end of the meeting).
Return control of the meeting to the Toastmaster.
Most of the talking we do every day—simple conversation—is impromptu speaking. Yet for some members, Table Topics is the most challenging part of a Toastmasters meeting.
Table Topics continues a long-standing Toastmasters tradition – every member speaks at a meeting. But it’s about more than just carrying on an anxiety-ridden tradition. Table Topics is about developing your ability to organize your thoughts quickly and respond to an impromptu question or topic.
Table Topics begins after the prepared speech presentations. The Toastmaster of the meeting will introduce the Table Topics Master who will walk to the lectern and assume control of the meeting. He or she will give a brief description of the purpose of Table Topics and mention if the topics will carry a theme.
The Table Topics Master will state the question or topic briefly and then call on a respondent. Each speaker receives a different topic or question and participants are called on at random.
When you’re asked to respond to a topic, stand next to your chair and give your response. Your response should last one to two minutes.
Now, take a deep breath and get ready to be remarkable!