Sergeant at Arms: Leadership Through Service
The Sergeant at Arms prepares the speaker to fight the battle by poviding a consistent, well-equipped meeting environment, free of distractions and confusion.
By Ernest Ray Raynor III, CC
Visitors arrive at the meeting hall and see the large, impressive banner: Toastmasters Meets Here! A powerful first impression is formed by the banner and the well-organized room. As the visitors enter, they are warmly greeted by the Sergeant at Arms, offered an opportunity to sign the guestbook and provided a place to sit where they’re surrounded by friendly and enthusiastic people. The meeting proceeds smoothly, and they watch the speakers develop their skills through the gentle guidance of the evaluators. Such a positive experience motivates the guests to join the club and prepare for their Ice Breaker speeches to be given at the very next meeting.
Is this happening in your club? Smoothly run meetings that entice visitors to join are not created by accident. An active and committed Sergeant at Arms ensures those strong first impressions based on a well-laid-out room, a warm greeting and an organized meeting.
Nearing the end of my term as Sergeant at Arms, I considered the impact this position of service could have on a meeting and realized that the organizational health of the entire club is affected by my position.
A Sergeant at Arms is considered to be the lowest ranking officer in a Toastmasters club. While I wouldn’t presume to question the rankings, I believe you’ll find it enlightening to explore the origins and significance of this vital, active office.
Origins of the Term
Sergeant is a word derived from the Latin serviens and means “servant.” In medieval England, these servants ensured that their knights were ready for battle, they trained and equipped peasant soldiers, and maintained security in the meeting hall of their lords. Some of these sergeants were appointed to maintain safety and order in all the king’s functions.
These were the first to bear the title Sergeant at Arms and were later used to ensure orderly meetings in the British Parliament. This office grew in importance as meetings became a preferred method to establish rule and settle disputes. Today, national assemblies, financial conclaves and nonprofit clubs all use the office of Sergeant at Arms to ensure orderly meetings.
Significance of the Office
In Toastmasters, the Sergeant at Arms still maintains safety and order in the club meeting. Safety doesn’t just happen – it requires observation and diligence. Are there power cords crossing the walkways of the meeting room? People could trip on the cords, causing injury. This is a potential liability case the Sergeant of Arms can prevent.
Rearrange the room if possible, to lessen the hazard. If that is not possible, tape down the power cords with packing tape or purchase some with safety enhanced molding that prevents the cords from catching on people’s shoes.
Are there emergency exits from the room or from the building? Are they accessible? Knowing how to quickly and safely evacuate a building may save lives. As a Sergeant at Arms, periodically announce the location of the emergency exits and appoint a safety warden to assist in an emergency.
While election to this office hardly qualifies one to serve as a medic, a standard first-aid kit will help you deal with mild cuts or headaches. There are other safety issues unique to each club, and each Sergeant at Arms should take the opportunity to evaluate the building, equipment and personal needs of the members and guests and take steps to ensure the safety of all.
The Sergeant at Arms also maintains order by assisting the other club officers and members as they fulfill their meeting roles. This officer ensures the room is prepared, that equipment and administrative forms are available, and all guests are greeted and made to feel comfortable.
A missing gavel, a shortage of ballots, or a disorganized meeting room can distract and frustrate members when they accomplish even simple tasks. Visitors may notice the confusion, sense the frustration, and refrain from joining the club. Toastmasters should be an oasis of order and purpose amidst the chaos and confusion outside our meeting halls.
Your efforts to produce a well-planned meeting will be appreciated! When I noticed club members struggling to rip portions of ballots and contest judging forms, I equipped the club’s supply box with scissors. I received grateful applause during the next contest. Upon discovering that one of our club members had a headache, I produced a choice of over-the-counter painkillers from a first-aid kit I’d assembled for the club. My fellow members praised me for my preparation. When the club needed an alter- native meeting site, I visited a prospective location to determine our equipment and seating requirements and then was complimented on my diligent planning.
These simple acts of preparation averted any inconvenience that could have hampered the professionalism and fun of our club meeting, ensuring that all participants were free to concentrate on their respective tasks. This has hardly been a thankless job, and the positive feedback I’ve received inspires me to find new ways to enhance the meeting. A well-prepared meeting galvanizes all participants and observers to become part of the experience – finding purpose, professional development and enjoyment in the activities.
While moving chairs and tables may not be as exciting as sharpening swords, imagine how dull your meetings would be if the speakers were unable to concentrate on their speeches. Overcoming nervousness is a significant battle in a speaker’s development, and the Sergeant at Arms prepares the speaker to fight that battle by providing a consistent, well-equipped meeting environment, free of distractions and confusion. Even the mundane tasks of this office can lead to exciting changes in club members and continue the proud traditions of this historically important role.
When you think about it, the Sergeant at Arms helps sharpen club members to make them more effective in their personal and professional lives the way the Sergeants sharpened swords for battle in days of old. He or she helps to make an impact in the community!
My club boasts members who represent the American Red Cross, the Army Corps of Engineers and a community college. Our members mentor youth groups, lead book readings, promote travel, and organize and lead home school associations. Dynamic and intelligent people such as these can be found throughout Toastmasters. And behind every successful club member, there’s a sharp, diligent Sergeant at Arms.
Once you know the origins and significance of the office of Sergeant at Arms, you’ll understand why this position of service is an opportunity for serious leadership training. Would you like to become an invaluable team leader for your club? Talk to a Sergeant at Arms and learn more about this important role. Look for these leaders in all Toastmasters clubs; they won’t be hard to find.
Ernest Ray Raynor III, CC, is Sergeant at Arms for All Stars Toastmasters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He teaches English at the local community college. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org