New York Times and Toastmasters: Recognizing the Goals of Toastmasters Members

Two weeks ago a woman serving as Toastmaster of the Day during our club meeting shared an article published in the New York Times about a columnist who recently joined Toastmasters and his experiences.

New York Times article pictureAhem, Ummm, Well …: Joining Toastmasters to Overcome a Fear of Public Speaking“, by Henry Alford, New York Times, December 26, 2013

I have just completed my eighth year in Toastmasters and I am always happy to see others benefit from the organization that I very much believe in. I also believe it is a positive and fair example of a Toastmasters experience (the only thing I could not believe was the fee of $187, that is over quadruple what I have ever paid for six-months Toastmasters dues is South Dakota or Washington, DC). He has clearly seen a benefit after being a member for a relatively short time.

However, there was a quote from the article that really got to me when I first read it, and for some reason, it continues to bother me.

Over time, I grew slightly weary of the Toastmasters speech formula: Tell the audience that you’ll be talking about (say, earlobes, uvulas and toe webbing); then talk about earlobes, uvulas and toe webbing; then announce that you have just talked about earlobes, uvulas and toe webbing. It’s a scheme so rich with repeated motifs that I have nicknamed it Philip Glass.

First of all, the biggest issue is probably my fault that I don’t get the Philip Glass reference. I understand that he is a composer, but I gave up on the reference after about thirty seconds on the Glass Wikipedia page.

But, while I am happy that he has been able to do a better job at “controlling his fear” of public speaking, the fact that he is openly mocking the organizational scheme advised by every public speaking source I have ever seen and what I see as absolutely the most important lesson that any speaker can learn, makes me wonder what he has really learned from the organization.

But that too has reminded me of a lesson that I have learned this year as President of my local Toastmasters club. Everyone is in Toastmasters for a different reason, and it is up to us an organization to serve those needs, whatever they may be. Some people just want to be able to get up and say something, anything, in front of an audience. Some want to be a professional speaker. Some want to compete and be a World Champion.

I am in Toastmasters because I want to continue honing the skills that I learned as a youth. I want to compete in Toastmasters contests. And probably just as much as anything, I enjoy speaking as a hobby.

I need to respect people who do not have these same goals. Toastmasters can provide many things to many people. And even if I think a New York Times columnist who already uses the words “utterly blithe”, “beribboned”, “craggy” and “unctuous bonhomie”, I should not question his motives when he is clearly putting in the work for Toastmasters.

In the end, he did concede that “Toastmasters organization” (or as I call it, “organization”) was a benefit to his speech.

The speech, given to about 40 people in a large activities room, went off without a hitch; in a last-minute, Toastmasters-influenced tweak, I had even reorganized it into three sections, having conceded that if anyone needs Philip Glass, it’s the elderly. This helped.

Maybe Henry Alford is learning something after all.

Image credit: Polly Becker, New York Times, 2013
Image credit: Joe Hardy, 2007

Question: What specifically are you working on in your public speaking?

Posted in Toastmasters

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