Friday, January 16, 2015

To thank the audience or not to thank the audience?

Note: This is a purely personal opinion and does not reflect what Toastmasters International or any particular club would say.

I've heard a bit of Toastmasters lore that frankly baffles me. Here's a typical example:
Don’t end by saying “Thank you.” It’s the audience who should thank you for the information you’ve shared. Instead, just close with your prepared ending and wait for the applause (or stand back from the lectern and nod at the Toastmaster of the meeting, saying, “Mr. [or Madam] Toastmaster”).
I am guessing the icebreaker manual itself is responsible for this idea:
Finish with your memorized conclusion. Some speakers say “thank you” at the very end to signal to the audience that they are finished, but this is not necessary. Instead, after you say your concluding words, nod at the Toastmaster of the meeting and say, “Mr. (or Madam) Toastmaster” and enjoy the applause.
My reaction to this is: seriously? Do we seriously think we don't owe the audience anything for their (presumably) rapt attention during our speech? Yes, the audience should be thanking us for our information, but as a speaker, I think we are at least as much in debt to our audience as they are to us. They should thank us, we should thank them.

My feeling is that this may just be one of those things that we do in Toastmasters we'd never do in the "real world" (TM) - like saying "Mr Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and honored guests..." at the beginning of a speech. One way to look at this is that these are artifices or affects that adapt the speech to the intended audience. It does kind of make sense: we should always adapt our speaking to our audiences, and this is an adaptation for Toastmasters. On the other hand, I don't want to be caught just saying "Mr. Director" at the end of one of my keynotes.

So, here's my take on it. Your mileage may vary, of course: this is just my personal approach:
  • In normal speeches in Toastmaster meetings, I never use either of these two shibboleths. I don't think I should be reinforcing habits in Toastmasters that go directly against what I'd do in the "real world."
  • In contests, on the other hand, I would be careful to use both of them. We are being judged for points, and judges (being longtime Toastmasters) will likely apply informal and unspoken rules like these.
I note that Daren Lacroix, in his world championship speech of 2001, used the greeting, though he used it to humorous effect. Unfortunately, I can't find any complete online versions of his original speech (the youtube version above cuts off a few seconds from the end) but in the 2002 NSA adaptation - which is almost identical to the original - he does quietly say "Thank you" at the end.

Above all, whether we finish with a "thank you" or not, please do not have the attitude implied by the statement above "It’s the audience who should thank you for the information you’ve shared." This kind of attitude is poison and, I am convinced, will not lead to success either in or out of Toastmasters. If I don't audibly say "thank you" at the end of a contest speech, I sure hope the audience can see it on my face and in my eyes. And for them to see it on my face, it has to be in my heart first, "for out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks."

Thank you very much for reading and, until next time, speak well.



  1. Well said Gary! This subject is on my list of potential future blog topics, too.

    Like you, I can’t believe saying thank you is viewed so poorly. To me, a big part of the reason it’s taken on myth-like status is that there’s very rarely any reason given for the advice – it’s just stated as an unthinking command. Not stating a reason’s a dangerous habit!

    I get that there are far stronger ways to end than with “thank you”, just like there are stronger ways to open than with “good morning” (as Allan Pease did in his TEDx talk on body language).

    But for pity’s sake, why do people criticise the presence of 2 words at the start or end of a speech? In any talk, there are bound to be far more helpful things to complement or critique.

    You put it so well when you said “This kind of attitude is poison”.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Craig, thank you for your comments. In my mind (and it looks like in yours as well), it's really not the words or lack of words that matters: it's the attitude. I've heard "the audience should be thanking you" repeated to new speakers and I wanted to say "no! don't drink the poison!" (I actually did take that new speaker aside and advise him that being thankful for your audience is a Good Thing.) So, end with Thank You, or don't, it doesn't really matter: your face will show which one you have in your heart.

    This reminds me of something I was just watching: Darren Lacroix's "Own the Stage" DVD set. In there, he says that one of his pet peeves is people who end with a "THANK YOU" slide. But notice why: he said the audience should be able to already see on your face that you are thanking them. If you don't have THANK YOU written across your face, the slide is not going to say it in any way people will believe.

    Thanks again for the comment, and great work on your blog too. You are one of the ones who inspires me not only in my speaking career, but in my blogging about it.