Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking shots at Toastmasters

Sometimes I listen to, or read the transcripts from Lisa B. Marshall’s podcast blog The Public Speaker. Her May 15 episode, #43, was titled Does Toastmasters Work? (She said it did). The next day I added a comment, and then later looked again to see what else was being said.

I was appalled to find the following 4-point, 220 word diatribe against Toastmasters posted on Sunday, May 17 by Jeff Hurt (paragraphing added by me):

“As someone who has hired more than 2,500 professional speakers, a professional educator by trade, a trainer for more than 20 years and an event and meeting planner, I do not recommend Toastmasters. As a matter of fact, I automatically discard any speaker candidate that I'm considering that lists Toastmasters on their reference.

Likewise, anyone wanting to improve their presentation skills should NOT take Toastmasters. They should take a class on "Presenting With The Brain In Mind" or "Presentation Skills: How To Use Good Adult Learning Tools." Why do I say this? I have several reasons.

1) Toastmaters (sic) is about lecturing an audience. It is not about a hands-on interactive presentation engaging an audience and using good two-way communication.

2) Toastmasters does not focus on good pedagogy-adult learning skills and styles. Again, the focus is only on the speaker delivering a controlled message, not the speaker adapting to an audience's needs.

3) Toastmasters puts the focus on the speaker, not the audience or the attendee. It's not about the speaker, it's about the learner. It's not about "Being the sage from the stage but the guide on the side."

4) Most of Toastmasters methods are outdated and antiquated. I'll stop there for now as there are many, many more reasons not to attend or recommend Toastmasters for presentations skills.”

Now, Mr. Hurt has his own blog, Midcourse Corrections. He had a rather touching post on The Beauty of Friends there on May 21, so I’m not sure why he was so upset a few days earlier. Perhaps his Sunday newspaper never came, or he ran out of coffee at breakfast.

I posted a comment in reply to Jeff’s point #1, and said: No Toastmasters is NOT just about lecturing an audience. Every Toastmasters club meeting includes practice in answering questions, a form of impromptu speaking that they call Table Topics. Go look here on their web site. Then I said that I'll stop here for now as there are many, many more reasons not to listen further to Jeff.

He never replied to my comment, so I’m going to continue my reply here. Regarding his points #2 and #3, I don’t think he knows what Toastmasters actually has been teaching. One of the modules in their Better Speaker Series (#275) is titled Know Your Audience. It contains the following paragraph about training on page 10 of the 1994 version:

“The traditional training session suffers from a bad reputation – perhaps deservedly so! Attendance is generally required, and most trainers have a tendency to talk at their audience, rather than encouraging interaction and involvement. You can disarm a resigned-to-be-bored audience, however, with a creative presentation that not only encourages but expects audience members to participate.”

Doesn’t that sound very similar to what Mr. Hurt said? So much for Toastmasters being outdated!


Jeff Hurt said...

The reason I never replied to your comment is that I never saw it. Why am I so anti-Toastmasters? You proved my point in your own post. You think "focusing on the audience" means focusing on their demographics and how to answer questions. In your own words, “Every Toastmasters club meeting includes practice in answering questions, a form of impromptu speaking that they call Table Topics. Go look here on their web site.” The link you provide is about focusing on the demographics of an audience.

I have news for you: that is not pedagogy. Pedagogy is about how adults learn, using the right presentation strategies and instructional theory so that an audience retains, understands and then applies information. When you focus on instructional theory, you plan presentations differently than what Toastmasters teaches.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve been to Toastmaster workshops and all Toastmaster clubs are not created equal. Early in my career, I even hired Toastmaster experts and gurus to train people in three-day workshops on presentation skills. Those were very expensive learning lessons for me that I severely regret because they were entire flops and the Toastmaster-recommended-gurus that I hired were total frauds. Those Toastmaster failures cost my organization thousands of dollars.

Richard I. Garber said...

Jeff, who appointed you as the Grand Ayatollah of Presentations and Training? If Toastmasters is not teaching the right methods, then please tell us who is.

Specifically, which of the following 16 books, if any, do you think are worth reading and using for teaching presentations or training:


Cliff Atkinson, Beyond Bullet Points, 2ed, 2008

Nancy Duarte, Slide:ology, 2008

Greville Janner, Janner’s Complete Speechmaker, 7ed, 2003

Stephen M. Kosslyn, Clear and to the Point: 8 psychological principles for powerful presentations, 2007

Thomas Leech, How to Prepare, Stage, and Deliver Winning Presentations, 3ed, 2004

Nick Morgan, Trust Me, 2009

Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen, 2008

Jerry Weissman, Presenting to Win, 2003


Elaine Biech, Training for Dummies, 2005

Roger Buckley & Jim Caple, The Theory and Practice of Training, 5th edition, 2004

Cy Charney and Kathy Conway, The Trainer’s Toolkit, 2nd edition, 2005

Susan El-Shamy, How to Design and Deliver Training for the New and Emerging Generations, 2004

Karen Lawson, The Trainer’s Handbook, 2nd edition, 2006

George M. Piskurich et al, The ASTD handbook of training design and delivery, 2000

Mel Silberman, Training the Active Training Way, 2006

Kay Thorne & David Mackey, Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Training, 4th ed., 2007

By the way, Toastmasters clubs are not created at all. They are chartered, and then the volunteer members help them to evolve (and either grow or die).