Toastmasters: Is a DTM really Distinguished?

Editor’s note: If you’re looking for information about earning your DTM before or in the new Pathways program, click here

The Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) designation can sometimes cause some lively debate, especially among DTMs who earned their designation meeting different requirements (i.e. before 2001) and those looking for fresh excuses not to meet the current ones. If you’re not a Toastmaster, don’t take this to mean there are issues with the program.

The fact is Toastmasters is a fantastic organization with members far and wide ready to support you and help you be more successful, whether you just want to overcome your fear of speaking in front of an audience, or you want to become a DTM and beyond. But because less than 1% of all Toastmasters ever finish their DTM requirements, there are a lot of misunderstood facts about the program.

For those of you that aren’t aware of the specifics, the DTM designation is the highest award an active Toastmaster can earn under the organization’s educational program.  Here’s how the award breaks down:

Communication Track
Competent Communicator award (10 Speeches)
Advanced Communicator Bronze (10 Speeches)
Advanced Communicator Silver (10 speeches and 2 modules)
Advanced Communicator Gold (10 speeches, 1 advanced program and mentor a new member)

Leadership Track
Competent Leader (10 Leadership projects completing about 20 individual tasks)
Advanced Leader Bronze (6 months-1 year as a club officer and 2 modules)
Advanced Leader Silver (1 year as a district officer, leadership project w/2 speeches and providing specific support to another club)

Some of the specifics take a bit of explanation, but you can tell from this is that it is a very real effort to complete this award, and anyone who takes the time and effort to get there has earned the respect of their peers. Period.

As for timing, this is an individually paced program, but here are some specifics:
All told, there are 40 speeches that will mostly fall into the 5-7 minute variety, but can include some 8-10 or even optionally 20-40 minute ones as well. Very few people speak at a “speech-a-month” pace or better (especially in their first few years), so this normally takes four or more years to complete (on average).
The four modules are basically prepared speeches of about 12-15 minutes each on specific educational topics.
The one advanced program is a seminar-style presentation that can range from 60 minutes to 4 hours. This takes extra preparation and special scheduling considerations.
The High Performance Leadership Program (HPL – I refered to it as a leadership project above) can take any amount of time, but expect 4-9 months, on average.
The 6-month to 1-year as a club officer should be done before being a district officer, and usually folks will serve in (at least) one position before being a club president. Then they’ll look toward district leadership.

So what does that mean in terms of a timeline? I’m glad you asked. I know a person who was able to go from joining to DTM in under 3 years, a member of one of my clubs did it in ~3.5 years, and I was able to do it in under 4 years. I also know folks who finished in 10 or more years, but those weren’t concentrated efforts. I don’t have a good number for an average, but it seems that there is such a broad range of answers that saying “8 years” or something would be misleading.

Speaking of misleading, there are a few misconceptions I’ve come across in my experience attaining my DTM. Disclaimer: These are my opinions, not anyone elses. I do not represent the Toastmasters organization with these comments, just my own opinions.

Misconceptions

1. The process for attaining a DTM has become too easy.
– MythBuster: The process actually became a bit more difficult in 2006 with the addition of the Competent Leadership (CL) Manual. Plus you’ll notice from the other requirements that this isn’t going to be replaced by a three-week bootcamp anytime soon.
– Fact: the entire process is self-paced and integrity-based. There are standards to be met (as shown above), but you don’t have to earn “straight As” to finish. In fact, the whole process is about gaining experience and increasing your confidence. If that is easy to you, then you’re probably not actually doing it.

2. A DTM should be able to speak like a professional speaker.
– MythBuster:  The accredited speaker program is for those wanting to validate their professional abilities.
– Fact:  Many DTMs start out having never spoke in front of an audience. It’s tough to be a pro after 400 speeches, much less 40.

3. A DTM should know everything there is to know about Toastmasters
– MythBuster:  Any DTM you meet will know more than many non-DTM Toastmasters, but it’s not a PhD in Toastology.
– Fact:  DTMs are encouraged to continue learning and serving, but it’s not a requirement: Toastmasters Magazine – IdeaCorner
Here are some other ideas to do after you finish your DTM.

4. Some DTMs took a “shortcut” to completing their requirements
– MythBuster: There are no shortcuts. Some Toastmasters do accomplish more than others, but I’ve personally never met a DTM who didn’t meet the requirements.
– Fact: This is just mean. If you think someone isn’t measuring up to the standards, man-up and talk to them, not about them.

5. All DTMS are perfect, or are supposed to be.
– Mythbuster:  You may think that’s what I’m trying to say, but it’s not.
– Fact:  If you expect perfection in anything human, you’re going to be disappointed.

The Distinguished Toastmaster award is a difficult to attain and meaningful program for any Toastmaster to complete. It’s challenging, but if you have the time and the desire to serve and improve, you can reach the level of DTM and see the increased confidence, experience and skill that the journey will bring you.

Editors note: Click Here for an article on the Value of a DTM Award.  

26 comments
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with your summation of the program and your comments on the misconceptions. I personally completed my DTM award in 3.5 years. The actual work I accomplished exceeded the minimum requirements of the program. I got involved in Toasatmasters because of a recommendation from my Engineering Director. I have stayed in Toastmsaters for the Leadership training and the networking.The title of the award “Distinguished Toastmasters” itself, is an indication of the hard work and dedication required to achieve the award. Every Toastmaster that reaches the status of DTM deserves respect for the hardwork which accomplished.

  2. The summation is definitely accurate. Congratulations to those DTM’s before me that have achieve this distinction. I achieved my DTM in 4 years, and it was a long journey for the girl that once had a stuttering problem. You see I stated “ONCE HAD”, that is the key. Toastmasters was a BLESSING for me. I have found the confidence that I never had and work very hard to share this opportunity with those that I think can benefit from it. As a member of a corporate club, I have shared this opportunity with almost half the members of my club personally which resulted in their joining. This is not a hobby for me, but a passion of mine, as I feel that we all have room to grow.

    I’m currently working with a private school in the Kansas City area to start a Gavel Club and share this opportunity with the young adults at that school. Just imagine the impact that these youngsters will have all the interact with as a result of Toastmasters.

  3. First, thank you for your unbiased and ‘right-on’ explanation!

    Today – I completed the last remaining requirement to earn DTM and I am very very happy! I joined TM’ers in Jan 2008, so it’s been 3 years now.

    Some quick points:

    1. The Toastmasters Program has been transformational for me! I have learned so much about: leadership, effective communications, ‘true’ listening (not just words), encouraging evaluations, coaching, mentoring and training groups of hundreds.

    2. I will likely remain a member of TM’ers for 10 or 20 years for many reasons that include: Toastmasters members are the type of people I choose to surround me; this organization and program has become my vehicle of choice for my continued learning – while training others as well.

    3. Toastmasters has given me something that I can share with any person in the entire world! That is discussion about better connecting with people through better communications and leadership. I can speak to any range of age groups, cultural backgrounds, educational backgrounds, sports and hobby backgrounds, professional industry backgrounds, and have incredible exchanges! You can’t do that with just any topic.

    There is SO much more to tell, but 1 of my first goals was to ‘reduce my content by half – while doubling the impact.’ Mark Twain: ““I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

    Make It A Great Day! john b.

  4. Congratulations to everyone who has achieved DTM. Tomorrow night we are holding a DTM party for Marian Phillips who has just received this award after 14 years. I myself will achieve DTM in another 4 months – after 11 years of consecutive hard work. I believe that it is misleading to advise people that a quality DTM award is often achieved in less than 4 years because in fact the greater majority take a lot longer than that. Marian and I have never opted for the “shortcut” methods and have undertaken year long HPL projects, run speechcraft courses and generally put in a huge amount of effort. We have received many top quality skills from our experience and I hope readers will take on the challenge to improve themselves, without trying to be the fastest DTM recipient out there – you have nothing to gain by achieving DTM in a hurry.

    • Congratulations! Sounds like you both have made a big difference in your clubs. I agree that no two people have the same pace, and rushing for the sake of rushing is probably not the best method for achieving your DTM. Enjoy your DTM party!

    • Mark, thank you for being an amazing being (a true Toastmaster). I would like to give opinions related to your comment “I believe that it is misleading to advise people that a quality DTM award is often achieved in less than 4 years because in fact the greater majority take a lot longer than that.”

      The DTM award is earned by completing a series of requirements, that do not include any measurement criteria for how effective a speech or presentation is (which is almost the opposite for earning Toastmasters Accredited Speaker award). While many Toastmasters would naturally associate DTM to ‘good speaker’ it is not necessarily true.

      Another area that people discuss is the HPLP. Some believe that organizing a contest or speech craft is not a lofty enough goal that deserves the HPLP award. In my opinion, if a person meets the criteria laid forth (even if it is the minimum requirement) the award should be granted without reluctance.

      Finally, to respond to the TIME element of this topic, my opinion is: If a person can meet all the criteria of a DTM in a short period of time (even 1.5 years) then he/she is fully deserving of the award (with equal honors of a member that takes 10 years).

      The way I look at members that achieve the DTM award in record breaking time are those that are focused and execute with a clear goal in mind. In that aspect, it is impressive.

      If I could change the requirements, I would add a speaking effectiveness requirement to ensure DTMs were good/effective public speakers because I believe that would align with the perceptions of most resulting in figures of inspiration for us all. I would also visit the HPLP requirements and tighten that up a little as well.

      Please accept my comments as a contribution and not debate. I am simply providing a single opinion.

      Make It A Great Day!
      John Bridge, DTM

  5. Rob, thank you for an outstanding article! I earned my DTM in Nov 2011 after a tad more than 4 years in Toastmasters. While helping fellow Toastmasters by working on education, redistricting, and planning committees, I learned that I had talents in project management I never knew existed. I joined the program in Oct 2007 as a member of a corporate club, and had my Toastmasters work evaluated as part of my professional development plan. Long story short, I was recently promoted due in large part to the skills I developed in chasing the DTM. I’ll be a Toastmaster for many years to come, but rather than going after my second DTM, I’ll use all that I’ve learned and experienced to help new Toastmasters get their money’s worth from the program!

  6. Rob, awesome article! Thanks for sharing your DTM MythBusters! I was one of those Toastmasters who went from joining Toastmaster and becoming a DTM in just less than three years. Some of my friends teased me about “getting a life.” I did! The experiences I gained as a speaker and a leader will be with me all my life. My journey toward DTM inspired me to go back to school to earn a doctorate in psychology!

    • Rob, awesome article! Thanks for sharing your DTM MythBusters! I was one of those Toastmasters who went from joining Toastmasters and becoming a DTM in just less than three years. Some of my friends teased me about “getting a life.” I did! The experiences I gained as a speaker and a leader will be with me all of my life. My journey toward DTM inspired me to go back to school to earn a doctorate in psychology!

  7. I started out in Nov. 2010 digging my fingernails into the lectern and not daring to look up. I have done a CC each year since and just earned my ACS. Anyone who has been a good AG will tell you that an ALS is not easy to earn. I worked my tail off for “my clubs” and the HPLP is no easy task if done properly.

    This October I will earn my DTM in three years. Does this mean I’m a pro speaker? Not by a long shot. Does it mean I’m an outstanding leader? Hardly. It does mean that I am capable of delivering a well developed speech and hold my audience. It also means I can take the lead on a project and work with a team to deliver it. Those are things I would never have claimed three years ago.

    I will be a DTM not because I am the best but because I have distinguished myself from the 99% of Toastmasters who have yet to put forth that effort.

    My next goal is to work with other Toastmasters and see if we can get that percentage up to 2% or more!

  8. I have a couple questions for you…
    1. In writing an article and the person is mentioned a few times – do we list the designations the first time the name appears, then drop the designations when mentioned later?
    2. With multiple designations – how should they be shown? For example: John Jones, ACS, ALB Is there a comma after the name and in-between each designation? Or could we just remove all commas and show it as John Jones ACS ALB?
    Please help! 🙂

    • Helen,

      I’d have to ask TI Headquarters on that first question, as I really hadn’t asked that before. In my experience, what you describe sounds accurate. I’ve seen our district do it that way on out TLI programs.

      As for the second question, I’ve always been told that there is no second comma. e.g. Joe Toastmaster, ACB ALB. Also, there is no dash in ACB or ALB.

      members@toastmasters.org can help with questions like this and give you the best official answer!

  9. Thanks for the article. It does seem like it’s possible to game the system a little (e.g. speeches that do not even attempt to meet the objectives), but that’s always possible. Getting through the DTM is an achievement regardless, and anybody who makes it through has done something 99% of us haven’t. I’m on pace for 3 years 2 months – July 1,, 2017 – and though there’s a lot of Toastmasters in my life, I’m nowhere near “full time” at it. It’s amazing what giving up watching TV will do for you! For me, the best thing I’ve gotten from Toastmasters per se hasn’t been the speaking – I’ve spent many hours studying speaking outside Toastmasters on my own and at workshops by Craig Valentine and others – but the leadership and interpersonal and now coaching skills. Toastmasters may not be for everybody, but it sure is for a lot of us!

  10. I am working towards my second DTM. Some don’t get it, why would I go through all that work a second time. The short answer is because my fellow members are worth it. You see, everything we do in Toastmasters helps many others. I have served on a District trio, been published in the Toastmaster magazine, been able to train club officers and presented workshops to DEC members. When I moved from one District to another, I got involved right away. Now an Area Director and club extension chair as well as on the marketing team for the Division I serve. My HPL I just started will bring monthly Saturday lunch and learn educational opportunities for members, individuals and business leaders within the community. I represent Toastmasters with two Chambers and am part of the speakers bureau. Now that is a lot of time, I get that, but what is the cost of not getting involved? All those lost opportunities when thinking on your feet needs to come naturally, or when you are called upon to lead an effort, I guess I have to quote Helen Blanchard who said it best. “If you get out of Toastmasters all there is to get out of Toastmasters, you’ll never get out of Toastmasters.” Intentionally adding value to others is my aim, what;’s yours?

  11. My name is John Joseph who joined Toastmasters in May 2013 in Kuwait and fully agree with the points above. I completed my 40 speeches in and all the other requirements in May 2013 and started working on my HPL project to achieve the DTM. Instead of completing the HPL project, I started exploring more to learn and practice Leadership and just finished my HPL in April 2016. For me, these 3 years were really amazing and this period was a remodeling phase of my leadership skills. It was worth waiting before I completed my HPL and my most coveted DTM on it’s way..

  12. This was a great article, so I thought I’d share my experience. I started Toastmasters in 2002, and received my DTM this year (14 years later). However, I took a break in the middle to work overseas in a country without a single Toastmasters club. I tried to start one, but it didn’t work out. By my calculations, I earned my DTM in 6 years of active Toastmasters participation.

  13. Not all DTMs are created equal. I worked my tail off. Along the way I learned to lead my club and later my Area to Pres. Distinguished status. My Div. Governor (Director) stated that she was proud of the growth I achieved along the way.

    I have seen others just go through the motions. Doing just the bare minimum just so they can put DTM on their resume.

    If you are considering earning a DTM, do it right and you will be surprised how much you can grow and earn so much more that a three letter acronym.

  14. I all
    I’m not a DTM not want to be because it’s not depend on me not merit. It’s an excercise of policy and being a friend of right people. Moreover, about the text above, I don’t see what kind of DTM we have. In addition, the organization give the award to everybody independent toastmasters values and conduct. In my experience, you’ll have always the diploma even vilifying people publicly, even defaming people in official documents, even trying to steal pins and awards from clubs, even making public arrangements with district officers to remove club officers of clubs with great performance.
    So, in my opinion, and taking into account what I know, to be DTM you have to sell your soul bribe other people with favors and ignore toastmasters values. Toastmasters for me is… Clubs. Above that, nothing is clean, righteous or worthy. I’ts my experience in my country, not one situation or two.
    Of course I believe there are different experiences in other parts of the world.

  15. I joined Toastmasters in 2000 after retirement to “give back” and continue to make a difference in the lives of others. As a role model and mentor in several clubs clubs, I continued to grow. The more you give, the more you get. This year, I received my third DTM.
    Through the years, I have watched members advance so many areas. TOASTMASTERS is …..
    Leadership, Speaking, Networking, Listening and Learning.

  16. I believe that those who claim to have earned a DTM in 2 or 3 years are club jumping so that their actual progress cannot be monitored. I am willing to bet they repeat speeches just to slide by and meet criteria. I have also seen members get credit for filling officer roles but do nothing or little while in the role. Everyone receives credit, no matter what. I am less enthusiastic about Toastmasters because of this. My sentiments align with Ed N (July 2016) and I feel sorry for Jorge (Dec 2016) having to relate his experience of favoritism and corruption in the club.

  17. I have been a member of Toastmasters for 11+ years. I am working on my 3rd DTM which confirms your assertion that you never truly “arrive” as a speaker. As an engineering consultant and coach I speak for a living and still garner significant value from my Toastmasters experience. I too stuttered as a child and my mother helped me get past it by enrolling me in multiple opportunities to speak in front of a podium, culminating at my high school graduation where I spoke in front of more than 3 thousand. I have the utmost respect for those with speech challenges, and those non-native English speakers. I had the pleasure of speaking repeatedly at 4 clubs in China over a three month period. I encourage everyone to focus on helping others, adding value to your home club, and getting involved in your district. A DTM will be in your future, in due season and the fullness of time! Yes, a DTM is truly distinguished! Over time less than 1% of people who have joined actually achieve this great honor.

  18. Nicely written – both this article and Kai’s, whose story is similar to my own. The DTM designation involves a lot of hard, transformative work for most people. Some people do that in a short time and some take longer. It’s the same amount of work regardless. Sure, there are people who slide by with the minimum of effort in every walk of life, even the DTM journey, but that does not detract from the honor and experience of the rest of us. Experience and skill shows on a person in all they do, after all.

    There are legitimate shortcuts. That I was a member of four clubs at once and spoke at all of them was nothing but a catalyst of tremendous personal growth. I did the work – it sure wasn’t “cheating”. I did it quickly because I did not squander opportunities or procrastinate. And every speech was a unique experience in front of my peers regardless of the speech content. I once gave the same speech 5 times at 5 different clubs. Not for 5 speech credits but to polish the speech before giving it to the target audience which happened to be a supervisory meeting at work. I assure you it was five completely different speech experiences and five different speeches. (No I did not count it five times.). And that’s what it is all about – gaining experience and confidence and learning skills. No two people gain skill the same way or in the same timeframe. Repeating speeches is a smart way to advance your skills NOT a cheat. The work and benefit of a speech is in the GIVING of it after all … otherwise you are not a speaker but merely a speech writer.

    By the time I received my DTM, which was fairly quickly, I had given several hundred speeches – not just the minimum 50-odd speeches required. (I tracked and counted them all.) I had a variety of experiences through attendance at multiple clubs of varying sizes and frankly the DTM achievement was merely the acknowledgement of my personal effort and personal excellence. It was the acknowledgment of the completion of a journey.

    Honestly, there were so few DTM’s in the area at the time that the designation meant very little to others. Truly the “honor” of DTM is only valuable to those who value it. The number of DTM’s around does not change the value of earning one because what each person gets from the experience is a unique treasure of skill and experience and the thrill of completing a specific journey. What sets a DTM apart is often their willingness to focus the necessary amount of attention and effort to reach a specific goal. Whatever the effort involved, reaching their personal goal is a source of great personal satisfaction. Recognition of peers is nice but personal satisfaction is far better :-). So if someone “cheats” their way to the goal (and I can’t really see that happening) they really only cheat themselves out of the experiences and benefits that come with doing the work and the recognition by their peers that they have reached the goal.

    Anyone who has earned a DTM designation has worked at it. The quality of their experience can only be evaluated by the person themselves. Most of us want it to be something we are proud of. Congrats to all who have reached DTM status. We who have joined you know it’s value.

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