Friday, July 9, 2010

A claim about how often Toastmasters speak that doesn’t add up

Last September Doug Staneart, the CEO of the Leader's Institute, described what he claimed were the Top Five Myths About Public Speaking Fear and Stage Fright. His Myth #5 caught my attention. Here’s what he says (I’ve divided it into smaller paragraphs and added italics to highlight his very dubious discussion of Toastmasters):

“Myth #5: It Takes Years to Become a Great Speaker

Public Speaking is just like any other skill in that when you practice and have a success, you feel more confident about yourself and you get better next time. So the key to becoming a great speaker fast is to have a series of successes quickly.

Toastmasters is a great organization, but a lucky speaker might get a chance to give five speeches in two or three years, and there is a good chance that not every one of those speeches are going to be winners. So, after a couple of years, a Toastmaster won’t see a great growth in public speaking skills.

When you go to a class at a University or Junior College, you might get to speak three times in a 12 week class, and after each speech, you’ll get the dreaded constructive criticism. So that way will take a while as well.

However, if you want gain presentation skills quickly, find a way to deliver four to six presentations with a really good coach in a short period of time. Ideally, if you can do it in a couple of days, you’ll grow quickly.

However, I’ve seen people have a lot of success by setting up a series of weekly speeches at the office or as a guest speaker at a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting to get practice.”

Now, I may not know as much about public speaking as a professional speaker like Mr. Staneart, but I sure know more about Toastmasters than he does. His numbers don’t really add up. How do I know? I just finished two years as Vice-President: Education for The Capitol Club in Boise. My role included making up the schedule. Also, I’ve watched people’s public speaking skills grow greatly in just a year.

What would we need to assume in order to come up with only 5 speeches in 3 years? Suppose we chose to attend a large club that only met every two weeks. Assume there were 30 members in the club, and 25 meetings per year. If there only were two speakers per meeting, then there would only be 50 speeches per year. Then, on the average, a member could speak 50/30 or 1.67 times per year, or 5 times in 3 years. Note that is for an average member, not a lucky one. If there were only 20 members then an average member could speak 2.5 times per year, or 5 times in 2 years.

Do clubs meet every two weeks? No, many meet every week. I looked on the Toastmasters web site and found clubs within 25 miles of the 83706 zip code for The Capitol Club, and the 76164 zip code of the mailing address for Mr. Staneart’s company. There are 26 clubs listed for 83706, and 22 of them (85%) meet weekly. There are 106 clubs listed for 76164, and 87 of them (82%) meet weekly. In a 30-member club that meets every week an average member could speak TWICE as often, or 10 times in 3 years.

Then I looked on the Toastmasters web site for 20 states, and counted what percent of the clubs met weekly. There were huge variations as follows: West Virginia (7%), Vermont (9%), Wisconsin (11%), Delaware (12%), Maine (21%), Hawaii (22%), Kentucky (38%), Louisiana (42%), Alabama (46%), New Hampshire (50%), South Dakota (55%), Mississippi (59%), North Dakota (58%) Wyoming (69%), Utah (74%), Oklahoma (75%), Arkansas (79%), Idaho (82%), Montana (88%), Alaska (97%).

The Capitol Club has three speakers scheduled per meeting, or 150 per year. With 30 members that would mean on average that you could speak 5 times in a single year (not in three years) or THREE TIMES as often as Mr. Staneart claimed. We average 20 to 25 active members, so it’s actually more like 6 to 7.5 times per year. Based on my experience people can speak way more frequently than the lower limit Mr. Staneart claimed.

Some clubs that meet at lunch time have shorter meetings, with only two speakers. Clubs that meet early in the morning or in the evening are more likely to have three speakers. But wait, there’s more.

If you want to speak even more often, then there always is the option of being proactive and asking to be a guest speaker at other Toastmasters clubs. For example, on December 30, 2009 we had not one but two guest speakers from Boise Club. That was a rare event, but it does happen.

We meet at lunch time on Wednesdays, which is the most popular time slot here in Boise Six clubs meet then. But, there are another 16 weekly clubs that meet at other times. About half of the clubs use the Easy Speak online planning software, so you even can check the Calendar and find their meeting schedules online.

So, if you want to learn public speaking relatively quickly (and inexpensively), check out some nearby Toastmasters clubs. Ask them how many speeches they schedule for each meeting.The basic Competent Communication manual has ten speeches. Ask how long it it taking their members to complete that manual. The answer may only be a year or two, not the four to six years you would imagine from Mr. Staneart’s claim.

1 comment:

Doug Staneart said...

Richard, I appreciate the feedback, and I absolutely agree totally with your data. I understand that a Toastmaster "Could" speaker three times a day if he so chooses. My numbers were based on what a typical person does, but I'll defer to your expertise since it appears that you have a lot more experience with Toastmasters.

My point is that it doesn't have to take years to develop confidence. Most people can develop more confidence in just a couple of days. I've clarified the point in the comments on the original posting at

Thanks for the help.