How to Be A Great Toastmasters President

lucio buffaalmano toastmasters president

Let me guess:

You are researching “toastmaster president role”, right?

So I suppose you are interested in becoming a Toastmasters president.

Great.
I am happy you are thinking about being president, it’s an incredibly enriching experience.
And you have come to the right place to learn about how to be the best Toastmasters president.

After 2 years on the board and 1 year as president of the biggest and most awarded club in Berlin, I share here my experience to help you become a great Toastmasters president.

A great toastmasters club with friendly environmnet

#1. Build Members Up

Strong members for strong clubs.

Toastmasters’ own slogan couldn’t be truer.
And we could also add: strong members for strong clubs, with strong presidents.

Only when all 3 are in balance you can achieve great results.
And they go exactly in that order: people first, then club’s structure, then you can think of yourself as a president.

This is similar to how Viktor Frankl describes happiness. Viktor Frankl says that “happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue”.

It’s the same for effective leadership:

Effective leadership cannot be pursued, it must ensue
-The Power Moves

And it ensues by taking care of the people first and the club second.

John Maxwell in his best-selling “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” calls this principle “the law of empowerment”.
And in a nutshell, it’s this:

The more you empower, the more powerful you become

Again though, ideally you have grown and matured enough that you are not doing it for the power. Here are a few ways with which great Toastmasters presidents focus on making the club members’ grow:

  1. Encourage new-joiners to deliver their ice breakers
  2. Give accurate feedback
  3. Gently push members to stretch themselves
  4. Are the first to applaud their members’ wins
Toastmaster best table topic award

#2. Make The Club Great

After people comes the club.

There are three ways in which you work on your club:

  1. Reputation
  2. Awards
  3. Orderly and high-quality meeting

Focus on upholding a reputation for a quality meeting, great speakers and a club that develops and grows speakers and people.

Ideally, get some of your members to compete and win in Toastmaster’s speech contests.
And get that distinguished president’s award.

Then you can use for your marketing material on Meetup, your website and your Facebook group (and you can brag about in your president’s intros :).

Speaking of which, have your VP PR publish craft a strong online presence.
Ideally, you want to have so many people wanting to join that you can allow yourself to choose the members who best fit your culture.

When it comes to orderly meeting and taking care of the club, here is the beautiful thing: if you take care of the people, the people will take care of the club.

A Toastmasters president is the easiest job if you have a strong board and active members.
I barely did anything as a president -and all the kudos and credit to Mercury’s board and the wonderful members-.

#3. Set The Example

Now it’s time to focus on yourself.

As we will see later, you set the example with your whole persona.
And in Toastmasters club, it includes public speaking as well.

Can you imagine a Toastmasters president going on stage and forgetting his words, drowning in a sea of filler words while he stares into the void?

Don’t worry, that can happen.
And it’s OK if it happens.

However, albeit it’s always OK to fail, it’s not OK to fail because you failed to prepare or because you failed to work on yourself.
It must always be your goal and you must always do your best to deliver great speeches, accurate and helpful evaluations, and outstanding functionary reports.

Let the others “wing it”.
And maybe let them join other clubs.
They don’t carry the cross of responsibility.
But you do.

Remember, you lead by example. And your example must be that of an exemplary Toastmasters.
And that includes being at least a good speaker.

Or, at least, it means that you work hard and show improvement on al the basics of proper stage performance:

  • Breathing (with your nose, never with your mouth)
  • No filler words
  • Clear diction
  • Voice tonality (no upwards inflection)
  • Good body language

Etc., etc., you know the basics.

You must be an example of what members can achieve by joining your club.

Again, that doesn’t mean you must be “perfect”.

But it does mean that you do strive for perfection and that you do always give it your best.

Lucio Buffalmano Toastmasters club

#4. Always Give Value

Answer this question for me:

Why should anyone join your club?

This should always be the answer:

Because it delivers great value at a multitude of levels.

It cannot be just “to improve my public speaking”, because that’s what every single Toastmasters club is there for.

Improving public speaking is the bare minimum!
You must give something more to the people who join your club. For example:

  • Superior feedback
  • An example of leadership
  • An environment of friends (more on it later)
  • Great networking with lots of professionals

And finally, every time you go on stage, you must show the example of what “striving for excellence” really means.

When people see you on stage, they should think “nice, I’d like to become like that guy/gal”.
How to do it?

Here is the mindset to do just that:

#5. Look At Stage Time As A RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility, not opportunity.

What do I mean by this?

Do you know those speakers who go on stage and always fail to leave a mark on the crowd?

Most of the times, it’s because they don’t focus on giving.
They tell a bland story, they share why they quit their job but fail to relate it to the audience or, worst of all, they tell us what great stuff they have done without teaching us how we can do the same.

As a president, you must focus on giving and enriching your audience.
But what does that mean, more precisely?

Here is how you can give value:

  • Give high quality and specific feedback on how to improve a speech
  • Entertain and make people laugh
  • Inspire and motivate to take action
  • Share a touching story
  • Build people up, make them feel good

The key to do it is to consider your time on stage as “irrupting into people’s lives”.
In a way, that is exactly the case: whether they are aware of it or not, when you are on stage you are taking people’s most precious commodity: their time.
You can take their time to bring value and help them up, or you can waste their time.

Only Toastmasters presidents who look at their role as a responsibility to deliver value will truly excel.

The only mindset of Toastmasters excellence is to look at your time on stage as a responsibility to give.

#6. Lead Like You Own It

As a child, I was THE biggest fan of Valentino Rossi.

Rossi is the most legendary motorbike racer ever.
And he said about riding a motorbike:

Ride it like you stole it.

A bit extreme, but effective.
Similarly, as the president, you want to feel like you own your club.

Now this might be controversial, so let me explain it.

Ownership is one of the most misunderstood dichotomies of leadership.

We live in a world where people are wary of identifying themselves with their countries or organizations.
Politicians who feel like they “own” their countries are considered dangerous -and for good reasons!-.
And manosphere communities profess that “their girlfriends are not theirs, it’s just their turn” -and they’re not fully wrong!-.

And let me be clear again: none of the above is actually wrong.
Too strong an identification and too strong a sense of ownership are very unhealthy.
Controlling and abusive men have too strong a sense of ownership. And dictators take a sense of ownership to the extreme, feeling entitled to power and to the country’s resources.

However, you must be cautious not to throw away the baby with the bathwater of ownership.

What do I mean?

I mean that a sense of ownership is also one of the bedrocks of strong leadership.
Yes, you can’t be a good Toastmasters president without feeling ownership and responsibility for your club.

And ownership and responsibility go hand in hand.

So don’t be shy and do walk the dichotomy of ownership without any fears: you are only one member of the club and the club is bigger than any single member.
Part of you must know that.
And yet, you must feel responsible for your club like you own it.

So don’t be shy of feeling like it’s your club.
Because, as it’s true for every other member, it is your club.

Not everybody agrees, but you must not listen to these people:

Don’t listen to people telling you it is not “your” club: it is your club.
It’s those who take responsibility who will save the world.

The Dichotomy of Ownership in Life

The dichotomy of ownership holds true of life in general.

It’s not YOUR environment, but it also is.
And you are also responsible for it. We all must be.

Even in relationships, it’s not your girlfriend or wife in the sense that you own her.
But as long as you are together, she is also is your girlfriend.
And what kind of man would you be if you don’t feel any responsibility for her?

Don’t be shy for a sense of ownerhip.A sense of ownership will save the world.

#7. Align To Group’s Culture

I will keep it short here.

Bottom line is this: There cannot be any leadership without the leader’s cultural fit.

For the simple reason that no group will accept, support or follow a leader whom they don’t recognize as “one of us”.

Rare exceptions apply, for example with the charismatic leader who invites his followers to change their ways to mold him instead.
But they are exceptions, and the rule is that you must be a good fit for your group’s culture.

These are the corollaries of the “club culture rule”:

  1. Never seek to become president of a club where you don’t feel like you belong
  2. Don’t ever try to change a club culture before the most senior members recognize you as “one of us”
  3. Never vote or elect a president who is not a good representative of the club’s culture

Notice that I say “align” and “fit”, not “take over” or “mold it to your personality”.
That would be manipulative leadership and the results are doubtful. 
Says Haslam in his seminal work “The New Psychology of Leadership“:

In both the world and in the laboratory, leadership that is grounded in shared identity will always win out over that which is grounded in ego.

Power Moves Note:
in some clubs, the older members, sometimes the founding members, form a “clique” that controls the club’s dynamics and decisions.
In these clubs, weaker leaders are muppets in the hands of the clique. To become president of these clubs you first need to align with the powers that be.
And then you can reform by recruiting new members and getting more people -and the power- on your side.
You can see an example of how prime minister Conte did exactly that here.

#8. Make It A Group of Friends

Guys, this is THE most important point!

If you get all wrong, but you get this right, you still have a great club.

A Toastmasters club where the members are friends will always, almost by default, be a great Toastmasters club.

And that was one of the key ingredients which made Mercury, my club, the best club I have ever visited.
In many of the other clubs I have been to, members congregate for the meeting, only talk about Toastmasters during breaks and then all go away once the meeting ends.

In these clubs nobody knew much about each other and neither it felt like they cared.
I can tell you this much: I would have never joined Toastmasters if the atmosphere had been the same in my current club.

So, how do you tell apart an average club from a club of friends?
Here are a few telltale signs of a club of friends:

  • Members know each other’s lives beyond Toastmasters
  • After the meeting members go to grab food / drinks together
  • Members are aware of each other’s life successes and are happy for them
  • Members support each other in ways that go beyond Toastmasters
  • When it’s election time, you don’t need to coax or cajole members to take board roles: they are happy to
  • Members collaborate for the well-being of the club even when they’re not board members

As a Toastmasters president, this human approach to club life must start with you.

If you don’t, people will feel like you are far away removed from the club and that’s how they are also expected to act among each other.

If friendships are born in a colder club environment, the friends will feel like it’s “us friends VS all the other unknown Toastmasters people”.
Instead, you want everyone to be part of the brotherhood.

Here are a few ideas on how to do it:

  • Organize out of club events: our club became the connecting point between all the other clubs for everyone who wanted more than just improving speeches
    • Bar nights: these are meetings held at a bar or restaurant. If there are drinks and/or food, people are more likely to become friends. See a picture example here.
    • Picnics: I instituted 2 picnics a year where we’d go to a park in the city, and bring food and drinks. They were total blasts
  • Special surprise meetings for members leaving: organize surprise parties for strong members who are moving. We had a song created for one of us who moved out of the city, with the whole club standing up and dancing. That made me memorable for him, and for the club
  • Announce members’ life milestones: make them part of your intro, sharing good news about marriages, awards, etc. This deepens the feeling that it’s a club of supportive friends
  • Show your love for the people: meet people outside the club, talk about it, share pictures with members, share pictures of members hugging

When people show up to the meeting, greet them with a hug, be happy to see them, and cheer for their improvements and life successes.

Don’t Learn Club Environment From TMI!

Finally, don’t try to learn how to structure a club of friends from TMI.

The Toastmasters organization has been rebranding and it’s more and more winking to corporate America these days.

Now it’s all about “leadership skills” and career advancement.
Even public speaking has now morphed into “public speaking to a bunch of corporate flunkies” (see picture below).

Toastmasters official picture
That looks like fun (NOT)!

But, unluckily, corporate culture is often antithetic to the values of genuine relationships and friendships.

So take the good stuff from TMI, but avoid that stultifying suit and tie culture.
Don’t run your toastmasters club like a business meeting.
Go instead for passion and, for a place where personal growth overlaps with good humor, great fun, and true friendships.

When it comes to Toastmasters’ clubs atmosphere, friendship trumps leadership

a group of happy toastmasters

#9. More Decisions, Less Chit-Chat

A great Toastmasters president also runs efficient meetings.

Efficient meetings are based on decisions that bring about positive results, and not on long debates and discussions.
Leave long discussions for coffees and happy hours: board meetings are not surrogates for bonding.

When it’s time for decision making, keep it efficient and solution-oriented.

There are 3 general types of decisions you can have on the Toastmasters board:

  • Data-available decisions: whenever you can use numbers, get people with the data, the knowledge and the actual experience. Seek to reach decisions based on facts
  • Creative decisions: the more people chip in, the more creative material you will have. Discussions here are helpful. Use a democratic style to brainstorm and make everyone feel free to speak. The whole board should leave feeling they contributed and the group did a great job -not anyone in particular-
  • No-DEK decisions: No Data, Experience or Knowledge available. There is no point in discussing here. Contrary to how most people act, more talk will not get you closer to the truth.
    Instead, narrow down on the options quickly, decide on something, and try it out.

From a mindset point of view, it’s crucial for a Toastmasters president to internalize this belief: you are NOT your ideas.

You must focus on fostering an environment where the best idea wins, no matter where it comes from.
As a matter of fact, you should be the happiest when the best ideas come from members and board members, and not from you!

To reach this level, you must develop a growth mindset (also see Dweck, 2007).

Keep Meetings Short

As a final tip: keep board meetings short!

As short as possible.

Maybe you are aware of the Parkinson’s Law, which states that: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

There is a lot of truth in that, but the good thing is that the opposite is also true:

Meetings shrink to fill the time available for their completion

So keep meeting short.
Half an hour should be enough for all regular meetings.

#10. Start Every Meeting With a Great Intro

A great president provides the club with a great atmosphere.

It’s your duty as a president to be a positive force for the club.

You should always be an example, and the best way to influence people to follow your positive example is by starting the meeting with the right mood.

Telling an uplifting story is a great way of getting people’s attention and channeling the meeting in the right direction.

Also notice that I tell stories that people can relate to: they were there. That helps the group bond and it shows to any guest that this is a club of friends who enjoy each others’ company.

#11. Be Like A Sportsclub Manager: Hunt Top Players

Toastmasters is to help people improve their speaking skills and to increase their confidence.

And yet, there is little to learn and improve if you don’t have in the club great speakers to learn from, great evaluators to provide superb feedback and best in class members who encourage others to attend and grow.

That’s why a great Toastmasters president also focuses on finding, “hiring” and retaining the best talent.

Your Toastmasters club is only as good as the people in it. So make sure the people are best in class.

How to Influence Toastmasters Boards

Finally, we got here.

Come on… I know you were waiting for this!

But first of all, let me say this as loud as possible: you do NOT want to influence anybody.

As a Toastmasters president, you want smart board members and members who are happy to contribute that they come to you to influence you with their ideas and proposals.

And remember this: the deepest influence is always character-based.
You influence people by virtue of your character. Who you are and the example you give.

Steps for Group’s influence

That being said, there might be a few occasions when you think it’s important that your motion passes as quickly as possible.

And persuasion is a good skill to have in your toolset.

Here is how you influence Toastmasters boards -and groups in general-:

  1. Pre-suasion: introduce your idea by linking to how it was done in the past, how someone else did it and what good results it will likely get -also see Presuasion by Cialdini
  2. Look everyone in the eyes as you speak. When you stop to ask the board, never start with people who didn’t look sold on your idea: only ask people who were nodding
  3. Ask questions that nudge towards a yes. For example “for simplicity and based on the positive past results, would you agree to do it as we did it the last time?”
  4. Ask people in the circle, which seems more democratic. But go to the left or to the right of the first person you asked depending on who seemed most sold on your proposal
  5. After the second person, you jump in with your vote. Say “Cool, I’m glad we’re agreeing on this, I also think it’s the best solution”.
  6. Now it’s 3 yesses already and it’s downhill. Even if you still have a naysayer, you can still pass your motion by majority

In this video I describe a real-life example in a Toastmasters board:

Only use these influencing techniques as exceptions
Approaching life with the mindset you need to “influence people” is childish and slimy. Have people influence you instead with their great contributions.

SUMMARY

There you go guys, how to be a great Toastmasters president and how to make your Toastmasters club the best club ever :). In a nutshell, the biggest takeaways here are:

  1. Love the members of your club
  2. Love your club
  3. Always do your best to deliver value
  4. Make the people are friends and supportive to one another

 As a last note, let me say that the title “how to be a great Toastmasters president” is only to help people find this post.

Since I am writing about my experience, it would be extremely childish of me to anoint myself as “a great Toastmasters president”.
So take this post instead as “Lucio’s experience as a Toastmasters president”.

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