Understanding club meeting roles
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.
How do you prepare for your meeting roles?
Chairman and/or Toastmaster
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. If your club’s customs vary from those described here, ask your mentor or the club vice president 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 an up-to-date meeting agenda. Get this information from your VPE. 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, Topicsmaster, timer, 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. To help the Topicsmaster, create a list of program participants already assigned a speaking role so he or she can call on others first. 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. For more information about introductions see When You’re the Introducer (Item 1167E), Introducing the Speaker (Item 111) and The Better Speaker Series module Creating an Introduction (Item 277). 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 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 Topicsmaster 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 some clubs it is customary for the Toastmaster and the person assuming control of the lectern to exchange a handshake. This isn’t required, but 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. Request the thought for the day if your club provides for this. Be sure to find out when your club does this during a meeting. Many clubs end on this note while others prefer to begin a meeting with this thought in mind. 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 Ah Counter
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.
Several days before the meeting, use the information in A Toastmaster Wears Many Hats or in the appendix of the Competent Communication manual to prepare a brief explanation of the duties of the Ah-Counter for the benefit of guests.
When you arrive at the meeting, bring a pen and blank piece of paper for notes, or locate a blank copy of the Ah-Counter’s log, if your club has one, from the sergeant at arms.
The president will call the meeting to order and introduce the Toastmaster who will, in turn, introduce you and the other meeting participants. When you’re introduced, explain the role of the Ah-Counter. Some clubs levy small fines on members who do or do not do certain things. (For example, members are fined who use filler words or are not wearing their Toastmasters pin to the meeting. A fine is usually about five cents, acting more as a friendly reminder than a punishment.) If your club levies fines, explain the fine schedule.
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.
When you’re called on by the general evaluator during the evaluation segment, stand by your chair and give your report.
After the meeting is adjourned, give your completed report to the treasurer for collection of fines if this tradition applies to your club.
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. Several days before the meeting, select a word of the day (if this is done in your club):
- It should be one 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.
Also, prepare a brief explanation of the duties of the grammarian for the benefit of the guests. 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, or get a copy of the grammarian’s log, if your club has one, from the sergeant at arms. When introduced:
- 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.
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.” 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.
After the meeting, give your completed report to the treasurer for collection of fines, if your club does this.
The individual assigned this role has an opportunity to tell an appropriate joke or funny story at the beginning of the meeting. The purpose of this role is to bring some levity to the meetings and help ease people’s nerves.
The Thought of the Day
The thought, an inspiring quotation that sets the tone for the day’s meeting, is a welcome option in many clubs. It is usually delivered by a designated club member at the beginning or the end of the meeting, and is sometimes used as a replacement for or in combination with an invocation or pledge of allegiance.
If you are new to Toastmasters and are nervous about the thought of speaking in front of people, you can use this small but valuable role to build your confidence.
Before the Meeting Find a meaningful quotation, preferably one that relates to the day’s theme, and prepare a brief introduction to the quote. Treat it as you would any other speech – craft it carefully and practice delivering it before the meeting.
During the Meeting If you agree to deliver the thought for a club meeting, arrive a little bit early to let the presiding officer know that the role will be covered for the meeting.
When called on by the Toastmaster, stand up and deliver your thought of the day to the group.
One of the skills Toastmasters practice is expressing a thought within a specific time. As timer you are responsible for monitoring time for each meeting segment and each speaker. You’ll also operate the timing signal, indicating to each speaker how long he or she has been talking. Serving as timer is an excellent opportunity to practice giving instructions and 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 time they’ll need for their prepared speech.
- You’ll also need to write an explanation of your duties, emphasizing timing rules and how timing signals will be given. For the benefit of guests and new members, be sure to use the clearest possible language and rehearse your presentation.
- 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. Stand by your chair to do so and then be seated.
- 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. However, these times may vary from club to club. In addition, signal the chairman, Toastmaster and Topics master with red when they have reached their allotted or agreed-upon time. Use the timer’s report or a blank piece of paper to record each participant’s name and time used.
- When you’re called to report by the Topics master, Toastmaster or general evaluator, stand by your chair, announce the speaker’s name and the time taken. Mention those members who are eligible for awards if your club issues awards.
- After the meeting, return the stopwatch and timing signal device to the sergeant at arms. Give the completed timer’s report to the secretary so he or she can record it in the minutes (if this is done in your club).
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.
People join Toastmasters 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. You’ll always give a written evaluation for leadership roles, though verbal evaluations for leaders are handled differently from club to club. Sometimes verbal evaluations are given during the meeting and sometimes they are given privately, after the meeting. Check with your vice president education (VPE) or the Toastmaster if you’re not sure of your club’s method.
Several days before the meeting, review the Effective Evaluation manual you received in your New Member Kit. 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.
A Prepared Speaker
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 your club’s meeting schedule regularly to find out when you’re assigned to speak. Begin working on the speech at least a week in advance. 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 education (VPE) 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!
Table Topic Speaker
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 usually begins after the prepared speech presentations. The Toastmaster of the meeting will introduce the Topicsmaster who will walk to the lectern and assume control of the meeting. The Topicsmaster will give a brief description of the purpose of Table Topics and mention if the topics will carry a theme.
The Topicsmaster 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!
Table Topic Master
With TABLE TOPICS™, the Topicsmaster gives members who aren’t assigned a speaking role the opportunity to speak during the meeting. The Topicsmaster challenges each member with a subject, and the speaker responds with a one- to two-minute impromptu talk.
Some people underestimate the Topicsmaster role’s importance. Not only does it 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 time allows.
- 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.
Table Topics usually begins after the prepared speech presentations, but there are variations from club to club. Ask the Toastmaster or vice president education if you’re unsure of when your portion of the meeting begins.
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.
- If your club has a word of the day, encourage speakers to use that word 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.
If your club presents a best Table Topics speaker award:
- Ask the timer at the end of the Table Topics session to report those eligible for the award. Though the times vary among clubs, generally a participant is disqualified for stopping 15 seconds prior to the allowed time or speaking 15 seconds beyond the allowed limit.
- Ask members to vote for best Table Topics speaker and pass their votes to the sergeant at arms or vote counter.
If your club has a Table Topics evaluator, ask for his or her report and then return control of the meeting to the Toastmaster.
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, grammarian and 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. Some clubs have a prepared checklist. If your club doesn’t have one, ask the Toastmaster to help you create your own checklist.
When discussing the meeting program with the Toastmaster, ask what evaluation format to use. Typically, an evaluator 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 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 before the Table Topics portion of the meeting. But your club may have a different order for introductions, so check with the Toastmaster or VPE before the meeting if you’re not sure when you’ll be introduced.
When you’re introduced:
- Stand by your chair and deliver the explanation you prepared.
- Identify the grammarian, Ah-Counter and timer and have these members briefly state the purpose of their jobs.
- Request the word of the day, if your club has one, from the grammarian and then be seated.
During the meeting, use your checklist and take notes on everything that happens (or doesn’t, but should). For example: Is the club’s property (e.g. trophies, banner, educational material) properly displayed? 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 the 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!