Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. More than 352,000 members attend some 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. If you've never heard of Toastmasters, simply Google Toastmasters for your city or area, and you'll probably find several clubs meeting close by.
Toastmasters has become a world leader in communication and leadership development. In 2010 the Board of Directors initiated a process to revitalize their decades-old educational program to meet the demands and learning culture of our times. After an intensive process of research and input from thousands of Toastmaster members, a new educational program known as Pathways was developed, and is now rolling out throughout the organization.
What is Pathways?
Pathways is the new Toastmasters educational program that continues to develop member's communication and leadership skills by focusing on 5 core competencies:
- Public Speaking
- Interpersonal Communication
- Strategic Leadership
When you join a Toastmasters club, you complete projects that develop up to 300 unique competencies aligned with at least two or more of the abovementioned core competencies.
Some projects require you to deliver a short speech in your club, while others require you to fulfill a leadership role in the organization. That can be as simple as keeping time during a club meeting to becoming an officer in your club or the wider organizational structure of the organization.
There are also very practical projects to develop modern skills, like writing a blog, creating a podcast or making a video of yourself. Another project helps you develop networking skills by having you attend an actual networking event in your area, and then report back to the club how it went.
How does Pathways work?
An online guide called Navigator gives new members a thorough overview of the educational program.
After viewing Navigator, your first step is to complete a self-assessment online to determine your personal educational goals. Based on the survey results the online tool will recommend three potential learning paths out of ten available pathways. You can select one of the pathways the tool suggested, or your own.
How do you learn through Pathways
Once you enroll in a pathway, the system creates an online learning path which you log into online through a portal known as Basecamp. You complete projects that progresses you through five levels of proficiency:
- Level 1: Mastering Fundamentals
- Level 2: Learning Your Style
- Level 3: Increasing Knowledge
- Level 4: Building Skills
- Level 5: Demonstrating Expertise
Every path has ten required projects, and a wide range of electives of which you have to complete four. Fellow club members will evaluate your progress along the way, and it gets recorded online. Once the Vice President Education of your club signs off on your evaluation, Toastmasters awards online badges and printable certificates as you reach each proficiency level. Fellow club members can also award online badges to encourage you along the way.
A key component of the learning process is mentorship. Pathways has a formal mentorship program that ensures you are assigned to a competent mentor, but also encourages you to enroll as a mentor.
What happens at club meetings?
Most clubs consist of 15 to 25 members who are all at different levels of development in the program. A Toastmaster acts as a chair for the event, and guides the meeting through the three key components of every Toastmasters meeting: prepared speeches, impromptu speeches, and an evaluation portion.
Prepared speeches are delivered by club members from a number of project manuals that each focus on a different competency of speaking and/or leadership. Most speeches are only 5-7 minutes long, and you can learn tips and view examples online through your Basecamp portal to help you with your preparation.
Table Topics give club members an opportunity to deliver a two-minute impromptu speech that develops your ability to answer questions in an interview or similar setting. This session is quite often the highlight of the meeting.
Every meeting has an evaluation component which forms the heart of the educational program. Members give public feedback on delivered speeches, how members performed keeping time, up to the use of grammar or unnecessary filler words.
Want to become a world-class speaker?
Every club gives club members an opportunity to participate in different types of speech contests, the most prominent being a speech contest that can take you all the way to become the world champion of public speaking. Regardless if you progress that far, for many people just progressing to the international level is enough to launch them into a full-time public speaking career.
Boost your resume by becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster
Becoming a DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster) is the highest award in the educational program, and is earned by dedicated members who completed two learning paths, served as an officer for two years in different roles, and acted as a mentor and coach to both individual club members and struggling or emerging Toastmaster clubs. To top it off you need to complete a high-level leadership project under the watchful eye of a team of fellow members.
How much does it cost?
You would expect that such a high-quality educational program would cost you hundreds of dollars at least, but in fact, for most members, it cost less than $200 annually. Every club charges a six month club due of less than $100, of which part goes to Toastmasters International, and a part is used for incidental club expenses.
What are your learning goals for 2018?
It is no secret that the most successful people are all lifelong learners. Two areas every successful person needs to develop in their life is effective communication skills, and dynamic leadership ability. Toastmasters is an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded people, and develop these skills in a supportive, practical and experiential way.
Search out Toastmasters clubs that meet in your area, and visit as a guest to see what you think. If you like it, visit a few clubs until you find one that suits your schedule and that you feel 'at home' in. Then jump in and develop your skills! It might be some of the best 60 or 90 minutes of your week.
Pathways has not been rolled out everywhere yet, but even if you start out with the traditional learning program, it has helped thousands upon thousands of people over the years, and is proven to help you as well.