Friday, May 21, 2010
Looking back: Toastmasters International in 1950 versus now
When Harry Truman was President (sixty years ago) there was an article in the May 1950 issue of Western Speech magazine about Toastmasters International by Wyne W. Porter. As part of his Master’s thesis at Whittier College, Mr. Porter conducted a survey of 240 club members in the Los Angeles area. He found that:
The majority of Toastmasters club members are age 26 to 35
Most members are in professional, managerial, sales, or clerical occupations
Membership declines markedly after 18 months or when the Basic Training for Toastmasters course is completed
The majority of members had little or no previous speech training
Those members who had previous speech training felt it was not adequate for their present needs
The majority felt they gained more confidence, poise, and better listening habits, rather than aspects such as speaking concisely or being better organized
All clubs visited were friendly and informal
The majority of clubs used their own members as critics for speeches
The majority of members felt that giving a 5 to 10 minute speech and impromptu (Table Topics) speaking were more important than the opportunity to serve as a club officer.
It’s interesting to compare Toastmasters then versus now. Back then Toastmasters only had about 18,000 members in 700 clubs. Now we have 250,000 members in 12,500 clubs. Back then Toastmasters was all-male. Since 1973 it has been co-ed and currently is almost equally split: 52% female and 48% male. Currently, for all of Toastmasters 69% of members are between the ages of 35 and 49. I’m not sure if the younger majority age range in 1950 was typical for all Toastmasters or perhaps just characteristic of Los Angeles.
Back then the basic communication course was called Basic Training for Toastmasters, and had 15 speech projects. Now it is called Competent Communication and has 10 projects. Sadly, what has not changed is that many members drop out after the basic course (typically when they just have improved all the way up to mediocre). Back then the important role of speech evaluator was called a Critic, and the gentleman who evaluated the entire meeting program was the General Critic. Now those role titles have been softened to become Evaluator and General Evaluator.