There are a lot of moving parts to a Toastmaster’s meeting, and it’s the role of the Toastmaster — effectively the MC for the evening — to keep them moving, to cover the glitches, and make sure the meeting rolls seamlessly along without going over time. Here are Colin Beveridge’s tips to being a good Toastmaster.
One week before the meeting
I tend to start preparing the week before the meeting, which strikes a balance between allowing the VPE (Vice President of Education, who organises meeting content) and speakers a bit of time to get the meeting ready, but also so I have time to prepare myself. The three main things to do at this stage are:
- Go to the website to see who’s due to speak, whether anything unusual is due to happen (e.g., is Table Topics going to be a debate instead, or a mentoring session, or something different?); and whether there are any gaps in the programme I need to talk to the VPE about.
- Contact the speakers, partly so that they’re aware they’re down to speak, partly to offer support if they need it, but mainly to ask for their introductions, so that I have them in plenty of time for the meeting.
- Set the theme, usually something based on the time of year, an anniversary, a recent news event, or something going on in the club — for instance, in one meeting, two ice-breaker speeches were scheduled, so I picked “First steps” as a theme.
The day before the meeting
I like to use cue cards to keep track of how the meeting ought to go (most people follow the detailed agenda rather than prepare their own schedule. I find that doing my own cards makes me think about what’s going on in a way that simply reading the agenda doesn’t). The cards let me know who is handing over to whom in what order, so I’m (in theory!) never caught by surprise.
Typically, I have a card for each main bit of the evening.
The first card is for the preliminaries, telling me who is Sergeant at Arms, who’s doing the Presidential address, and then my jobs for the first bit:
- Welcome everybody — taking special care to mention guests by name and thank them for coming
- Introduce the role and theme
- Do the warm-up — at this point, I’ll come up with a question that ought to be easy enough for anyone to talk about for a few seconds.
- Introduce the timekeeper
- Introduce the programme — saying who’s speaking in what order, and reminding everyone of the protocols for hand-shaking and applause.
I’ll have a card for each speech, telling me who’s speaking, who is evaluating, which manual the speech is from, and a few words of introduction. (The one I have in front of me also has “I’d now like to invite to the stage, [speaker]” written on it, to remind me to use an unambiguous phrase, and “+ One minute” to remind me to ask the timekeeper for time to write comments.)
Lastly, for the first half, there’s one card for the evaluation portion:
- Ask the timekeeper for the speech times
- Run the ‘best speaker’ ballot (if there is one)
- Invite the evaluators up — again, I have their names and who they’re evaluating in front of me
- Close the first half of the meeting — this includes the time we’re meant to reconvene.
The second half fits on one card, reminding me who reconvenes, who runs the table topics, and what happens after — I ask for the times, run the ballot, and invite the evaluator up; then do the same for the evaluators — ask for the times, run the ballot, and invite the General Evaluator. Then it’s the warm down, and over to the President for club business.
On the night
I like to dress relatively smartly to be Toastmaster — it’s not strictly necessary, but it gives the sense that I’m taking the meeting seriously. It’s nice to show up early, if possible, to be able to meet and greet members and guests as they arrive.
While the Sergeant-at-Arms is in charge of getting the room ready, it’s very much an “everyone pitch in” affair, so I keep my eyes open for anything that’s missing when I arrive (are the chairs out? are the ballot and comment slips on them? Is the banner up? Is the timekeeper’s table equipped?) and put it right as needed.
I’ll also make a point of checking in with the speakers to make sure they have everything they need, and to see if there will be any delays — for example, if someone is using the projector, they’ll typically need a few minutes to set up, and I need to have something that appears to be a spontaneous ad-lib lined up. Especially if the speakers are not people I know well, I’ll want to make sure I have their names right.
Since I’ll be bobbing up and down repeatedly through the meeting, it’s best for me to take a seat in the front row, or at least next to the aisle.
As the meeting progresses, I’ll follow along on the cards, discarding them discreetly when they’re finished.
Whenever I’m on the stage, I make sure I have the cards handy so I’m (in theory) never surprised; I also try to make sure I have a cheerful demeanour, stand up straight, and talk clearly and loudly — and all the things I’d be doing if I was giving a scheduled speech. The cards remind me to clap and shake hands, in case I forget.
Then, when it’s over, I can relax! Hopefully, the General Evaluator hasn’t spotted anything too untoward in my performance.