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Norwich Speakers Club member Daniel, tells us in his own words about the history of Toastmasters International and the founder, Ralph C. Smedley.

Toastmasters International

Imagine an organisation, an international network if you will that operates in 145 countries, counts 16,200 individual clubs and over 364,000 members within its ranks.


An organisation with more members than the population of Iceland or the city of Coventry.


Club Member

If you were to be "sent to Coventry" it would mean that you were excluded from your group, people may refuse to talk to you, avoid you or act as if you no longer existed. The chances of being sent to Coventry by this organisation are slim to none, as the organisation I want to speak about today actively promotes communication and development.

It's probably no surprise that each of you belong to this organisation. Toastmasters International. I'm proud to say I'm an aspiring toastmaster. But it occurred to me that I know little about the organisation and since we've switched to online meetings, we've lost the small Toastmaster introduction in each face to face meeting that emphasises the history and importance of this organisation.

Toastmasters was founded in 1905 by a gentleman named Ralph C Smedley.

During the early 1900s Smedley was heavily involved in the Young Men's Christian Association, more commonly known to you and me as the YMCA. And the fledgling Toastmasters’ clubs struggled without dedicated leadership and strategic direction.

However, that did not discourage Smedley whose passion to help others to speak and lead remained. And in 1924 he introduced the concept of Toastmasters to his YMCA colleagues, they supported it and in October of that year Club No. 1 was formed in Santa Ana, California.

Ralph C. Smedley

Founder of Toastmasters International

Word spread far and wide about Smedley's Toastmasters clubs, and interest grew from surrounding states and communities with people writing to Smedley to understand how they could setup their own clubs. Quite ingeniously and to save his own time writing out individual responses Smedley wrote a manual of instructions and ten lessons in public speaking, which he had printed and bound and sent to interested parties.

On October 25, 1928, almost four years to the day of the formation of the first club Smedley secured copyrights on the two publications and trademarked the name "Toastmasters Club." By 1930, 30 Toastmasters’ clubs had formed including a club in British Columbia, Canada. To reflect the growth outside the US, Toastmasters was re branded from Toastmasters’ club to Toastmasters international, a name that stands to this day.

In 1932, Toastmasters International was incorporated as a non-profit organization with Smedley taking on the positions of Secretary and Editor of the new association. In 1941 membership had grown to the extent that Smedley could justify a full-time position at Toastmasters, and he resigned from the YMCA to devote more time to Toastmasters. Throughout the second world war, Smedley operated the organisation out of a small office and when the war ended, he handed over the role of secretary to Ted Blanding.

Smedley remained active as Educational Director for the rest of his life, as well as a permanent member of the board of directors. In 1962 Toastmasters moved to a permanent home in a new world headquarters located in Santa Ana near the YMCA office Smedley initiated Toastmasters from.

At the age of 87, an incredible age for someone born in the 1800s, Smedley passed away leaving an enduring legacy that continues to benefit people today.

In 1970, Toastmasters welcomed Homer Blanchard into the organisation. Which was significant because Homer's name was actually Helen. And Helen was to be Toastmasters first female member. In 1973 Toastmasters began officially admitting women. In 1974 Toastmasters had 60,000 members in 3,000 clubs in 41 countries and celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In 1985 Helen aka Homer went on to become Toastmasters first female international president.

Toastmasters continued to grow surpassing 150,000 members in 1989 and reaching 8000 clubs in 1993. Figures that are even more staggering compared to modern marketing methods given that the growth of the club was predominantly through word of mouth and the Toastmasters magazine. The first website wasn’t created until 1995.

In 2004 Toastmasters hit the 10,000-club milestone, with a quarter of a million members in 2009. Today Toastmasters is headquarted in Englewood, Colorado and is a thriving organisation at the grand old age of 96. 

Helen Blanchard

Toastmasters International

The pandemic has driven most meetings online and 83% of clubs adopted the new delivery model. Demonstrating the strength of the organisation and its members commitment.

Toastmasters has clubs on every continent. and in 145 of the world’s 195 countries, In Andorra, Brunei, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Suriname and even Vatican City (although I’m not sure the pope is a member) you will be able to find a club.

Toastmasters Alumni have gone into space, occupied positions in the highest levels of the American government. And 52% of Toastmasters members are female, a phenomenal statistic given most organisations are struggling to achieve gender balance. The average member retention rate is 2.5 to 3 years, meaning a high turnover of members, yet the organisation continues to grow. Again, demonstrating the strength of the organisation and its purpose.  

Toastmasters is an organisation with a genuine global reach, which has touched the lives of millions of people, its mission statement is to empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders. That’s one of the key reasons I originally joined Toastmasters and the rich history is the reason I’m proud to say I’m an aspiring toastmaster.

Daniel has been a member of Norwich Speakers Club for 8 months and continues to grow in confidence and speaking ability. Daniel added these words relating to how Norwich Speakers Club has helped him to develop as a very capable and entertaining speaker.

"I initially joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking in preparation for a Best Mans speech in 2021. Not long after joining I realised that there was so much more I could benefit from by becoming a Toastmaster and enrolling on one of the Pathways. I'm now working towards the Persuasive Influence path, and although I'm at level 1 I've learnt a lot in my last year and a half with Toastmasters. I'm a much better listener, and I'm able to quickly summarise and relay to the speaker what I've heard to ensure I've understood their point. Which is an extremely useful skill for my role as a Project Manager. Plus I've met some amazing people, heard some brilliant speeches and been truly welcomed by Norwich Speakers Club, thanks for reading cheers Daniel". 

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