Sunday, February 15, 2009

Two sides of a coin: Toastmasters International and POWERtalk International

Back in 1924 Ralph C. Smedley started the first Toastmasters Club. That organization grew to become Toastmasters International. It started as an all-male organization, and stayed that way for almost fifty years. Toastmasters finally began to allow women to join in 1973.

Meanwhile, in 1938, a similar but separate organization for women was started called the International Toastmistress Clubs (later called ITC for short). ITC began to allow men to join in 1973. What happened to ITC when Toastmasters began to admit women? It kept right on going its own way, and it is still around.

I incorrectly assumed that Toastmasters and ITC must logically have joined forces in 1973. Recently I became aware of the continuation of ITC when I saw it discussed by Murray B. Stein and John F. Walker in their book Triumph over Shyness: conquering shyness and social anxiety.

ITC Membership peaked at 25,484 in 1981, while membership in Toastmasters reached 100,000 in October 1982. Since then ITC membership has declined to about 5,000 versus the 235,000 for Toastmasters International. Currently Toastmasters membership is coeducational: 52% women and 48% men and it has a woman president, Jana Barnhill. I could not find specific percentages for ITC membership, but guess it is still largely women.

ITC changed its full name to International Training in Communication in 1985, and eventually relocated its administration from southern California to Tauranga, New Zealand. In 2007 ITC changed its marketing name to POWERtalk International.

In most countries Toastmasters is much bigger than ITC. In Japan the numbers of clubs are similar. However, there are still some countries like Iceland which have ITC clubs but no Toastmasters.

I have been told stories about one Toastmasters club whose culture remained macho and misogynistic long after the organization officially became co-educational. For women who encounter that kind of “good old boy” atmosphere ITC offers an alternative.

Andrew Dlugan has posted answers to some frequently asked questions about Toastmasters on his Six Minutes blog.

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