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Online Toastmasters Meetings Are Not Just a Passing Fad

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It was our first online meeting last night. Some members were a bit unsure what to expect. Besides, how will I look on a screen!  

Image of robot

As the green ‘on’ light picked us up, and the technology worked, everyone started to relax. Fortunately, some of our members had experience of chairing online meetings, including Charlie, our Toastmaster, and we fell back into our cheerful, positive club ethos. But is this technology for use only in the current circumstances; or could it present a permanent opportunity in the Toastmasters tool bag of skills?

Charlie was Toastmaster. Her online meeting experience effortlessly smoothed over glitches.

Two Online Speeches: Lincoln and Clare

Lincoln was first to embrace the technology and delivered our first ever online speech at Hull Speakers – an inspirational speech on mentoring. Lincoln highlighted how to make mentoring effective: the need for getting the right time for mentoring events, free from distractions, and being clear on the goals the mentoree is seeking to develop to ensure the mentor has strengths in these areas.

Lincoln delivered the first Hull Speakers online speech. He looked just like a pro.

Lincoln explained how it differs from coaching and how it has helped him professionally in his career. But our second speaker had an equally inspirational talk to give.

Clare was a valued member of Hull Speakers for many years and was able to join us online

An unexpected benefit of online meetings is that Toastmasters groups can be put back in touch with former members. Here, in Hull UK, we have regular flows in and out of the city. For us, a very experienced member, Clare, who coaches people in prestigious  organisations and groups, moved to a different county.  But the online tool meant that Clare could join in with the Hull club once again. 

Clare explored two of the behavioural styles from the Belbin Model and using these to get to know your audience.  Calling on her wide experience, Clare took us from the theory to real situations describing how it could be applied in practice.

During the speeches, both Lincoln and Clare looked composed, remained seated and spoke to camera. It was a different experience to our normal, standing-up meeting speaking modes, but seemed so natural. We almost forgot that we were online. And with Clare’s attendance we now plan to look out for our members who travel the world to see if they’d like to join our meetings? So come on those of you who moved away from Hull. Now’s the time to get back in touch with one of Toastmasters most positive and happy clubs.

Table Topics

Murali took us into Table Topics. His theme was ‘Being Healthy.’

Jonny kicked us off on Unhealthy Foods. He confessed that he loved burgers but current circumstances denied him being able to indulge in this little pleasure.

Charlie took us through the traumas, and pain, of a broken toe. Ouch!

Clare explained the most unusual ways to injure yourself. Being whacked as you stand on a garden rake still seems a popular choice.

Alison gave us some healthy advice on the best diet you have to stick with ….for life!

Julia made the case for a healthy chicken soup to solve all ailments.

Lincoln gave us the pros and cons of alternative medicines.

Paul rounded off on how to keep healthy whilst confined to home. He took a contrarian view and said it’s the time to eat what you like and get fat. After all, you never confined yourself to home!

Tonight’s Winners

The experience made the Hull Speakers club a winner. We gave our speeches and evaluations online and were comfortable with it. But the formal event winners were:

Speech Winner – Lincoln, Table Topics winner – Paul, Evaluation winner – Alison and Jonny

Benefits of Online Meetings

At the end of our meeting, we decided that it had been such a good experience, and exposed us to having to communicate persuasively over the internet, that we all agreed: this is something we intend to keep up at Hull Speakers. We plan to have at least one meeting a quarter, online, when things return to normal so that we can develop and sharpen our online skills.

Certainly there were some initial drawbacks but we quickly corrected these. Other Toastmasters clubs looking for how to conduct online meetings may find the following useful:

What conferencing tool did we use? We used Google Hangouts. It’s free. It was fine and did not drop out. The members are shown at the base of the page and the person speaking comes into focus at the centre. Members need to mute their microphones when not speaking. We used thumbs up as an alternative to handshakes. We are looking at function rich, subscription products with other clubs in our District. But, for clubs on a budget, Hangouts is free. And it works.

For timing, we used a device called SpeechTimer. It worked fine and the Timekeeper shared this on the screen. It shows elapsed time, speaker and which card they’ve reached. However, we also tried out holding up pieces of paper with the words, Green, Amber, Red written on them. That worked too!

Image of SpeechTimer device
We used the SpeechTimer device which worked fine.

Some clubs vote by email. We used a WordPress plugin, WP Forms, which allows for voting. We prepared as much as we could in advance. The votes go to our Sergeant at Arms by email and are anonymous. Some other voting tools calculate the vote in real time which saves the Sergeant at Arms scrambling around.

We used WP Forms for online voting

Photo Credits: Robot | Pixabay | ergoneon