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June 2024
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Evolution of the Education Program

Discover how Toastmasters’ learning experience has developed through the decades.

By Staff


Three historic Toastmasters International manuals

Education is at the heart of the Toastmasters program. People become members because they want to learn (in addition to other reasons). You learn how to develop communication and leadership skills, critique other speakers, actively listen, write and deliver speeches, and achieve many other proficiencies along the way.

Since Dr. Ralph C. Smedley founded Toastmasters International nearly 100 years ago, the organization’s education content has evolved along with the times. There has been tremendous effort to build the best learning experience possible for members.

Here are some highlights of key milestones in the education program.



1928

Toastmasters founder Ralph C. Smedley writes the first manual for clubs, called the Manual of Instructions. It includes a pamphlet titled “Ten Lessons in Public Speaking.”

1942

Smedley introduces a 12-project manual called Basic Training for Toastmasters.

1950

Toastmasters adds another manual, Beyond Basic Training, for members who complete the original manual and want to further their speaking skills.

1963

Beyond Basic Training is divided into two basic manuals: One contains 10 speeches emphasizing leadership through speech, and the other contains 10 projects focusing on advanced speech techniques.

1969

Beyond Basic Training becomes the Advanced Communication and Leadership Program.

1978

Toastmasters expands the Advanced Communication and Leadership Program from a single manual to a series of 15 projects.

1979

The Success Leadership Series is introduced. This seminar-style set of programs targets specific skills that would be beneficial in the work environment, such as listening, evaluation, thinking, leadership, training, and management. The first two programs of the series released are “How to Conduct Productive Meetings” and “Parliamentary Procedure in Action.”

1980

Toastmasters’ first educational audio cassette program, The Effective Speaker, debuts. The program is developed to complement the speaking projects in the basic and advanced Communication and Leadership Program manuals and includes inspiring recorded speeches by famous orators such as Will Rogers, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as accompanying narrative.

1985

Be Prepared to Speak is the first video program released by Toastmasters. The 27-minute program gives new members a step-by-step guide to public speaking.

1993

The Successful Club Series is created to help club leaders take steps to build a successful club. The first program released is “Moments of Truth,” which defines and discusses six factors critical to a club’s success.

1997

The organization establishes a two-track education system (communication and leadership) to strengthen the place of leadership training in the education program.

2006

The Competent Leadership manual is released to further strengthen leadership training. The 10-project manual is designed to help members develop leadership skills while serving in club meeting roles.

2017

The Pathways learning experience launches after years of research, planning, content development, and testing. Designed to modernize the communication program and further strengthen leadership training—both a mandate from the Board of Directors in the 2010 Strategic Plan—Pathways is a digital system where users work online in learning paths.

2020

Pathways officially becomes the organization’s only education program. Previously, members had been allowed to work either in that program or the prior education program, or both, for credit.

In honor of Toastmasters International’s 100th anniversary, this is the sixth in a year-long series of articles commemorating historic milestones.



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