Since 1924, a club named Toastmasters International has taught people how to speak in public and preside over meetings. On February 19, the brand-new Martha’s Vineyard Toastmasters Club received its charter, making it one of more than 14,000 clubs in 122 countries. Like the more than 292,000 members worldwide, the members of the new club joined because they share a common purpose: they have a need to become people who can comfortably speak to public gatherings. For some, that means overcoming a white-knuckle fear of public speaking; others are looking forward to leadership opportunities in business or civic activities.
Although there is a social component in Toastmasters membership, the club is primarily an educational cooperative. Members support one another as each works through the tightly structured course of study. The basic manual has ten “lessons,” each a different kind of speech. There are instructions and tips for speakers at each level, and also instructions for the evaluators who give feedback and support to the two or three members who give five- to seven-minute prepared speeches at each meeting. Members work through the manual at their own pace. For those who want to go on to new challenges, there are several specialized advanced manuals and also a leadership training manual.
At the February 19 meeting, Richard Winer, Lieutenant Governor of District 31 (SE Massachusetts and Rhode Island), accompanied by representatives from Toastmasters clubs on the Cape, presented an official charter to club president Kimberly Burke. The charter brings resources and mentors from nearby clubs. Dr. Burke, along with former Toastmasters Bill Glazier, Esther Hopkins, and Cheryl Burns, has been working for some months to start a Vineyard Toastmasters Club. They have been meeting informally for some time to recruit members. To receive a charter, a club must have at least 20 members, and that threshold was reached last November. In his remarks to the club, Mr. Winer stressed that because there are always a few members who drop out of the club after completing the basic manual, every club must constantly recruit new members, just as any educational organizations needs to recruit new students.
Toastmasters meetings are tightly scheduled, down to the minute. Nearly everyone has a job to do and a set time allotted to do it. There are several moderators at each meeting. In addition to the prepared speeches, there are impromptu “table topics” (one to three minutes), and both the prepared speeches and the table topics are evaluated by other members. At each meeting there is a timer and a “grammarian,” who comments on the speakers’ use of language and assigns the “word of the day.” (At the meeting shown in the photo, the word was “idyllic,” which nearly every speaker worked into his remarks.) There is also at each meeting an “ah counter,” whose job it is to keep track of verbal tics (um, ah, like, you know), which polished speakers try to avoid. The jobs are rotated, and everyone takes a turn. Although the charter presentation and taking photos threw off the schedule by a few minutes, the meeting ran only five minutes over the allotted hour and a half.
Founding president Kim Burke (nee Murphy) grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, and like many young people, wanted to get away. After working several jobs, she went to college in western Massachusetts, graduating with a degree in nutrition, and then to Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, Florida. After an unpleasant experience in which she was nearly paralyzed by a speaking assignment in a class of 80 students, a friend recommended Toastmasters. There was no chapter at Palmer College, but she and a small group of friends made a beginning on the manual, and when she and her husband decided to return to the Vineyard in 2011, she was determined to form a club here. Currently a candidate for the Oaks Bluffs FinCom, she feels there may be an opportunity to put her Toastmasters skills to use in the civic arena.
Unlike Rotary, Lions, and other clubs, Toastmasters has no regular community service element, but Dr. Burke sees a need on Martha’s Vineyard for an outreach component to the club here. She imagines that Toastmasters might sponsor public speaking contests in the schools or at the Y, perhaps in cooperation with Adult Continuing Education (ACE).
Bill Glazier of Edgartown belonged to a Toastmasters club in Connecticut 10 years ago. Although he has completed the basic course, he has no plans to stop attending Toastmasters. “There is always more to learn from practicing,” he told The Times in a telephone interview. “There are advanced books, and one gains confidence with every stage.” Mr. Glazier commented that the leadership training is separate from the speech training and attracts people who want to be leaders and learn to motivate others.
Although Toastmasters is not a social club per se, he has found that many members enjoy that aspect as well. “You find new friends with a common interest. In Connecticut, some people stayed on in the club mainly to continue their friendships.”
History of the Toastmasters
Ralph C. Smedley began what would eventually become Toastmasters International in the basement of a YMCA in Santa Ana, California, in 1924. He was working at the time as a YMCA education director and observed that young persons “needed training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings.” According to the Toastmasters International website, “Smedley named his group ‘The Toastmasters Club’ because he thought it suggested a pleasant, social atmosphere appealing to young men.” In 1928 the first Manual for Toastmasters Clubs was copyrighted (it has been revised many times since). In 1935, the first Toastmasters club outside the United States was chartered in Victoria, British Columbia. By 1950, advanced training manuals were being published. A “Communication and Leadership Program” manual was introduced at the international convention in Cleveland in 1969, and two more Success/Leadership programs were introduced in 1979.
By 1989, membership had reached 150,000; and in 2004, 200,000. In 1993, the 8,000th club was chartered, and the 10,000th in 2004. By 2009, there were Toastmasters clubs in 106 countries. For more information, consult www.toastmasters.org.
Martha’s Vineyard Toastmasters meet 7 to 8:30 pm on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the American Legion Hall, Martin Road, Vineyard Haven. Visitors are welcome. You can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/