If you’ve been to a Best of Dallas Toastmasters meeting, you might have seen this little box. It’s the box that we use to collect our “fines,” 10 cents for each crutch word used by a member, such as “ah,” “um,” or “like,” up to a maximum of 50 cents. What’s the purpose of this box? Are we really so hard up for funds that we’re force to collect them this way?
In reality, the fine is a token. (Sometimes people don’t have any spare change on hand. Sometimes people just like getting rid of their nickles, even though they haven’t used a crutch word all evening. Nobody’s checking to see who contributes.) But why does our fine box look like something better suited to collecting Valentines?
In the words of our original treasurer Rachel Steiner, who made the box, “It’s to remind us that we ding with love.”
Not a punishment, but a service.
Often conditioned by negative experiences in school or work, it’s easy to feel like the person dinging a bell to point out our errors must be gleefully punishing us. But in reality, it is a service that each of us takes a turn providing for each other. Oftentimes, the bell will ring and a member will pause in reflection, unaware of having used a crutch word until after it was brought to their attention. After a while, we become better at recognizing them on our own, and it’s not unusual during Table Topics for a speaker to tell the Ah Counter “Ding!” when a crutch word has gone un-noted. As we advance further, we learn to avoid them entirely, although even the most polished speakers sometimes lapse into an “um”.
So when you see this little box circulate at the end of a meeting, or hear the bell throughout, remember that each ding is a moment of learning. The Ah Counter is a person, just like you. A person who tries to listen carefully, and who says “uh” on occasion when nervous. And of course, a person who dings with love.