Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do Toastmasters sound alike?

On January 21st Nancy Daniels posted an article at and elsewhere titled The Pros and Cons of Toastmasters. It should have been titled Toastmasters: Pros and a Con because she was mostly positive, but eventually did some by damning with faint praise. She said that:

“....There is one thing you should take into consideration, however, if you choose to go this route. Often, those who have been in Toastmasters begin to sound alike. What I mean by this is that individuality often suffers at the hands of those who judge.

As one who has taught public speaking at the college and graduate school levels and works with corporations and group workshops as well, I can spot a Toastmaster every time they present. I call it the Toastmaster sound.

What I find lacking with Toastmasters is the marvelous individuality that one should always keep in public speaking. Too often its members, in striving to deliver a better speech or presentation, imitate the style of its other members. What makes for great public speaking are those who treat their audience as if in conversation and are, first and foremost, themselves.”

That is offensive stereotyping. I believe it’s about 90% bogus. You wouldn’t say that all Blacks or Orientals sound (or look) alike, would you? So, why pick on Toastmasters? They certainly are not some sort of a collective mind like the Borg, those creepy Star Trek villains boxed into cubical spaceships whose favorite catch phrases are:

“You will be assimilated” and “Resistance is futile.”

There is nothing like that in the Toastmasters Promise. In the April 2008 issue of Toastmaster magazine there even was an article discussing how you should Dare to Be Different.

Toastmasters in my club (and district) certainly don’t sound alike. They have distinctly different styles which reflect their backgrounds. Mike Thornton sounds more like he’s selling than Bill Kearley, who sounds like a veterinarian teaching. Lindsay Woolman is understated, while Ruth Romero is very animated.

I suspect that Nancy Daniels may have gotten her largely mistaken impression from watching motivational speakers who cribbed their style from International Contest speeches. Last May Russ Howser commented that:

“ occurred to me, while watching the other speakers, that a Toastmasters Speech has its own unique style. It is part performance art, part motivational appeal and part moralistic sermon. There’s no rule saying it has to be that way, but winning speeches generally contain a moral lesson or message of some sort and tend to be physically demonstrative and emotional in tone.”

Recently Rich Hopkins also has discussed why International Contest speeches tend to only have inspirational topics.

Other types of contest speeches like Humorous or Tall Tales are much more individual. There are many hilarious examples on YouTube. Watch Alex Wu discuss Flushing to Enlightenment, John Zimmer implore us to Pay Attention, and Darren LaCroix describe Toastmasters Anonymous.

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