10 Reasons to Like the New Toastmasters Educational Program

On Thursday, I listened to a webinar sponsored by Toastmasters International regarding the upcoming rollover of their new educational program, which will replace the current educational program in the course of the next few years.

The purpose of this post is to list 10 features of the new program that I like, and why I hope to be an enthusiastic ambassador for the new program as the upcoming Area Governor for my area.

1.   The New Educational Program is Comprehensive

The current educational program consists of two tracks, an educational and a leadership track.   The educational track consists of four levels starting from Competent Communicator going up to Advanced Communicator Gold, and the leadership track consists of three levels starting from Competent Leader going up to Advanced Leader Silver.    You become a Distinguished Toastmaster by completing both tracks.    Each of these components was developed at a different time, so the entire program was built like a series of building blocks

The new program, with its new tracks and levels, was designed together in an integrated way.    This means that more thought was put into how they all fit together to improve the member’s competence in the various areas they cover.

2.  The New Educational Program is Modular

One thing to note about the current educational program is that everyone goes through the exact same pathway to become a Distinguished Toastmaster.    The only variation comes in what advanced manuals you use to complete the Advanced Communicator levels of Bronze, Silver, and Gold.   The new program is tailored more to individual needs and will offer not two tracks, but five, including:

1.  Public speaking

2.  Interpersonal Communication

3.  Managing a Project

4.  Facilitating Meetings

5.  Leading Strategically

These are the categories as I remember then in the notes from the webinar; the exact wording may differ.   The first two cover communication, and the last three cover leadership, but each track covers a different aspect of that over-arching theme.    To get a DTM, you will choose two out of the five possible tracks to pursue.

3.   The New Educational Program is Individualized

How do you choose which of the tracks you want to pursue?   You will take a interest survey online when you first become a member, or if you are already a member and want to enter the new program.    This will determine what your preference is in terms of what strengths you perceive you already have and what weaknesses you want to eliminate.    So rather than “one size fits all”, the educational pathway you pursue is the one that is right for you.

4.   The New Educational Program is Relevant Technologically

The new educational program will be introduced with an online survey, as mentioned above, but once you determine what tracks you want to pursue, the materials to help you pursue those tracks will be found online, rather than in paper manuals as they are today.    This is not only economically and environmentally sound, but is pedagogically sound as well.    Some people learn better with words, some with pictures, some with stories, and all of these are better accommodated in an online format where a concept can be introduced with text, illustrations, and video examples.    Rather than three or four levels, each track will have 5 levels, so that the leap from one level to the next is not so great–this encourages people to keep progressing through the tracks so that they complete the program.

5.  The New Educational Program is Relevant Socially

The projects that you now use to complete the Competent Leader award are those having to do with club events; in the future educational program, the projects will be more relevant to real-world situations, having to do with the workplace, with community outreach, etc.    Therefore the experience you gain in Toastmasters will gain even more currency with employers of corporations and even non-profit organizations.

The points above have to do with the contents of the new program.    Of course, the fact that the new program has great content makes me excited about participating in it.   But as an Area Governor, I will have to be the liaison between the Educational Ambassadors, who are officially assigned to spread the word about the programr, and the club in my Area.   The way that the rollout or introduction of the new program is being executed was of concern to me, because that is going to affect the acceptance of the new program by the rank-and-file members.

6.  The Rollout was Initiated Properly

As a project manager, I was amazed to learn that all the right notes were hit when the project was being initiated.   There was an identification of the stakeholders of the project, if you consider the project the development and introduction of this new educational program.    Of course, the members of Toastmasters International would be considered primary stakeholders of the project, because they, after all, will be the users of it.   However, “stakeholders” in a project are not necessarily just the end users of the end product of the project, but also any individual or organization that would be impacted by the project.    This would include companies that not only have Toastmasters clubs on their premises, but also companies that consider Toastmasters experience as a positive attribute for potential employees.   It would include the academic community in the communications field.   All of these, and more, were consulted during the initiating process.

The result was a program with the features outlined above.    One of the problems whenever you make a change within an organization, however, is the fact that many people are allergic to change because they are comfortable with the current program.    It is ironic because being a Toastmaster is all about getting out of your comfort zone with respect to public speaking; nonetheless, many people find a program which challenges them, but only to a limited extent, and this becomes their new comfort zone.   The new program will be more challenging, because it offers more choices of tracks, and more levels within each track, so many people will be resistant.    That is why it is important to have the Educational Ambassadors coordinate closely with the District, Division, and Area leadership.   To that end, Toastmasters International wisely invited BOTH of these groups to the webinar, because the more widely the information is disseminated, the more quickly these groups can influence the members that the new program will be even BETTER for them than the current one.

7.  The Rollout was Planned Properly

The initiation phase took about 2 years, from 2010 to 2012, and the planning phase took about 2 additional years, from 2012 to now.    Here is where the rollout plan was developed, with various important milestones along the way.  Here are the milestones as currently understood.

  • July 2014-December 2014:  Educational Outreach regarding New Program
  • January 2015-June 2015:      Beta Testing of New Program
  • July 2015-June 2017:             Introduction of New Program

If certain criteria for success for each phase of the project are not met, then it is possible that the schedule listed above may slip.    In some projects, of the three constraints of time, scope, and quality, time is sometimes of the essence, and quality may have to be sacrificed in order to complete the project by a deadline.   However, it is a wise decision by Toastmasters International that the quality of the new program is the operative constraint, and so if the deadlines above have to get moved to assure that quality, then so be it.    So, the above is the current deadline according to the plan.

8.   The Rollout of the New Program is coordinated with the Phaseout of the Old Program

It turns out by happy accident that I will be finishing the DTM program by June 2015, which is just right before the new program starts in July 2015.    That will mean I can start in July 2015 with the new program and work on getting a new DTM under that program.    However, what if you’re halfway done with the old program in July 2015.   Toastmasters International has thought of that, and is going to allow people to continue for the two-year period of the introduction of the new program to complete any of the levels under the two tracks of the old program if they desire.    Also, just like getting credit at a university for academic work done at a community college, those who have completed certain educational awards under the old program will be able to convert that experience into credit under the new program.   The details of this have yet to be worked out.

9.   The Rollout Uses Progressive Elaboration

One of the things you realize about progressing as a Toastmaster is that you learn to be an imperfectionist, meaning that you don’t wait to try a challenge until you feel you are 100% ready.    Why?   Because it is a safe environment to fail, meaning that if you try something and it doesn’t work out, you still win because you learn something from it, and your fellow club members do too.    In a similar way, Toastmasters is deciding to go ahead and let people know about the program although all the details have not yet been worked out.    Imperfect knowledge is better than pure speculation.    People should be reassured that the large outline, meaning the soundness of the educational program as a whole, has been thoroughly investigated.    Filling in the details is important, but it was important to get the outline of the forest right before planting all the trees.   So the planning is going through progressive elaboration, meaning the project is going forward without 100% of the details being worked out beforehand.    This can seem unnervingly to beginners like someone trying to lay down the train tracks while the train is barreling down the tracks towards you, but it is not uncommon in today’s busy world to do this, and TI is taking advantage of this project planning methodology and moving forward with the project.   Again, there are fail-safes built into the system to stop if the key milestones are not being reached to the satisfaction of the project planners.

10.   The Rollout is Engaging the Membership

Rather than keeping the details of the project secret, Toastmasters International is taking the chance of releasing the partial details of the program with the understanding that some of them have not yet been worked out.   This has the risk of creating confusion.   However, the opportunity gained by doing this is that resistance against the new program will be worn down by the leadership explaining that the changes are being made literally with the end users, i.e., the Toastmasters International Club members, in mind.   That’s how the program was designed, and that’s why the rollout is being done over a two-year period, to get the organization’s leadership engaged, like was done at the webinar last Thursday, and then to have the leadership engage the membership.

This is not “my way or the highway”, or a top-down leadership mentality.    Rather, it is a recognition that if you are on a journey of self-improvement, and the end seems to keep stretching out in front of you, at some point you realize that the end is the journey.    The purpose of the new educational program is to make the journey to self-improvement and the resulting increase in self-confidence an even more enjoyable experience than it was before.

To that end, I look forward to the introduction of the new Toastmasters Educational Program!


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