Elizabeth Jordan and Larry Lyons are from Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings, and time management. We learn more about their business, their experiences, and the challenges of running a not-for-profit organisation.

You provide your members with communication skills and training; how has this improved their prospects?

Toastmasters has one hundred years of experience empowering its members to become confident and competent communicators, and this has been shown to improve their career prospects. 

Many members, who once struggled with presenting ideas, gained significantly in confidence, leading to promotion at work; speaking up at meetings where once they hesitated; being successful at job interviews; and being assigned to leadership roles that once appeared to be out of reach.

You run, arguably, one of the most successful and longest-established business networking groups… What’s the secret to your success?

• Providing a safe space where people feel comfortable interacting with each other is paramount.

• Providing a flexible education programme in an interesting and engaging format. Toastmasters offers experiential, life-long learning that is self-paced.

• Being authentic and inclusive and showing interest in people’s stories and experiences.

• Having a mix of people of different experience, expertise and connections who are eager to share their information with new people.

• Listen respectfully so that the other person feels heard.

• Sharing stories of personal and professional journeys and being happy to answer questions and share best practices.

At Toastmasters, the structure of the education programme of prepared and impromptu speaking and evaluation, in a setting with various roles required to run an effective meeting, lends itself to networking before the meeting, during the breaks, and after the meeting. This is where there are opportunities to mix, mingle, and ask questions.

What are the challenges of running a global, not-for-profit membership organisation?

Lower budgets than are available in the corporate world mean that the organisation has to do more with less; for example, it may take longer than corporates to implement cutting-edge IT systems and support services.

Membership turnover is high, and the organisation must constantly recruit new members.

The servant leadership model is largely dependent on the goodwill and commitment of the volunteers, and this may vary across regions, resulting in variable performance.

How did your business model evolve along with social media and new channels for connecting and consuming content?

Toastmasters International has evolved, embraced technology, and remained relevant to its members. Its website went live in 1995, and today it provides educational materials to members globally. During COVID, it pivoted from face-to-face meetings to online Zoom meetings. Toastmasters International engages with its members and the wider community via social media channels including Facebook, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, and X. These social media channels are used to showcase success stories, promote events, and build communities of practice.

Which social media platforms are most effective for your business?

Facebook and Instagram work well as a means for members to connect, cooperate, and communicate. LinkedIn and Meetup are most effective at attracting younger professionals.

Are there any common mistakes businesses make with social media?

• Not having a clear social media strategy.

• Using a one-size-fits-all approach and not understanding platform specific differences.

• Failure to understand the audience and target accordingly, e.g., Millennials vs. Gen Z requirements, is very different.

What do you consider to be an effective communicator?

Someone who makes you listen, think, and feel.

Their message is remembered long after their speech.

Their call to action inspires you to act.

What are some of the mistakes business leaders make by not continuously developing their skillset?

Quite simply, they fail to grow, and as a result, they fail to inspire and motivate others. They are less successful leaders. And they are becoming out of touch with the changes, e.g., technology, and may be less productive.

Who do you feel are good examples of effective speakers?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Sir Winston Churchill, and President John F. Kennedy. Their words moved millions and brought about lasting change. Their words are quoted years after their deaths and have a timeless quality. Their speeches are beautifully crafted and made memorable with rhetorical devices, vivid language, and a call to action. These are skills that can be learned in Toastmasters’ clubs.

Michelle Obama, Brenee Brown, and Sheryl Sandberg These speakers combine passion and authenticity with expertise and authority. They tell personal stories that audiences can relate to, and they inspire people to make a difference in their own lives. The skills they demonstrate can be learned from the Toastmasters Programme.

You are quoted as saying businesses can learn from parliamentary procedures; how so?

Parliamentary procedures, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, enable participation by all, increase efficiency, fairness, and clear decision-making, and most importantly, they can reduce conflict. Bringing these key principles to your business will surely help.

Good governance is paramount to the success and reputation of any business. We have seen in the past that businesses and organisations get bad press due to poor financial governance, decision-making that breaches company policy, and a lack of communication with shareholders, members, and employees.

Properly run board, business, and executive committee meetings are so important. Knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order and basic parliamentary procedures by CEOs, chairpersons, and committee members is key to harmony. Here are some of Robert’s Rules:

Your agenda is your guide to successful meetings.

Board meeting: ensure directors can voice their opinions and that decisions are made following proper protocol.

Committee meetings: maintaining order during discussions helps contribute to goals being achieved and staying on track.

Shareholder meetings provide a structured format for them to ask questions, seek answers, raise concerns, and vote on resolutions.

Business as a whole, large or small, can benefit from the disciplines and protocols contained within parliamentary procedures and Robert’s Rules of Order.

How should you convey your message to a loud audience?

Setting out ground rules at the start of any meeting or gathering is vital. For example, you can only speak when recognised by the chair or facilitator. Speaking time should be limited. The presiding officer must chair with authority and be firm and fair. Remaining calm with a boisterous 

audience can take the wind out of their sails; therefore, maintaining good posture, eye contact with the audience, and strong voice projection are important. Don’t forget appropriate humour and a smile as well. Getting the crowd on your side is a skill that you acquire with experience.

What role does body language play in public speaking?

Non-verbal communication plays a very important role in conveying a message. A speaker’s body can therefore be an effective tool for emphasising and clarifying the words he uses. 

Non-verbal communication is used to generate interest and engagement from the audience. Your posture, facial expressions, and hand gestures can really enhance your delivery. Positive body language includes open hands with palms facing up, good eye contact, smiling, and standing tall.

How do you make meetings more effective?

Pre-meeting preparation is key to successful meeting outcomes. Meet with your officers in advance, go through the agenda items, and be prepared for what will arise during the meeting.

Send out relevant meeting information in advance so that delegates can prepare. Draft minutes, agendas, motions, and officer reports are examples of such information.

A chairperson should remain impartial as much as possible. While the majority decides the outcome, it is important that the minority be heard. Try to get the views of everyone at a meeting; make them feel part of the overall process.

Good minute-taking is important, with clear action points.

Stick to the agenda and keep discussion relevant to the topic at hand.

Start the meeting on time and finish on time.

Bring a little humour to proceedings as well; this can relieve tension during difficult debates.

What are some of the common errors people make during meetings?

Speaking without due recognition from the chair or meeting leader. You should only speak when recognised by the chair. Discussion is not relevant to the question being debated. Attendees did not know the basics of Robert’s Rules and parliamentary procedures.

You are a successful, dynamic partnership; what skills do you both bring to the business?

(EJ) Elizabeth: critical thinking skills, team building, listening, and networking. These skills have underpinned my work on the leadership team.

(LL) Interpersonal communication is one of my major strengths, and I rate it very high on the list when it comes to teamwork. Far too often, I witness a lack of this skill, which in turn can lead to disconnects between teams, management, and staff. Leadership and being able to adapt different styles to different situations are other skills that I have developed over the years.

How do you both unwind after a business day?

(LL) Sometimes this can be quite difficult; however, my go-to place is my garden. Sowing, weeding, pruning, or just relaxing and listening to the birds singing really works for me. Gardening of the soul and mind is very important for one’s mental health.

(EJ) I enjoy reading, walking, and attending Toastmasters meetings in person or virtually.

What are the future plans for growth for Toastmasters?

Toastmasters’ clubs across the world are rebuilding post-pandemic. The organisation has set a target for net club growth of 3%.

Early-career professionals seeking progression are a target group, as are retired people with time and expertise. In fact, Toastmasters can accommodate anyone seeking to improve their public speaking and communication skills. These skills are important both personally and professionally. For example, the skills can be used to help employees find their voice and speak up in a meeting, help a best man prepare to delight guests at a wedding, help a member craft and deliver a eulogy at the funeral of a loved one, and help a manager give constructive and actionable feedback to an employee. 

In short, Toastmasters has something to offer anyone wanting to become a more competent communicator.

How do you see technology developing your business as it develops, from AI to wearable tech?

Technology will help to take the organisation forward and increase its appeal to digital natives.

ToastMasters is already embracing AI. In December 2022, Toastmasters International partnered with Yoodli, an AI-powered speech coach, to provide members with almost instantaneous speech feedback. Members can use the analytics to see, for example, how many filler words, such as ‘ah’ and ‘um’, they used.

Zoom is widely used for online Toastmaster meetings. Its AI companion can be used to divide recordings into smart chapters, create next steps for attendees to take, and more. These enhancements will improve productivity and member engagement.

By embracing future technologies and recruiting members who are using the technology, Toastmasters will continue to be relevant to help future generations improve their public speaking, communication, and leadership skills.

Finally, how optimistic are you about the future?

We are very optimistic about the future. Technology will introduce new opportunities to improve our lives, e.g., medical advances, and new challenges, such as new cybercrimes. It will require excellent communicators and leaders to ensure that technology serves us well. The skills offered by the Toastmasters program, wh which have proved effective for a hundred years, will be crucial in the next 100 years. 

As the founder, Dr. Ralph Smedley, said, “While most of us may have entered Toastmasters to learn to make speeches, that benefit is but the beginning of the good that may come to us and the good that we may do for mankind.”


Toastmasters International is a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings, and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org.