The Toastmasters Culture Gap

I belong to a local club of Toastmasters International, an organization designed to help people improve their speaking skills. I had heard the Toastmasters name over the years, but didn’t bring myself to attend a local meeting until I became more involved in the field of presentations. I was glad I did, because I cannot speak highly enough about its benefits — simply attending regularly over the course of time not only improves your speaking skills, but increases your confidence in communicating at every level of your life.

Geetesh Bajaj of Indezine recently asked me about what Toastmasters can offer people who present with PowerPoint, and this is what I replied:

PowerPoint desperately needs Toastmasters, and Toastmasters desperately needs PowerPoint, and I hope the two will come together at some point because the union would be quite productive.

Toastmasters can provide PowerPoint with a context where you regularly meet with your peers and get constructive feedback on how you’re doing as a communicator. We all need to hear “your PowerPoint was boring” from other people who want to help you figure out how to improve it. It’s better to hear this from friendly colleagues than from your boss or your clients.

Toastmasters also needs PowerPoint because the ethos of the organization remains in the 1970s, and incorporating effective use of PowerPoint into its central methodology could quickly advance it into the 21st century. It wasn’t until recently that the Toastmasters basic manual even included mention of computer-aided presentations, let alone specifically introducing exercises that teach people how to use it well. Although a new Toastmasters brochure includes pictures of computers on the cover, there are few Toastmasters clubs that accurately reflect the degree to which PowerPoint is actually used to communicate in the corporate world.

There is an opportunity here for Toastmasters to skip beyond all of the PowerPoint mistakes we’ve made the past 16 years, and adopt state-of-the-art practices that will evolve both speaking and the organization itself. There’s no doubt that the combination of PowerPoint and Toastmasters would be much greater than the sum of its parts.

This gap between corporate culture and Toastmasters culture showed up in a recent Toastmasters International survey, where only 20% of human resource and training professionals expressed an interest in starting a corporate Toastmasters club. Toastmasters has its work cut out to find a way to more clearly articulate its value to corporations.

But on the corporate side, as PowerPoint problems begin to reveal that organizations need to take a more active interest in training their own people how to communicate more effectively, there is no solution more elegant and inexpensive than a grassroots, peer-led, self-organizing program like Toastmasters. PowerPoint may turn out to be the bridge that finally closes the culture gap.

Tip: Find your local Toastmasters club here, and attend the next meeting. Commit to yourself to attend for at least 6 months, and see if it makes any difference in your communication skills. If it does, begin to introduce PowerPoint into the program like the Visual Improvisation exercise described in the June 2 weblog entry, which is a PowerPoint-savvy version of the traditional Toastmasters Table Topics session. As you begin to close the gap between Toastmasters and PowerPoint, pass on your tips, and I’ll post them here!

This entry was posted in Business Strategy, Communications, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Web/Tech, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *