THE TOASTMASTERS CLUB . . .
ITS MEANING AND VALUES
by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, Founder of Toastmasters InternationalThis article, written by Toastmasters founder, appeared in the February 1958 issue of The Toastmaster. It is an enlightening view of the organization's original purpose and the importance of the Club in that purpose.
My conception of the Toastmasters Club, and of the training which it affords, while based on certain fundamental principles of education, is quite largely the result of experiences and observations through the past 50 years, when those principles have been put into practical use.
Out work is based primarily on principles of learning by doing and improving through practice and criticism, principles in which I strongly believe. Back of these, there is Herbert Spencer's definition of education. He held that education is a process of drawing out and putting into use the talents and abilities which are present in the person to be educated, rather than of pouring into his or her mind information from the exterior.
Added to these basic concepts is my conviction that the power to communicate is one of a person's greatest endowments. I believe that all civilized life grows out of that ability, and the uses made of it. I believe that the improvement of a person's ability to communicate his or her ideas is a means of improving life in all its phases, and that the progress of civilization depends on this improvement.
It was the very evident need for practical help in the art of communication which led me to organize the Toastmasters Club in the first place. People in my community needed this aid, and they were glad to accept it when it was offered in an attractive and practical manner. The beginning was to meet a local need. There was no vision of future growth into a great organization.
My belief in the principles of learning by doing and improving through criticism led to the use of the methods which have served through all the years in the work of the Toastmasters clubs.
The Toastmasters Club, as I see it, is a voluntary association of people who desire to gain facility in the art of communication.
These people can be encouraged to develop and use their own initiative and originality for their own improvement. It has been my privilege to share with all of them the results of my own experiences, and to try to stimulate them in using their resources.
It has been my conviction that formal courses should not be offered in the Toastmasters Club, but I have been compelled to prepare certain materials which our members classify as "courses," in order to give guidance which was apparently needed. It appears to me to be desirable that the members should work out their problems, and then exchange their experiences, helping each other by pointing out better ways as well as warning against ways which have not been found successful.
This is the course which we have followed as we have grown, and as people have asked for definite guidance. It has been my purpose to offer suggestions, leaving the application of these suggestions to the members who will carry on in the manner best suited to their needs.
In the course of years, as we gained experience, it was seen that our processes had values far beyond the mere training of people to face audiences and speak their ideas. Communication was seen to have its effects in almost every phase of life. Improvement was needed not only in public speaking, but in all use of words, whether spoken or written. Training in speech had definite values in many lines of improvement. Some of these may be listed thus:
- It leads to the discovery of hidden abilities, bringing these latent talents into use, and thus enriching the individual's life.
- It broadens the person's conception of how to live with people.
- It helps in the integration of personality.
- It brings out for use the leadership traits and abilities, and thus helps to prepare the individual to be a leader.
- It opens the way to more creative and constructive living for the person who takes full advantage of the opportunities offered.
Thus our work has led us into fields of service far beyond the obvious task of training people for public speaking. Our responsibilities have been increased as we realized our task of opening the larger fields to those who come into membership.
Not every individual follows through to gain the additional benefits. Not every club operates so as to give its members the most effective service. We fall short of the ideal of perfection, but we know that the individual member or the individual club has been helped in proportion as the vision of possible accomplishment has been made clear, provided that the strong purpose has been present, either in the member or the club.
Members who have developed ability in leadership through working and serving as officers in their own clubs have gone on to wider fields of service in area and district affairs, and those who have exerted themselves to serve well have gained much in these enlarged fields of experience. Some few have gone on to the directorship of Toastmasters International, in which they have made personal gains in proportion to their willingness to learn. All have been helped to meet opportunities for leadership in their business or professional affairs, and in work for other organizations.
In common with many other agencies designed to help people, the Toastmasters Club is limited by the purpose of its members and by the sincerity of their desire for self-improvement. I know of no method whereby we can overcome the reluctance of individuals to think and plan and work to a purpose.
It may be said that most of our members come into a club to achieve some definite purpose. That purpose may be to learn to speak in public, to overcome fear, to gain skill in conducting a meeting, or to be a contest winner, or it may be any one of many purposes. It is our obligation to help them to adopt the best purpose, and then to work to accomplish it.
When this immediate purpose has been achieved, the individual is likely to drop out, unless the leadership of the club has been so good that he or she has been awakened to a realization of further personal possibilities. No doubt this is the simple explanation of much of the turn-over in membership.
It appears to me that the obligation of the leaders of the movement, both those in the Board of Directors and those at all levels, is to offer supervision, explanation, suggestions, advice and inspiration wherever needed or desired, and to cooperate with local leaders so that our purpose may be fulfilled, in the helping of every member of every club to gain what he or she needs.
Training for this task is indispensable, and such training must proceed from those who are experienced to those lacking experience. Such help should be given in a cooperative spirit and manner, not so much by prescribed rules as by helpful suggestion.
At San Diego, in 1951, I stated:
"Education is our business. It has been so from the beginning. I do not know just why or how I happened to hit upon the idea that adult education could be handled in a social atmosphere, entirely apart from the formal classroom and standard academic procedure; but in some way I got that notion, and I have lived to see it not only recognized, but actually used, in circles where it was frowned upon a generation ago. There was evident agreement in my mind with the thought which Shakespeare had expressed long before when he caused one of his characters to say: 'No profit grows where is no pleasure taken'."
To my way of thinking, the Toastmasters Club is a very simple and practical use of the principles of education, applied to the helping of people in the effort to improve their capacity for living and wise enjoyment of life.
Simplicity has always been a characteristic of the club operation; and it should characterize all the work of the organization, from the higher executives through region and district and areas, always with the clear purpose of helping the local club to help its individual members.
Personal contacts between those who are prepared to lead and those who need help in leadership are essential. Much information must be transmitted through the printed page , but the most effective method of transmission is through training sessions in which qualified leaders present information and conduct discussion.
If we should ever lose this sense of fellowship, of personal friendly relationships, we might easily become just another high-grade correspondence school. The personal touch, in all levels of our work, is one of its distinguishing features. We are working together.
I still hold to my opinion that we should not prescribe "courses", but should make the principles and ideals clear to all, permitting the members to deal with their own problems and to use their own resources so far as possible. It is our task to set up goals and standards and processes, which we can recommend to our clubs for use.
Fundamentally, I believe that the ability to communicate is a God-given talent, which ought to be used by all for the good of all. It is our privilege to help bring this talent into greater usefulness, so that it may be applied to the building of a better world, through the building of a better society made up of individuals who must act in groups. I believe that in bringing improvement in the way of "better thinking, better listening, better speaking" to individuals, we are contributing to the improvement of the society which is made up of these individuals.
I like the way that Orison S. Marden phrased his conception of speech training, when he wrote; "The ability to talk well is to a man what cutting and polishing are to the rough diamond. The grinding does not add anything to the diamond. It merely reveals its wealth."
Excerpt from Personally Speaking: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Ralph C. Smedley, Toastmasters International, Inc.