A confession of ignorance: Speechwriters, talk to me about Toastmasters

A few years ago, a freelance writer pal started writing for the Rotary Club’s magazine, and at the tavern one night I made a dismissive remark about the Rotarians. He took umbrage, and asked me what, exactly, my problem was with Rotary International. Reluctantly, I had to confess that my attitude, and the sum of my knowledge of the organization, had been borrowed from an H.L. Mencken piece from the 20s or 30s.

“Yeah, perhaps you need a refresher,” my pal said. Yeah, maybe I did.

It’s occurring to me that I might also need a refresher on another organization that I have casually dismissed as unserious, old-fashioned, cultish or weird: Toastmaster’s International.

What is this organization, exactly, and how has it survived since a Ralph C. Smedley convened its first meeting, in 1924 at a YMCA in Santa Ana, California? Did I say “survived”? The organization now has 13,000 clubs and 270,000 members in 116 countries. They must be doing something right—and something timeless.

I’m hoping to attend the Toastmaster’s annual International Convention this year and cover it for a magazine, but meanwhile, I’m gathering information on the outfit, and what makes it tick, even in the digital age.

Speechwriters, I’d love to get your take on it first. —DM

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