The success of a Toastmasters meeting depends on the program 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 for them. Some roles can be combined – for example, the Ah-Counter might also be the grammarian or listen for uses of the word of the day.
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 preparing for your role several days in advance. You can use the Toastmaster’s Check List to help you prepare. You’ll need to know who will fill the other meeting roles and if a theme is planned for the meeting. You’ll also need to create an up-to-date meeting agenda. Click here to download an agenda template.
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/Ah-Counter – 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
- Manual and 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 changing the title.
- 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 during the meeting to accomplish this. Make sure each meeting segment adheres to the schedule. If time allows, you can make some brief remarks about Toastmasters’ educational program for the benefit of guests and new members before you move forward with the introductions:
- Introduce the General Evaluator as you would any speaker. Remain standing near the lectern after your introduction until the speaker has assumed control of the lectern, then be seated. The General Evaluator will introduce the other members of the evaluation team.
- Introduce the Table Topics Master as you would any speaker. Remain standing near the lectern after your introduction until the speaker has assumed control of the lectern, then be seated.
In our club it is customary for the Toastmaster and the person assuming control of the lectern to exchange a handshake. It’s sometimes done to help new members recognize when control of the lectern passes from the Toastmaster to the speaker and vice versa.
- After the Table Topics session has concluded, most clubs begin the speaking program. Introduce each speaker in turn.
- You will lead the applause before and after the Table Topics session, each speaker and the general evaluator. 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, request the Timer’s report and vote for the best speaker, if your club offers this award.
- Briefly reintroduce the General Evaluator.
- While votes are being tallied, invite comments from guests and announcements (such as verification of next week’s program).
- Present trophies or ribbons as practiced by your club.
- Adjourn the meeting, or if appropriate, return control to the club President.
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.
The purpose of the Ah-Counter is 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 such as “I, I” or “This means, this means.” These words and sounds can be annoying to listeners. The Ah-Counter role is an excellent opportunity to practice your listening skills.
One benefit of Toastmasters is that it helps people improve their grammar and word use. Being Grammarian also provides an exercise in expanding listening skills. You have several responsibilities: to introduce new words to members, to comment on language usage during the course of the meeting, and to provide examples of eloquence.
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.
- 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.
- Briefly explain the role of the Grammarian and Ah-counter.
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 long pauses used as fillers and not as a necessary part of sentence structure. 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 give 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.
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 time they’ll need for their prepared speech.
- On meeting day, retrieve the timing equipment from the Sergeant at Arms. Be sure you understand how to operate the stopwatch and signal device, make certain the timing equipment works and sit where the signal device can be seen by all.
- The Toastmaster of the meeting will usually call on you to explain the timing rules and demonstrate the signal device.
- Throughout the meeting, listen carefully to each program participant and signal them. Generally, Table Topics speakers should be +/- 15 seconds of allowed time; prepared speakers must be +/- 30 seconds. Record each participant’s name and time used.
- When you’re called to report by the General Evaluator, announce the speaker’s name and the time taken. Mention those members who are eligible for awards if your club issues awards. Additionally, confer with the Ballot Counter to ensure that each speaker who is eligible for an award has met his or her speaking-time qualification.
- After the meeting, return the stopwatch and timing signal device to the Sergeant at Arms.
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 frames and deadlines.
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 member with a subject, and the speaker responds with a one- to two-minute impromptu talk.
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 meeting is scheduled. 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. Don’t make the questions 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 and how the timing device works (if the Timer hasn’t already done so).
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. But let visitors know they are free to decline if they feel uncomfortable.
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.
- Ask members to vote for best Table Topics speaker (awarded at the end of the meeting) and pass their votes to the Sergeant at Arms or vote counter.
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 before 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!
No doubt you’ve guessed that the speaking program is the center of every Toastmasters meeting. After all, what’s Toastmasters without the talking? But members don’t just stand up and start yakking. They use the guidelines in the Competent Communication (CC) manual and the Advanced Communication Series (ACS) manuals to fully prepare their presentations.
The CC manual speeches usually last 5-7 minutes. ACS manual project speeches are 5-7 minutes or longer depending upon the assignment.
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.
- Several days before the meeting, ask the General Evaluator for your Evaluator’s name. Talk with your Evaluator about the speech you’ll give. Discuss your speech 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. Remember to bring your manual to the meeting.
- You should arrive at the meeting early to check the microphone, lighting and anything else that could malfunction and ruin your talk. Give your manual to your Evaluator before the meeting starts and discuss any last-minute issues with him or her. Sit near the front of the room and carefully plan your approach to the lectern and your speech opening.
- 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 in building better future talks.
- After the meeting, reclaim your manual from your Evaluator. Discuss any questions you may have concerning your evaluation to clarify and avoid any misinterpretations.
- Finally, have the Vice President of Education initial the Project Completion Record in the back of your manual.
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
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:
- Ensuring the speech and leadership project Evaluators know their responsibilities
- Supervising the Timer and Grammarian/Ah-Counter
- Evaluating everything that takes place during the club meeting
- Making sure each activity is performed correctly
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.
When discussing the meeting program with the Toastmaster, ask what evaluation format to use. Typically, an evaluation is assigned to an individual, but sometimes evaluations are done by panels. The General Evaluator may set up any evaluation procedure he or she chooses, but it should fit into the meeting program. Remember, too, that every evaluation must be brief and complete. Review the Effective Evaluation manual for different evaluation formats.
You’ll also need to contact members serving as:
- Individual Evaluators
Remind them of their assignments, and brief Evaluators on their responsibilities, the members they will evaluate and the evaluation format to use. 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 call the member they’ve been assigned to evaluate to 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 speaker or leader’s manual.
- If an Evaluator is absent, consult with the Vice President of Education and 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 time 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.
The Toastmaster of the meeting usually introduces the General Evaluator after the speaking portion of the meeting is over. The General Evaluator assumes control of the meeting during the evaluation portion – introducing each Evaluator and asking for the Grammarian/Ah-Counter and Timer reports after the Evaluators have finished.
During the meeting, use your checklist and take notes on everything that happens (or doesn’t, but should). For example: Were there unnecessary distractions that could have been avoided? Did the meeting, and each segment of it, begin and end on time?
Study each participant on the program, from the person giving the invocation or thought for the day to the last report by the Timer. Look for good and less than desirable examples of preparation, organization, delivery, enthusiasm, observation and general performance of duties. When it’s time to begin the evaluation portion of the meeting, the Toastmaster will introduce you, again. This time, you’ll go to the lectern and introduce each Evaluator. After each recitation, thank the Evaluator for his or her efforts.
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 Toastmaster.
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!
to improve their speaking and leadership skills, and these skills are improved with the help of evaluations. Members complete projects in the Competent Communication and Competent Leadership manuals 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 using the guide in the manual. 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 evaluate and find out which manual project they will present. Review the project goals and what the speaker or leader hopes to achieve.
Evaluation requires careful preparation if the speaker or leader is to benefit. Study the project objectives as well as the evaluation guide in the manual. Remember, the purpose of evaluation is to help people develop their speaking or leadership skills in various situations. By actively listening, providing reinforcement for their strengths and gently offering useful advice, you motivate members to work hard and improve. When you show the way 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 session format. Then retrieve the manual from the speaker or leader and ask one last time if he or she has any specific goals in mind.
Record your impressions in the manual, along with your answers to the evaluation questions. 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, stand and speak when introduced. 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.
Begin and end your evaluation with a note of encouragement or praise. Commend a successful speech or leadership assignment and describe specifically how it was successful. Don’t allow the speaker or leader 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, write it but don’t mention it aloud. Give the speaker or leader deserved praise and tactful suggestions in the manner you would like to receive them.
After the meeting, return the manual to the speaker or leader. 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.
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. The audience prepares their votes and the Ballot Counter collects the ballots. The Ballot Counter then tabulates the votes, confers with the Timer to ensure that each speaker successfully met their speaking-time qualifications, and provides the President with the names of the winning members for a short award presentation toward the end of the meeting.