Saturday, June 20, 2020

10 benefits of online Toastmasters meetings

The world is brought to a grinding halt, by an invisible enemy, the Coronavirus/ COVID-19. Most corporates that embraced digital technologies have encouraged employees to work from home. Toastmasters isn't an exception. Our regular clubs have now switched to online meetings. Online Toastmasters meetings provide a number of opportunities to Toastmasters. The VP Membership and VP PRs of our clubs should be selling the benefits of online Toastmasters meetings to members and guests. In this blog post, I've tried to capture the benefits of Online Toastmasters meetings. 

1. You can conduct joint meetings with clubs across the globe. This will provide you access to an International audience for your / your club members' speeches. You can learn about different cultures and best practices from other geographies in the world. If you find an interesting speaker during your joint meetings, you can reach out to them offline and request them to be your mentor too. Online meetings provided me an opportunity to attend some of the clubs in USA, that I used to be a member of, before. It was a nice experience to meet some of my old Toastmasters friends, online. 

2. If you are part of a community club, you are saving on the commute time. If you are attending a 2 hours community club meeting, normally you would spend at least 1 hour on the to/fro commute. With the online meetings, you can save that 1 hour of time spent on commute. In the past,  even if members had spare time during the night, they may not be able to conduct a 8 - 10 pm Toastmasters meeting. But now, most people are at home and it is convenient to conduct a 8 - 10 pm online Toastmasters meeting (or a 7 - 9 am online meeting). Corporate members, in the past, had to catch their return bus to home by 6 pm... and it was so difficult to conduct a in-person meeting between 5 - 6 pm. Now, that challenge isn't there. The corporate club members have the flexibility to change their meeting time, outside of their working hours too. 

3. Corporate clubs can conduct joint club meetings with other corporate clubs (or community clubs). This would provide more learning opportunities. It also adds to the variety of the speeches. 

4. Bringing an Educational Speaker to your online club meeting is relatively easy, when compared to in-person meetings. You don't have to arrange for their pickups/dropoffs, you don't have to give a memento to them, you don't have to plan for their refreshments, you don't have to escort them to the meeting place. Lots of administrative overhead for the organizers is gone. You don't have to be confined to a few select local speakers for educational sessions - you can pick from array of speakers from across the globe. 

5. Mentoring becomes easier, when done online. For example, in the last few months, several mentees of mine have rehearsed their speeches online with me... before they delivered the speeches at their club. This is easier to do for both mentors as well as mentees. You can also tap into a pool of mentors from across the globe or from outside of your club. Your mentor can also now join your club meeting online and review/share feedback about your live performance. 

6. Most communication in corporate world happens through online channels - especially, in medium / large sized corporations. Employees of corporates were used to joining webinars, tech talks, status review meetings etc., online. COVID presents an opportunity for us to experiment with our online speaking skills and polish them. For example, things like - looking into the camera and speaking, using the right hand gestures, having appropriate light settings, using powerpoint materials, using the online meeting tools, engaging the audience through online polls, asking the audience to respond to questions in chat window... these are some techniques that you can experiment and learn during your online Toastmasters meetings. It is easy to lose your audience in an online forum and very difficult to keep them engaged. Mastering the online speaking skills will help you at your workplace, when you are making professional speeches. Moreover, in the past, when someone has to deliver a speech with powerpoint, the organizers/members would have to run from pillar to post to get a room with a projector. But now, with online meetings, using a powerpoint presentation in your speech is a cake walk. You can also experiment with Pecha Kucha type presentations during your club meetings, to make it more fun and exciting. 

7. Corporate clubs can use this opportunity, to bring some senior leaders as speakers to their club meeting. You can let the senior leader to address the audience on "how they are maintaining work life balance in COVID work-from-home situation"? "how are they maintaining their health/fitness", "how are they dealing with stress", "how have they re-prioritized activities in personal/professional life"... etc., When you involve senior leadership team, it helps you to highlight the benefits of Toastmasters meetings during this crisis situation... and in-turn helps you to secure/retain the corporate funding to Toastmasters. You'll also get to learn from senior leaders on how to manage crisis. Community clubs can do the same, by bringing senior leaders from the community. For ex., the community club that I'm part of (Chennai Speakers Forum) recently brought Mr. Nambi Narayanan, a renowned Indian scientist and aerospace engineer, to one of our online club meetings. This would add to the variety in your online meetings. 

8. Online meetings are easy to record/replay, when compared to in-person meetings. You can review your performance at the club, offline and identify scope for improvements. You can also share your speech video with your mentor to get feedback. You can watch the performance of other speakers and learn some tips/techniques from their style. 

9. If you have accidentally joined a Toastmasters meeting which is not very interesting or doesn't meet your expectations, you can drop off from the online meeting easily :) It is very difficult to do that in an in-person meeting. 

10. Last but not the least, the lockdowns restrict your mobility and adds to your stress. Toastmasters meetings provide you a fun-filled learning environment where you can destress yourself, make new friends and at the same time learn from others.

If you can think of other benefits due to online meetings, please drop them as a comment in this blogpost. I'll include them to the list.