Toastmasters were founded in 1924 in America. After that it took about thirty years, for the very first seeds of Toastmastering to float across the Atlantic to Europe. These initial seeds of Toastmasters were brought to Europe by members of the American Military, who spend time in Europe and who wanted to establish this familiar culture in the areas around their bases. European did not buy easily into the idea of improving their public speaking. Public speaking skills seemed to be of low importance to them at that time.
As Gavin Alexander, one of the first CCET chairmen recollects:
“… Except for American servicemen on US military bases who had heard about Toastmasters in the USA, it was virtually unknown in Europe. I think the average Belgian, German or French person tended to look askance at this new fangled “American” idea, probably seeing it as a rather typical part of “the American way of life”, meaning an expression of their obsession with selling (both products and themselves), business, and making money. A lot of which had to do with the very different school system in the US, where social skills, particularly being able to get up and speak to audiences, were regarded as much more important than in Europe. European schools used to be (and possibly still are) quite conservative in this regard, although this may be changing. Another anecdote: I remember telling an English friend once that I was in Toastmasters, where up he replied, mockingly: “Oh that’s the club where people like talking”. Was it part of his British reserve when it came to people standing up on soap boxes and haranguing audiences. Anyway, I hastened to point out to him that this was far from the truth, in fact it was almost the opposite, that most Toastmasters have to overcome a great deal of fear to be able to get up and speak in public but I wasn’t able to convince him, and he never joined.
To further illustrate this change of “climate” re. Toastmastering in Europe, I recall talking to German guests at the SITC, some of whom spoke reasonably good, if slightly “academic” English, but who, when I invited them to join, refused on the grounds that they felt their English wasn’t good enough. Of course this often wasn’t true, but no amount of persuasion helped; they simply felt too shy about standing up and speaking in front of people who (to them) seemed so eloquent in the language, which I could sympathize with, since I went through the same agonies in my early years in Germany while I was still learning the language.
It’s a very different matter being able to make yourself understood in everyday situations in a foreign language from holding a speech. And even though my German has improved since then, I still invest extra preparation before holding speeches in German, because, in the stress of an audience situation, I’m all too aware of the additional limitations that my less-than-perfect knowledge of the language places on my presentation. And it’s also worth remembering in this context that, in general, it’s rarely the confident, extroverted person with the “gift of the gab” who joins Toastmasters, but more often the shy and introverted ones who realize that Toastmasters offers them help in overcoming these difficulties.”
This was the situation in Europe when the first Toastmasters started appearing here.
The History of Toastmasters in Europe dates back to the 1950s when the first Toastmaster clubs started to appear. In the beginning, these clubs seemed to focus less on developing rhetorical skills, as was the purpose in America, and rather more on having a great time! The First Toastmasters in Europe tended to meet over a dinner and enjoy listening to other members who had something to say. As one early European Toastmaster wrote in his recollections, for Europeans gathering together as toastmasters was not related so much to developing their own personalities or making business contacts, but to enjoy a meal and listen to their friends talking. During these first toastmasters’s meeting, the speeches were mainly delivered by American members of the Organization.
As former chairman of CCET, Gavin Alexander, recollected:
“Some members of the Paris TM club used to grumble in private about (mostly French) members who flatly refused to give speeches, seeing the club simply as a place to spend a pleasant evening over a nice meal while listening to others give speeches. I can still recall American Toastmasters (Bernie Pease for one) scornfully referring to the Paris club as a kind of “sewing circle”, or words to this effect. Typical of Americans, Bernie saw Toastmasters not just as an enjoyable hobby but more as a way of bettering himself, of furthering his career, and of course of earning more money, which wasn’t really, I believe, at that stage, so common among Europeans (nowadays with globalization all this is changing, of course).”
At that time all clubs that appeared in different parts of Europe had little or no contact to each other. As one of first active District Toastmasters recollects:
“Prior to this, even the aforesaid mainly American military TM clubs seemed a long way away, not like nowadays, when traveling around the country (or even to other countries) for Toastmasters meetings is normal (we had less money in those days). And we didn’t have internet, faxes and mobile phones.
Added to which our present District 59 is now firmly established, and Area Governors are doing their jobs servicing the clubs in their areas (definitely NOT always the case 20-odd years ago). And there is now a new spirit of mobility and shared experience among European Toastmasters that was only in it’s infancy in my day.”
In the year 1979 this small handful of European clubs decided to join together to try and propagate Toastmasters Europe wide. They decided to form a group, and decided on the name “the Continental Council of European Toastmasters” (CCET). At that time, it was almost possible to count all clubs in Europe using only the fingers of both hands. The process of uniting these few clubs was not an easy job, since it was difficult to attract many Europeans to improve their rhetorical skills, to grow clubs and, secondly, it was difficult to unite those disparate clubs into one organization.
Most toastmasters did not know anything about their toastmaster cousins in other countries and moreover about the CCET. As one of former chairmen of the CCET, Gavin Alexander, recollected:
“When I jointed the CCET as EVC in 1981, the average European Toastmaster hadn’t even HEARD of the CCET. And even when they did begin hearing about it, they usually didn’t have a clue what it was about as I didn’t either, initially. And few non native English speaking members cared much, either, mainly because most of them were so busy just finding out what Toastmasters was all about in their own clubs, where they had enough problems to deal with. English language skills for them were far below what they are today, for which there are a number of reasons, including that in those days English didn’t have much priority in schools, and it was quite poorly taught (up till sometime in the 1990s, English was the subject in schools that more students failed than any other), so that for the average German member, giving a speech could be something of a major operation. Even today it is probably a bit difficult for the new generation of young Toastmasters to fully appreciate this, since they are growing up in a globalized, capitalistic world, which is dramatically changing almost everything everywhere, not only in Europe. Increasing in Europe these days we are getting large numbers of well educated, highly competent and motivated young people, Germans and others, who are fully seized of how important it is for them to improve both their English as well as their communication skills if they are to be successful in their careers, especially internationally. This wasn’t the case in my day.”
When council was formed in 1979, according to Rob Cockburn, “there were clubs in Brussels, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Laar, Luxembourg, Munich, Paris, Stuttgart, Vienna , Wiesbaden, Würtzburg, Zürich, and Zweibrucken. The Council initially met only once a year, primarily to hold speech contests. Club officer training consisted of the outgoing President handing over some books saying, “here read this”. There was no Area Governor training.”
With the foundation of CCET. the situation in European Toastmastering changed. Area governors (during that time there were already 5 areas in Europe), started to receive training from the District representative. At conferences, the number of educational sessions almost doubled and contests were held not only in English, but also in German and French.
The first Table Topic contest winner was Henry Blount, the chairman of the CCET 1996-1997. The first CCET’s Area Governor of the year and the first DTM in Europe was Tim Keck, who later would contribute hugely to the CCET becoming an official District.
At that time the CCET paid a lot of attention to having contests and conferences regularly. Among the speech contests that were hold in 3 languages, the CCET had a speech contest among District officers, who according to TMI official rules, were not allowed to participate in the regular contests. Also, one of the specialties during the CCET era were special contests in Parliamentary Procedures.
As former CCET. chairman, Lawrence Applebaum, recollected:
“The parliamentary procedures contest was very entertaining. Each candidate was the chairperson of an executive committee meeting. The members of the executive committee, usually four or five Toastmasters, worked from a prepared script. Obviously, the candidate had no prior knowledge of the script. However, the candidate was permitted to make notes as the contest progressed.
The meeting followed Robert’s Rules of Order. The time limit was 10 minutes, that is, after ten minutes, the meeting was over whether or not they got through the script or not. The focus of the script was to get the committee to agree on a course of action. Someone on the committee would initially present an idea. The idea was alwaysrelated to something in Toastmasters. For example, the committee could discuss asimple campaign to increase club membership or an internal program to improvethe club educational sessions.
Next came the discussion and then they began making motions, amendments to motions, points of order, etc. There were also problems such as people not waiting to be recognized before speaking, trying to vote on the principal amendment beforedealing amendments to the amendment, etc. The goal was to get the committee toagree on the final motion, clearly state what was to be done, and then vote on themotion.As simple as the whole operations started out, sometimes it became very complicated.”
All conferences were well organized and had a great value that all participants once one conference was over, were looking forward to the next one. As Ralph Jones, a former secretary in CCET. recollected:
“When it comes to conferences in Europe, there was an expectation that any gathering, there would not only be good Toastmastering, but also good conversation, good socializing, good food and drink, and most of all, a good time to be had by all. In essence, I viewed District 59 Conferences as an event, not just an activity. I even had fun just traveling to conferences with my fellow club members. It was like a mini-vacation. They were not only an event, but also a cultural event and something to look forward to every six months.”
Now after building the CCET, the next dream and challenge for the future District was to become an official District and not only a mirror of a district to fulfill the vision of Bernie Pease. That was not an easy step. It took about 20 long years to achieve that.
As Bill Hamilton, former CCET. chairman reflected on the long way the CCET. had passed on the way to become a district in his article “Impossible Dream”:
“A little over four years ago at the General Meeting of the CCET in which I became Chairman, it was stated that we could never become a District because we would never have sufficient clubs. On the drive home from Buxtehude I didn’t ask “why”, I asked instead “why not?” I looked over the continent of Europe (excluding England and Ireland, which already were District 71) and upon arriving home in Heidelberg I wrote Ian Edwards who would become the incoming International President of Toastmasters, requesting admittance as a district. He immediately turned my letter over to the Executive Director of Toastmasters International, and he in a lengthy epistle explained to me why we could not become a district and all of the multitudinous steps that would be involved in us ever achieving that Impossible Dream. Therein began our quest. At the upcoming Toastmasters International Conference which was held in August, I, Chris Magyar, the Vice- Chairman for Education and Rob Cockburn, then a former CCET Chairman, met with Terry McCann, the Executive Director of Toastmasters, along with some of his assistants, Stanley Stills and Daniel Rex, and we began the lengthy process of advancing to the coveted position of becoming a district within Toastmasters.
Becoming a provisional district would be our first goal. We were told that we needed more clubs, especially within central Europe, as Toastmasters at that time were not interested in the fringes of Europe (those nations which had been behind the Iron Curtain), nor other countries far removed from our central base of Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. We also needed to increase the membership in our existing clubs, and embark on a program of leadership training for our Area Governors and Club Officers. In October Chris Magyar with the assistance of Peter Kenton, arranged for our first ever two-day session of the CCET Executive Board in Metz, France. For the first time an important contingent of French-speaking Toastmasters was in attendance. Officers Training and a session of Parliamentary Procedure was presented by the CCET Executive Board. Rob Cockburn and Gavin Alexander, both former CCET Chairmen, joined in the team by providing instructions and training. This was something that had never been done before in the CCET. It was a huge success. Our next step was in joining with our big brothers, District 71, in their Fall Conference held in Dublin. Besides myself, accompanied by Ardelle, were Peter Kenton, Jim Huggard, and others from the CCET. We received a warm welcome by Ken Norman, their District Governor, Ted Corcoran, their Immediate Past District Governor who was embarking on a campaign to become the International Director from overseas, and all of the many other club and district officers. The following February Ken Norman and his wife came to Paris. There they met with our Executive Board to draft strategy to assist us in becoming a district. New budget proposals which were presented by our treasurer were approved and later presented to and adopted by the membership which has put us on a solid financial footing. Subsequently, our contributions to the campaigns of Tim Keck to become the Third Vice President of Toastmasters International and of Ted Corcoran as the International Director for Overseas Districts were rewarded by their presence at the Fall Conference held in Heidelberg in 1997. Each played a vital role in our quest for Provisional District status. The impossible dream which I had, has ultimately been brought to fruition through the major efforts as the torch was passed to the following CCET Chairmen, Henry Blount, Chris Magyar, Desmond McGettrick, and now Rob Cockburn. Through them a formal petition, along with the approval of a necessary quorum of clubs, was recently presented to Toastmasters International, and was considered and announced at their August meeting that we have been approved as a Provisional District, and will take effect on July 1, 2000. We, in Europe, will close out the Continental Council of European Toastmasters and welcome ourselves to a new status at the advent of the new millennium.”