Ladies and Gentlemen Toastmasters, we may be witnessing, aye, even partaking, in some of the greatest changes faced by Toastmasters since the organization began. Perhaps Pathways comes to mind when you hear me write such things, but I am writing about the digital transformations that have overtaken us, our meetings, and even our competitions. Pathways was well organized and gradually rolled out, and most of us had time to ease into it at a pace we were comfortable with. Although it may have seemed to have rapidly and forcefully transformed Toastmasters, it was in fact phased in over a couple of years, and those of us who were classic Toastmasters were cajoled into it after fair warning.
Contrast that with our abrupt digital transformation that has been forcefully foisted upon us by the onslaught of COVID-19 and the subsequent response of social distancing. It came rudely in with little warning, and in a matter of mere weeks and necessity, clubs were meeting online that might have never given it a serious consideration a few scant months before.
With Pathways, though many loved the legacy educational system and reluctantly let go of the program that had so cared for and matured us over many decades, we were artfully sold the ideas about the positive changes that would come about if we dared ford the rubicon and step into relatively unknown territory. Contrast that with our digital transformations, which rudely forced itself upon us with the demands of ‘meet in cyberspace, or don’t meet at all’. As our routine, and yes, staid meeting places closed up from government mandates or simply from concerns for the well-being of each other, we suddenly had to consider choices previously unthinkable.
It is a pivotal event in our history. Perchance someday future Toastmasters may ask us, “Grandpa/Grandma, what was Toastmasters like before we met online the way everyone does today?” And then we may wonder in search of recollection, because now what we strive to obtain today will by then have been long the everyday norm. They might find it quaint to consider there was once a time when people would travel to gather for such an occasion, much the way we might consider it novel to cross the nation in pursuit of attending all the events of a particular national sports club instead of watching the away games across the distance via television.
Sure, there have a few clubs that had gone before, some with hybrid meeting mixing elements of the traditional meeting with technology, and there were the few odd clubs that met fully online, but never has there been a time when most clubs would opt to do so.
Toastmasters are not uniquely affected, either, as organizations of all kinds—businesses, gatherings for art or sport, places of worship—all have had to either yield to the times and desist or adapt to the onslaught of social distancing requirements.
With such a precipitous moment at hand, it may be hard to know how to proceed, and where to seek guidance. What’s a Toastmaster desiring meeting continuance to do?
Should you and your club find yourselves contemplating the ascent up the uncertain crags of technical challenges in search of a safe pass through, we would like to introduce to you the Nerdmasters, technical Toastmaster sherpas for a trek such as this. They are a seasoned bunch of techies who experienced remote meetings before they were fashionable, back when those were the exception rather than the rule; Toastmasters who have been to the bleeding edge of technology and lived to tell the tale. Their mission is to not only help your club survive this challenge, but thrive through it. They conclave weekly to consider the digital passages ahead and how clubs might chart a safe course through them. They are here for you.
Several already work supporting their digital workforce in corporate IT departments. Some are programmers and Webmasters, blazing new paths through the technical wilderness. All in all, they are availing to you experience should you not find such among your club members.
And they seem nearly unstoppable, not just helping clubs meet but going beyond, to supporting Area, Division and District contests, club elections, and other virtual Toastmasters events.
If you have persevered this far and believe that the awesome assistance of the Nerdmasters might be for you and your club, you might then wonder how you can bring the advantages of such a troop to your aid, and whether their cost might be too exorbitant for the meager resources of our club. Fear not! For they are findable and free. You need go no further than Facebook to find them (search for D32 Nerdmasters) and through but a post or even a message you can summon their aid. And almost before you know it, you may be seeing the familiar faces of your membership before your very eyes without the need of travel and the risk of pandemic. The Nerdmasters can help you make this happen.
While remote meetings lack the warmth and proximity of your traditional Toastmasters gathering, the Nerdmasters are here to help your club discover the new technologies that may allow you to engage members in new ways. You might be able to have visitors from across the country and around the globe…it’s already happening! Hold your club elections online! Nerdmasters can help you set that up. Some might experience fun and delightful challenge through exploring new ways to present themselves in this medium, and take the technical challenges as opportunities for personal growth. The Nerdmasters can provide support for those technical steps. You, too, could learn how to set up your camera and microphone, adjust the lighting, and hone your presentation skills in virtual space. Think of the possibilities!
Going forward, the Nerdmasters are contemplating what our future meetings may be like. Will we return to the normal and routine post-COVID-19? Or will some, once exposed to the successes of meeting electronically, eschew having to find and book physical meeting space, or perhaps desire to continue, perhaps with some kind of hybrid meeting? Only you, your club, time and experience will be able to determine that for certain, but the Nerdmasters think that it is likely that the number of technically challenge will decline and virtual meetings will become more acceptable and routine. Toastmasters may indeed be pioneering the course for that other organizations and business will follow in the epochs ahead. After all, isn’t leadership a tenant of Toastmasters?
With the Nerdmasters, the tech is now at your service. How may we help you?
Email Michael Davison, Area Director B21 and Grand Nerdmaster