A Basement Brainstorm

When people hear the word “basement,” they’re more likely to picture mold and spiders than the birth place of a global communication and leadership training organization. But a basement in a YMCA in Santa Ana, California, is exactly where, in 1924, Dr. Ralph C. Smedley held the first meeting of what would eventually become Toastmasters International.

Dr. Smedley began working as director of education for a YMCA after he graduated from college. He observed that many of the young patrons needed “training in the art of public speaking and in presiding over meetings,” and he wanted to help them. He decided the training format would be similar to a social club. During the early 1900s the word “toastmaster” referred to a person who proposed the toasts and introduced the speakers at a banquet. Dr. Smedley named his group “The Toastmasters Club” because he thought it suggested a pleasant, social atmosphere appealing to young men.

When Dr. Smedley started The Toastmasters Club, members practiced speaking skills in a supportive, informal atmosphere. Word spread about Dr. Smedley’s YMCA experiment and soon people in other communities and even other states began asking for permission and help to start their own Toastmasters meetings. By 1930 the burgeoning clubs had established a federation to help coordinate activities and provide a standard program. In 1935, the organization officially became Toastmasters International after a speaking club in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, expressed interest in joining.

Over the next six decades, the number of Toastmasters grew, and so did the need for a larger staff to serve them. Toastmasters World Headquarters relocated in 1990 to its new building in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, about 20 miles south of Santa Ana.

The evolution of its educational programs and resources are the essential elements behind Toastmasters International’s success and growth. Training has expanded from the 15-project manual, Basic Training for Toastmasters, developed by Dr. Smedley, and now includes other materials to help members develop skills in listening, giving feedback, decision-making, delegating and mentoring.

With more than 270,000 members in more than 13,000 clubs in 116 countries, Dr. Ralph Smedley’s “basement brainstorm” continues to thrive in the 21st century.

If you would like to know more about Toastmaster please come and visit us or visit the Toastmasters International website