Key Learning from Toastmasters History

firstofficialtoastmastersclubThe Best way to share with you my key learning as Toastmasters is by looking at the history of Toastmasters

And I hope the history of Toastmasters will enlighten you to follow your vision – it all started small.

How did all start?

It began with one man who initiated Toastmasters and a few members and now Toastmasters has more than 500 000 members worldwide.

This is Dr. Ralph Smedley who had the idea of Toastmasters. Dr. Smedley was born in 1878 and graduated from Illionois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in 1903.

He became the Educational Director of the YMCA in Bloomington and realized soon that his young men had a need for speech training. And he also learned that with a speaking class, literary or debating society he would not attract them.

He settled on the idea of a social club meeting weekly devoted to practice in short speeches, debates and some work in chairmanship.

The first meeting was held on March, 24 1905. It started of with the dinner which was prepared by the participants and followed by speeches limited to 5 to 6 minutes. The subject was chosen by the speaker. Criticism was given by the older men and a critical discussion among the members, who also expressed their opinion. A rotation of duties for each meeting was established for members taking turns at presiding and speaking.

Very shortly the members noticed a prompt improvement in the speech and as well as in the leadership skills which spelled over into the other clubs at the YMCA

Key Learning’s:
1) Effective Learning is learning by doing and improving through continuous practice and evaluation in a social fun environment.

Why is the official birth date of Toastmasters is October 22, 1924 at the Santa Ana YMCA in California ?


Between Santa Ana and Bloomington Ralph Smedley moved several times to take on duties at other YMCAs. Each time he started a similar club, but as soon as he left, the club died down.

In Santa Ana he was approached by outside people who wanted to start a similar club. This led Ralph Smedley to write a manual on how to organize these kind of social learning events.

Toastmasters started to grow quickly as it was a simple idea put to work in a simple manner.

Key Learning’s:
2.) Easy to use (first principle) – a simple idea, put to work in a simple manner but if you want something to sustain you need to document it for others. Ralph Smedley also realized this when looking back in his biography.















Dr. Ralph in the 1920s

How did the Toastmasters System evolve?

It was only with the Toastmasters club number 15 in Santa Ana that a new feature the so called Table Topics which are impromptu speeches by members were introduced.

A few years later the first competent communicator curriculumn than called speechcraft was introduced.

Key Learning’s:
3.) Once the fundamental principles are there every else will follow. An idea never starts perfect !!!

The future of Toastmasters ?










This is the world headquarters of Toastmasters connecting now over 500 000 members world wide and growing.

When Dr. Smedley was asked why he never turned his idea into a profitable business, he replied: “I would rather be rich in friendship than in money”.

On June 11 we Toastmasters in DOW joined together in a virtual meeting. Most of Toastmasters in DOW realized that we are spending more and more of our time in virtual teams and meetings and therefore see the need to practice virtual communication and leadership and we can all do this by applying the principles laid by the founder of Toastmaster Dr. Ralph Smedly.

The Final Key Learning’s:
4.) Network your way to your dreams and visions and never stop learning and adapting to the changing environment.

Learning is effective when it is learning by doing and improving through continuous practice and evaluation in a social fun environment even if it virtual.

Furhter Reading:

The Fastest Ways To Learn Any New Language

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8 Responses to “Key Learning from Toastmasters History”

  1. Harvey Drdul DTM Says:

    Really appreciate you circulating this history, with your perspective on lessons learned. I have read Dr Smedley’s books, given a number of speeches about him
    and the TM history. His dedication and perseverance during those first 20 years,
    has been a godsend to millions who have benefited from the program.
    When I started in April 1961 Dr. Smedley was still working in Toastmasters, for
    our benefit. My first 3 1/2 years changed my life and that of my family.
    Now in my 41st active year, I am organizing, on Oct 3rd, a celebration of TI’s 85th
    year, the 60th year of my home club Malaspina #738, and my 40th…
    Will be a gala event in Nanaimo BC Canada, and I always give thanks to our
    Founder for the awesome benefits of the program.

    • ppalme Says:

      I was so honoured and so happy to receive your comment on my blog posts. What a long standing time with Toastmasters. Toastmasters has changed my life as well. I became a much more confident communicator and I am fully into collaborative continuous learning.
      Wish you a wonderful celebration. Thank you, Peter

  2. RaeDeen Heupel Says:

    NOTICE: October 22—May every club member wear their official TM pin that day and perhaps contact the Mayor for an official declaration as “Toastmaster” Day!!!

  3. My Learning Journey as manager of the Linked:HR EMEA group on Linkedin | Continuous Learning & Development Says:

    […] have experimented a bit now with social learning. My best experience so far was with Toastmasters. This has changed my view on learning & development. Learning is social and happens best in a […]

  4. HP Says:

    Hi, my company is looking into having a ‘virtual toastmaster’ group. I noticed in your blog you mentioned that at DOW you have launched a virtual team? Can you email me more on how it worked out for the virtual group and some of the tips and tricks on running a virtual toastmaster group? I have not been a toastmaster group myself and am trying to understand how it works and trying to determine if it will work for our employees virtually. Any help is greatly appreciated. THANKS!

    • ppalme Says:

      This is a great idea to put in place. We used our internal video conference system and had two groups. One was in Switzerland and the other one in the USA in Midland Headquarter. We had one Toastmaster of the session and we needed two timers one for each location. And we needed a camera man on each site as we had speakers on each side. The evaluators were also on each side. So a Toastmaster in the US was evaluation a Speaker in Switzerland and vice versa.
      Other than that we used the same setup as a usual toastmaster meeting. More impressions from this event captured by the Area Governor Soren Gade at that time.

  5. Adam Powers Says:


    Would you be willing to contact me and discuss your experience. I realize this was over two years ago. I am doing research on virtual technology.


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