Mind Your Toastmanners

Mind Your Toastmanners

Always be courteous and consistent and keep guests and new members in mind.

By Dee Dees, DTM, PID

Toastmasters are 99.9 percent kind, compassionate and supportive people. And in my club, we can carry those 9’s way out there! But sometimes we forget ourselves and, by not paying attention, do something that at best may cause confusion, and at worst hurt someone’s feelings. Or perhaps it’s our failure to do something that causes problems. It’s easy to become so comfortable with those in our club that we let our manners slide.

However, when guests or new members are present, it’s important that we help them feel like a part of the group right away. Here are some examples of situations that could cause discomfort for a new member or guest, followed by explanations of how such situa- tions could be handled with “good Toastmanners.” 

Inconsistent Applause

In a club I visited recently, a functionary was introduced at the beginning of the meeting to explain his duties. As soon as he stood up, and before saying a word, there was applause. After he finished speaking, there was more applause. The next person, a fairly new member, was called upon to explain her duty and was not applauded before or after speaking. Then the next functionary was called upon and applauded only after speaking. Everyone who followed was applauded. It would be sad if the one person not applauded – especially a new member – felt slighted. The key is consistency.

Good Toastmanners
Set some guidelines for when to applaud and when not to, and leave it to the person in control of the meeting, whether it be the club president, Toastmaster or General Evaluator, to lead the applause at the appropriate time. A guideline for when to applaud might be:

  • If a person is coming to the front of the room to speak, applaud as she walks up and continue until she reaches the point from which she’ll be speaking. And, of course, also applaud when she finishes and returns to her seat.
  • When a person is speaking from his seat (Table Topics, functionary reports, etc.), do not applaud as he stands to speak, but do applaud when he finishes speaking. However, the important thing is to be consistent in whatever method you choose, so no one feels slighted.

 Unique Club Customs
A new member in our club presented her Ice Breaker and received a standing ovation when done. The next two speakers were longtime members, and although they each gave a wonderful presentation, they did not receive standing ovations. Now, anyone who has been a member of our club for a while knows that we give a standing ovation to all Ice Breaker speakers, just for having the courage to get up and give that first speech! But in the audience that night were a couple of new members and several guests. Our actions, without explanation, may have given the impression that we liked the Ice Breaker speech more than the other two, or that we were being unfair in giving one speaker more recognition than the others.

Good Toastmanners
If your club has similar customs that members all understand but guests may not, be sure to explain the purpose behind them. We now announce that a standing ovation is to congratulate the Ice Breaker speaker for his or her courage, and it is seen as an act of encouragement.

Respect for Others’ Religious Beliefs
This has caused some discussion in Toastmasters over the years. Some clubs open their meetings with a prayer, while others use an inspirational saying, words of wisdom or something similar. A club should decide by a vote of the membership how to begin a meeting. If a prayer is the method of choice, then respect for the beliefs of others needs to be a two-way street. The member who says his rights are being violated by having to listen to a prayer is not respecting the rights of the one who prays. However, the person giving the prayer also should understand that others in the audience (whether member or guest) might not believe as he or she does.

Good Toastmanners
When giving a prayer, try to refrain from using terms that may offend those who have different beliefs. However, if you are the one who is offended by such phrases or prayers, this is the time to respect the belief of the one praying. You don’t need to believe the same or agree with the religion, but show tolerance.
Toastmasters is a worldwide organization, and members from many cultures often end up in the same club. Let’s learn from, rather than denigrate, one another. 

Off-color jokes

The Internet has put thousands of jokes literally at our fingertips. Many are very funny, but not all are suited for telling in a Toastmasters club. Many years ago, a club lost a potential member because of an off-color joke and some risqué side remarks during the meeting. I could see in her eyes that this guest would not be back. She joined another club the following week.

Good Toastmanners
Before telling a joke, consider not just whether it is funny, but whether it is appropriate for everyone. This rule should apply whether or not guests are present. Would you tell the joke to your grandmother? Would you tell it to a 10-year-old? If not, don’t tell it at a Toastmasters meeting.

Public Disagreements
Since we are such a diverse group of people, we will not always agree on how something should be done. But letting a discussion turn into an argument can make others in the room uncomfortable. And guests may decide that this is not the club for them, after all. They may join another club, or worse, have the mistaken impression that this is how all Toastmasters are. This is not the kind of “Moment of Truth” we want our guests to take with them!

Good Toastmanners
If the discussion is getting out of hand during the business portion of the meeting, a good knowledge of parliamentary procedure can help keep things moving smoothly. If you strongly disagree on a personal level with what someone is saying, hold your thoughts and comments until after the meeting. Then, if you feel you must, talk privately with the other person.

The Ignored Guest
Members of small clubs often wonder why a guest never returns to join. I have visited clubs where no one knew who I was, and though a few members may have said, “Hello,” that was about the extent of their interaction with me. It’s difficult enough for most people to walk into a room full of strangers; having everyone act indifferently to their presence is a guarantee they will not return.

Good Toastmanners
Even more important than greeting guests before the meeting is making them feel welcome throughout the entire meeting. Introduce them at the beginning. Ask them if they’d like to participate in Table Topics (but don’t spring a question on them without asking permission first!). Have a member sit next to the guest and perhaps go over the agenda and explain a few things before the meeting begins, so the guest will know what to expect.
At the end of the meeting, ask what they thought of it, and make sure they know they’re welcome to visit again, and encourage them to apply for membership. Make every guest – or even a member who is returning after a long absence – feel wanted. 

Talking During Meetings
Side conversations during a meeting are sometimes inevitable, but they can be very distracting – especially when someone is speaking. Imagine a new, nervous speaker being distracted by a conversation going on during her speech, and then losing her train of thought. This isn’t the kind of “support” we want to offer our members.

Good Toastmanners
Sometimes questions need to be answered or instructions given during the course of a meeting. If it absolutely cannot wait until afterward, be as quiet and discreet as possible, and try not to interrupt a speaker, whether during Table Topics, speeches or evaluations. And of course, just “chatting” during a meeting should not be done at any time!

Toastmasters International has so much to offer to so many people. It would be a shame if an isolated, incident caused someone to walk away from a meeting without ever knowing how much he or she could have gained from membership. Let’s all put on our best “company manners” for every meeting. This will entice our members to return week after week, and our guests to join such positive clubs. 

Dee Dees, DTM, is a past International Director and a 29-year member of Gilbert Club in Gilbert, Arizona.