Yesterday I attended my first Toastmasters meeting in Western New York (I went to one meeting to see what it was about in Scottsdale, AZ a few years ago). I was one of the last attendees into the meeting room, yet still punctual. Everyone was very appreciative of my presence as a guest and prospective new member.
It was a great group and really helped me jump-start the day, just as early-morning basketball has been doing for me on Wednesdays and Fridays. There were 18 members in attendance for the organization that has around 35 dues-paying members. The weekly one-hour sessions run from 8-9 a.m. operate on a very precise agenda, which I love. They cram a lot of oratorial activities and assigned roles into 60 minutes.
At the outset of the meeting there are a series of quick action items, including an inspirational thought, joke and word of the day. The assignments are then doled out ranging from timekeeper to grammarian to the all-important “Ah Counter” who must tally the hemming, hawing or nervous verbal stalls that many people inevitably resort to at some points during their speeches.
The heart of each meeting centers around three speakers who provide prepared 5-10 minute presentations followed by several brief extemporaneous deliveries and then it winds down with the assigned evaluators critiquing the presenters. All of the attendees vote anonymously in a bucket that is passed around to decide the morning’s best speaker, extemporaneous topic deliverer and evaluator. The “Ah Counter” provided the group with the dreaded numbers for each speaker, with one person having just two instances and another racking up 13 “ums.” The word master outlined highlights in phraseology and clever wordplay for each presenter.
There was a lot of clapping at each activity interval or rapid-fire transition, but there was great camaraderie and banter throughout the proceedings. As I was leaving, one of the officers handed me a membership packet with a national Toastmaster magazine. The annual dues are $72, which, at $6 a month, appears to be a reasonable investment for someone serious about improving their public speaking acumen and group leadership.