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A Language of Its Own

Decoding the acronyms of Toastmasters.

By Bill Brown, DTM


Illustration of orange toolbox with Toastmasters logo

Click play to hear author Bill Brown, DTM, give a brief rundown of Toastmasters designations.


Like any organization, Toastmasters has a language of its own. And it seems to major in abbreviations.

Walk into any meeting and you can’t miss it. “She is a DTM. He is a VC5. Susan is our VPE. We are making good progress in the DCP.” Huh? Did I just wander into a bowl of alphabet soup?

Several years ago, I wrote an article about the various buzzwords that a new member will, sooner or later, encounter. At the time of the article, the Pathways learning experience was in the future. That article was about Toastmasters’ traditional education program.

With the completed transition to Pathways, the language has changed a bit. And even some of us old-timers might be a bit confused. It’s time for an updated article. It’s time for a new lexicon.


Education Designations

Many members have letters and numbers listed after their names. Those designations indicate the progress they have made in the Pathways program. At the time I am writing this, there are 11 specialized learning paths. And each one has five levels.

Each path has a name with two words in it. Its designation is a two-letter abbreviation for that particular name. For example, DL for Dynamic Leadership, MS for Motivational Strategies, and so on.

The number after the two letters refers to the level the member has completed—if a person is a PM4, for example, that means that they have completed Level 4 in the Presentation Mastery path. A member’s Pathways designation refers to the highest level they have achieved in a path.

Some Toastmasters carry the designation DTM. This is the highest earned rank within Toastmasters and means Distinguished Toastmaster. To earn the DTM in Pathways, one must complete at least two learning paths, serve as a leader at various levels in the organization, and complete a DTM project. If you have any members in your club with a DTM, get to know them. They are a great resource as you grow your speaking and leadership abilities.

You may notice that some members have a different set of designations. They earned those awards in the traditional ­system. Don’t worry about what they mean at this time.


Leadership Positions

You may have heard terms like VPE, VPM, and VPPR bandied about during a meeting. These are three of the officers within the club. The VPE, or Vice President Education, ensures that all meeting roles are filled and members are achieving their goals. The VPM, or Vice President Membership, works with guests to bring them into the club, and the VPPR, or Vice President Public Relations, promotes the club to the outside world.

A club functions with a total of seven officer roles that members can volunteer for. I assume that President, Secretary, and Treasurer are self-explanatory. The Sergeant at Arms takes care of the club supplies and the meeting setup (whether in-person or online).


Organizational Structure

To give the individual clubs full support, Toastmasters has an extended organizational structure run by members like you. The first level above the club is the Area. Each Area has an Area Director, who assists typically four or five clubs to keep them informed of Toastmasters news, meetings, etc. They also work with their clubs to make sure they are achieving their goals.

Four to six Areas make up a Division, which has its own Division Director. Above the Division is the District. The District Director, along with a number of other District leaders, supports about 200 clubs.

Up until July 2015, the directors were called “governors.” You may still hear that term used, especially in reference to Past District Governors, so don’t be confused. They are the same.

Let’s look at one final buzzword.

To further ensure that clubs are providing value to members, Toastmasters International developed a series of measurement criteria. This is known as the DCP, or the Distinguished Club Program. You will, no doubt, hear frequent reference to it, especially around June, which marks the end of the Toastmasters program year.

There is a lot more to Toastmasters terms, but this will get you off to a good start. Hopefully, it will get you through a typical meeting without feeling like you need an interpreter. In fact, before long, you will find yourself speaking the language just as fluently as us old-timers. So sit back and enjoy the alphabet soup.


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