Toastmasters International (TI), often simply known as "Toastmasters," is a worldwide nonprofit organization that helps people develop communication, leadership, and public speaking skills through its local member clubs. Toastmasters developed out of a single club. This club is now known as Smedley Club Number 1, which was founded by Ralph C. Smedley on 22 October 1924 and held at the Santa Ana YMCA in the state of California. Toastmasters International became incorporated on 19 December 1932.
Currently, there are over 11,500 Toastmasters clubs located in over 90 countries, with most in the United States and Canada. Local clubs can have anywhere from six to 40 members, and they may meet weekly, biweekly, or monthly. At club meetings, members practice public speaking and offer each other feedback. Except for a paid staff of about 60 at World Headquarters, TI is run entirely by volunteers.
Toastmasters membership was originally open to men only, but today it has a non-discrimination policy allowing membership to anyone over 18. Women were first admitted to Toastmasters clubs in 1973. In rare instances, people under 18 are admitted, though they may not officially join until their 18th birthday. Toastmasters sponsors groups that help teach communication and leadership skills to those under 18 as well. Gavel Clubs are geared towards teenagers, while the eight-session Youth Leadership program is for younger school-aged children.
In some cases, Toastmasters clubs may have restricted membership, but only under certain terms. Club membership may be restricted to members of a business or to those who have already advanced beyond a certain level in Toastmasters. Any restrictions based on gender, ethnicity, nationality, or similar criteria are not allowed.
Toastmasters meetings are at least an hour long and may be as long as two hours. There are three main parts to each meeting: prepared speeches; table topics, in which members gain practice speaking extemporaneously on previously unknown topics; and evaluations. Each meeting is conducted by a Toastmaster of the Day or of the Evening. Evaluations are led by a General Evaluator, who calls on individual evaluators to give their assessment of the prepared and extemporaneous speeches.
Helper reports are another part of Toastmaster evaluations. There are three helpers: a Grammarian, who keeps track of grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, mispronunciation, and sometimes positive language usage; an Ah-counter, who counts each instance of "ah," "um," and similar space-fillers in a member's speech; and a Timer, who times each speech, evaluation, and table topics response.
Toastmasters offers two education tracks, Communication and Leadership. After completing both tracks, a member earns the title of Distinguished Toastmaster. New members receive booklets with projects that must be completed in order to advance through the levels in each track. The Communication track has four levels: Competent Communicator (CC), Advanced Communicator (AC) Bronze, AC Silver, and AC Gold. The Leadership track has three levels: Competent Leader (CL), Advanced Leader (AL) Bronze, and AL Silver.
While most Toastmasters activity takes place at the club level, there are also at least four district-level events per year, annual regional conferences, and an annual international conference. At the regional and international conferences, awards are presented to clubs and individuals. The Toastmasters' International Speech Contest, the only Toastmasters contest that progresses past the district level, also takes place at the international conference.