Sergeant at Arms Training

Mar 31

In January of 2014, I had the opportunity to train sergeants at arms at a COT (Club Officer Training) event in District 55. You know what officer training needs? Weapons. Ok, break out the Nerf guns!

The sergeant at arms is technically the lowest role in Toastmasters, coming after all other six in matters of seniority. However, I argue that the SAA is the one whose absence is most keenly felt in a meeting! If the president doesn’t show up, someone else opens the meeting. If other officers don’t show up, it’s a minor annoyance at worst. If the sergeant at arms doesn’t show up, the meeting room may be in complete disarray, with none of the equipment available that the meeting relies on. Chaos.

For this reason the sergeant at arms has some of the greatest responsibility in Toastmasters and must be the most dependable officer.

For the training session, I brought the following:

  • Huge whiteboard
  • Easel for the whiteboard
  • Whiteboard markers of at least two different colors
  • Whiteboard eraser
  • Big bowl of candy
  • Nerf gun
  • Spare ammunition
  • Clipboard
  • Pen
  • Notes on the points to cover
  • A box or strip of tape to mark a point on the ground

I drew lines on the whiteboard, dividing it into 30 sections; six columns, five rows. In random order, I wrote numbers from my list. Then I changed to a different color marker and wrote the names of different pieces of meeting supplies in squares. I left the remaining space empty in the center. I set up the whiteboard in the front of the room, directly in front of the aisle, and put a box on the ground several yards away from it.

I explained the plot to the attendees. They were the SAA for their club. They were running late. They needed to grab ALL the club supplies without forgetting anything, but they’re having a hard time collecting it all. In this game, their goal was to collect every item as quickly as they could.

I explained the rules to the attendees. In turn, going around the room, they would introduce themselves, take the gun, step behind the “firing line” (the box in this case, but a strip of tape on the floor would work well too) and aim. They got one shot. Their objective was to hit one of the named pieces of equipment on the whiteboard. Any square, once hit, would be erased. A hit on an empty square (or missing the whiteboard completely) didn’t count for anything. A hit n a numbered square didn’t advance the game, but would mean they’d have to address a discussion question matching that number.

Each player, after their shot, was rewarded with a piece of candy (although you could choose to only reward hits if you wanted). I found I had to move the firing line closer and closer to the target to get more hits. Changing from one player to the next can eat up a surprising amount of time; you may want to have a volunteer prep the next player and give them a second Nerf gun so they can step up and go as soon as the person before them finishes. If you’re running behind on time, move people closer or give them multiple shots. If you have extra time, take Q&A and have group discussion of points people raise. The way I did it worked well for a 45-60 minute session.

An alternative rule is to say “if you can explain why a club does not need this item, I will take it off the board without you firing a shot.” This results in some very interesting perspectives at times, as there is no piece of equipment that every club believes is necessary.

As for the lists, feel free to customize these according to your own thoughts and the needs of your club (or how large your whiteboard is!). Here are some suggestions, with supplies bolded.

  1. Who opens the meeting? (The president should, although many incorrectly believe this is the SAA’s duty)
  2. What equipment maintenance does a SAA perform? (This is good just for open discussion—every club is different. Perhaps regularly replacing timing light batteries, or calibrating a projector)
  3. What facilities management duties does a SAA have? (There are many: find a space to meet, reserve room, set up the room, make sure the room is well lit and free of noisy music and so on)
  4. What should happen when supplies run low? (The SAA should be regularly inventorying supplies and letting the officer board know when more supplies need to be ordered.)
  5. What should happen if the SAA has to miss a meeting? (Let everyone know ASAP, find a volunteer and give them the supplies in advance and brief them on what to do.)
  6. Who welcomes guests? (This is commonly listed as an SAA duty. That’s true enough, but all officers should make a point of talking to guests. The sergeant at arms should be specially focused on this though.)
  7. Do clubs need to vote to accept new members? (Yes, this is important. The SAA should escort the member out of the room and wait with them while they are being voted upon.
  8. Ah Bell
  9. Guest Book
  10. Ballots (I like to comment on ballot counting guidelines that most Toastmasters are unaware of: the SAA or a meeting role counts, there should never be a tie, people should not vote for themselves)
  11. Feedback/ballot baskets (I recommend passing two around the room—when they meet, all have been collected.)
  12. Timing signals (I recommend simply using smartphone/tablet apps for this purpose)
  13. Flag (I personally do not believe this is desirable or necessary)
  14. Table topics cards
  15. Words of the Day
  16. Jokes (for the Jokemaster)
  17. Thoughts of the day
  18. Lectern (“Is a lectern necessary?” can be an interesting discussion
  19. Gavel
  20. Stopwatch
  21. Club Banner / Banner Stand (Tip: you can save a lot of money by using a hat rack, collapsible easel or tripod instead of the banner stand Toastmasters International sells)
  22. Award Ribbons (The most commonly used are Best Speaker, Best Evaluator, Best Table Topics, but there are many different types your club may want to use)
  23. Specialty Manuals (Successful Club series, Better Speaker series, HPL, Speechcraft, and so on)
  24. Membership Applications (It’s easy to put this on the VP Membership, but you should also make sure the club ALWAYS has some on hand, whether the VP M is there or not)
  25. Toastmasters Magazines (Many members would be willing to donate these, especially those who get many copies due to belonging to multiple clubs)
  26. Pens (Such a little thing, but it’s unfortunate to not have them when someone wants to fill out a vote, comment slip, evaluation or a membership application.)
  27. Extension Cords (If you have equipment that requires it, such as computers, projectors or some timing lights)
  28. Guest Book (It can be a nice to have. The key is to get contact info for your visitors so the VPM can follow up with them.)


  1. Linda Michalko /

    This is a great way to have training session. You cover the points but it is interactive which is necessary to keep adults in line. 🙂
    I am teaching this week but not on my own. I am looking forward to using this idea in the near future.
    thanks for the good insight on training.

  2. Sandy /

    I am currently serving as a SAA but it frustrates me that our club could not release any funds for simple supplies like bond paper. I have to use my own personal supply to reprint evaluation forms and such.

    • The club should allow for such matters in their budget. Unfortunately, few clubs have a budget, but it is something the Treasurer should create, and discuss with the other officers. As SAA, you should be making sure the club has sufficient supplies by monitoring inventory and then ordering them, reporting needed supplies to the treasurer, or reporting needed supplies to the officer board. I suggest at your next officer meeting that you discuss the matter of budgeting and supplies. It’s important for smooth operation of the club.
      On the other hand, I’m not sure why you need paper or why you would be reprinting evaluation forms? Evaluations should be written directly in the manuals of the speakers. Votes and comments on speakers can go on the official ballot forms that you can order from TI, although there are paperless alternatives as well.


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