As a new Toastmaster, you will experience many “firsts”: Your first speech. Your first time as the timer. Your first time as a speech evaluator. But one of the biggest is your first time serving as Toastmaster.
Why? Because this is perhaps the most important role in a club meeting. All of the others contribute to the educational experience of the individual members performing the role, but the Toastmaster is responsible for the success of the meeting as a whole. I am sure you will get plenty of help on what to say and do. Each club has its own protocol, and the more experienced members are happy to walk you through it. In this article, we will focus on the bigger picture.
For most of the meeting roles other than that of speaker, you show up and you perform your responsibilities. If there is action required before the meeting, it is along the lines of coming up with a word of the day or a list of questions for Table Topics.
Serving as the Toastmaster, however, is different. You are the manager of the meeting. What would you do if you were in charge of a meeting at work? You would put together an agenda, make sure all necessary participants were confirmed and prepared, and fill any holes that might develop. And when the meeting started, you would take charge.
Being Toastmaster is no different. In fact, you could look at it as an opportunity to develop skills necessary at work. And if you are not yet at a manager level, it is an opportunity to show off your management skills to those who can promote you. It is an opportunity for you to shine.
Not only are you the manager of the meeting, you are also the master of ceremonies. First—you set the personality and tone of the meeting. You are the central figure, and the unifying force. You hand off the baton to the various speakers and they pass it back to you. The advantage of this is that if a speaker is not, shall we say, the most interesting, well-organized presenter, your strong, upbeat, in-control personality keeps the tempo going. You may not feel very strong right now, but you are. Just take charge.
The Toastmaster is responsible for the success of the meeting as a whole.
Second—if you are that strong, upbeat, in-control personality, your confidence rubs off on the various speakers. When the master of ceremonies is good, the other participants in the meeting perform better.
But what if you aren’t as strong, upbeat and in control as you would like? Welcome to Toastmasters, where you can make your mistakes and learn from them. If your club president is a strong master of ceremonies, draw from his or her energy and capability. And as you grow in your capabilities, watch the other Toastmasters as they fill the role. Take mental notes on what they do well and try to incorporate that the next time you are the Toastmaster.
There is another way to gain experience as a master of ceremonies. The Table Topics Master and the General Evaluator are also, on a smaller scale, the master of ceremonies of their portions of the meeting. Sign up for those roles, as well, to gain valuable experience.
There is a third area that can help you keep the meeting organized. Many clubs have a theme for each meeting. Perhaps yours does too. And even if it doesn’t, what a great time of year to have one. It is the holiday season, a time to celebrate. I was in a club once that never had a themed meeting, but our last meeting of the year was a potluck, where all members brought food to share based on their own holiday traditions. After every speech we took a brief break to refill our plates. That was a fun meeting. You might want to try it yourself.
That theme could be tied in with Table Topics. This is particularly effective if your club has a wide variety of nationalities, with everyone sharing their own cultural traditions. All the roles in a Toastmasters meeting help you build your leadership skills, but the Toastmaster role gives you a significant opportunity to grow. Yes, it carries with it responsibility, but that is a giant part of leadership. Embrace the opportunity.