Toastmasters is the world's largest organization devoted to developing communication skills. It now has some 175,000 members in 8800 Toastmasters clubs in about 70 countries.
A Toastmasters club is a "learn-by-doing" workshop. A typical club has 20 to 40 members, who meet weekly or biweekly for an hour or two to learn and practice public speaking techniques. Upon joining a Toastmasters club, members progress through a series of 10 speaking assignments designed to instill a basic foundation in public speaking. Members also develop and practice leadership skills using the High Performance Leadership Program and serving as leaders at various organizational levels.
After completing the ten speaking assignments in the first manual, a Toastmaster is eligible for the designation of "Competent Toastmaster" and may then choose from a series of advanced manuals, which will enable the member to hone his or her skills in particular areas of interest.These manuals include, for example, "Speeches by Management", "The Entertaining Speaker", "Speaking to Inform" and many others.
Ultimately, a Toastmaster may achieve the highest honour in the organisation: that of "Distinguished Toastmaster".
There is no instructor in a Toastmasters club. Instead, members evaluate one another's oral presentations. Besides taking turns delivering prepared speeches and evaluating those of other members, Toastmasters give impromptu talks on assigned topics, usually related to current events. They also develop listening skills, conduct meetings, and learn parliamentary procedure.
The distinctive feature of Toastmasters is the continual evaluation. Each activity at a club is evaluated: speeches are evaluated both at the meeting and in the member's manual. Even the evaluators are themselves evaluated at the end of the meeting by a "General Evaluator", also a club member.
Toastmasters clubs also run contests, of which the most highly regarded is the "International Speech" contest. The winner at each level, starting at an individual club level, competes against other winners; the winner of the highest level, held at the annual International Convention, becomes the "World Champion of Public Speaking". The 2004 Convention will be held in Reno, Nevada, in August 2004.