In the current climate of social isolation and stay-home orders, it’s time for Toastmasters clubs to make some decisions about going forward with their club meetingsL will the club wait it out? Or try online meetings? This article will address some of the pros and cons, along with providing initial steps to take!

What is needed for online meetings? It’s pretty simple: a phone, smart device, or a computer with a build in phone and camera! Meetings are typically hosted on websites online – some free, some with a minimal $13-15 monthly fee – but you can usually try them out with a trial account.

Is your club ready to wait for the meeting restrictions to be lifted – or to use this time period to learn new skills?

Waiting it out

There aren’t “definite” dates when the social isolation ends (no gatherings larger than 10 people), it’s possible that a few weeks away from regular club meetings wouldn’t have more than a dilatory effect on a club. A month or more without meetings may make members more anxious to return and sign up for roles and speeches once orders are lifted!

If your club chooses to just go on a hiatus, there are a few things to consider doing during this time:

  • Remain in contact with members through a weekly check-in email, text, or phone call. Maintaining that contact will maintain community and assure members return.
  • Encourage mentors to work with mentees during the downtime – phone conversations about speech topics or leadership projects will keep members engaged and ready to grow.
  • As soon as orders are lifted and your first meeting is scheduled, work diligently to assure there are two speeches and all roles are filled. ROCK that first meeting back and remind everyone what they missed!

Test drive an online meeting

Since Toastmasters is a great place to learn things – why not try to host an online meeting? It can take a few tries to work out the bugs, but as with all communications and leadership skills, the only way to improve is to do it!

Trying online meetings during a time period like the one we’re in right now is NOT a commitment to become an online club – but it offers opportunities to develop new skills, keeps your club engaged and learning, and may come in handy later if a period of national crisis arises ever again. You may even decide to offer hybrid meetings at some point – see the video at the end of this post to learn more about that.

Begin with leadership: Among your leadership team, see if anyone has experience with a particular web conferencing platform. If not, a little research – and the video at the end of this article – can guide you toward some sites to try. (Zoom seems to be popular among Toastmasters clubs in D32!)

  • Sign up for a free trial account at the web conferencing services you prefer. Go through the FAQs on hosting a meeting; it typically entails setting date and time, list of emails for invited persons, and will send a link to each one via email.
  • Host a leadership meeting in which the goal is to kick the tires. Press all the buttons, make sure audio buttons and video feeds work. If not, troubleshoot and try again, or test out other sites. If you have techy folks among your membership, invite them to help your leadership team get started!
  • Host another leadership meeting loosely structured on a Toastmasters agenda: practice leading, introducing roles, muting while not speaking, and unmuting when being called upon. The test meeting needn’t include speeches, but a short round of Table Topics will give everyone a chance to practice switching “control” of the meeting.
  • NOTE: Applause isn’t possible, so practice JAZZ HANDS (flat, open hands waving in the air – sign language for applause). It takes a while to get used to this without feeling silly!

Once you find you have officers who are now able to navigate around the platform and participate, it’s time to run a test meeting! The biggest thing your leadership team can do to make it a success: be POSITIVE about the possibilities! Doubts among leadership will amplify doubts among members, so be encouraging!

  • As with the initial leadership meeting, make the first club meeting a “test.” Expect tech problems – by now you’ll have some tips to offer to members unable to find the mute button or how to turn on their camera.
  • If you have known tech-challenged members, try to answer questions ahead that you know are coming; provide nice clear step-by-step instructions on how to log in, how to turn on sound and camera, etc. Have one person assigned to address questions quietly by phone if needed, to offer members reassurance!
  • Create a simple agenda, with officers filling roles. Don’t worry about speeches yet, if you can get a fun round of Table Topics in, you’ll give everyone a chance to participate and enjoy the experience.
  • The “General Evaluation” can evaluate the test meeting – but invite round-robin feedback from members so they can have input on how it went and what might be tried next time.

Definitely try at least two online meetings, not just one – a second meeting can turn that ship around! Remember as with all Toastmasters skills, repetition provides members with practice and confidence!

Be sure to send this article to your leadership team, and have everyone watch this online meeting hosted last week by Sound Advice, all about the topic of Online Meetings.