by Jaymes O’Pheron

It’s been almost a year since we all suddenly had to become intimately familiar with online meetings, and Zoom in particular. Some of us jumped on board eagerly, wanting to discover all the new opportunities for leveling up our communication skills that Zoom had to offer. Others felt completely out of depth, struggling to even figure out how to join a Zoom meeting, much less give a competent presentation with it.

All of us have come a long way since then. We’ve had contests, officer’s training events, Member Development Days, open houses, and so much more. We’ve connected with Toastmasters from around the world and shared our journeys of growth with them.
But just like when learning how to speak behind a lectern — there’s always more to learn when it comes to online meetings. Always.

I was using Zoom professionally to coach fellow web developers long before Toastmasters went online, so I was a bit ahead of the curve (which might have been part of why I got tapped to join the Nerdmasters taskforce when it first started). Since then I’ve helped facilitate online contests, workshops, trainings, seminars, and various other events both in and outside Toastmasters, all online. I’ve seen amazing events that created powerful, authentic connections which lasted long after everyone turned off their computers. I’ve seen powerful examples of true charisma and presence which made you feel like you truly were there, even through a screen. And I believe this is only the beginning. We have so much more potential to tap here.

Here are three things I’ve observed about creating authentic connection in online environments:

  1. Your background is as important as the clothes you wear and the physical locations we used to meet in, put together. We all know in Toastmasters that how we dress is a big part of our communication. We put on professional clothes with professional care to convey a professional message in a professional manner.

    We also know that the environment we meet in as Toastmasters is a huge part of the experience that cultivates a strong culture. We set expectations by having the Sergeant at Arms create the right atmosphere for a quality experience which communicates who we are to guests and to ourselves.

    In a Zoom environment, or any online environment, the background in your video camera’s view fills both of those functions. Good lighting and sound quality help support the content and presentation of your speech, but the content of what stands behind you not only shapes our perception of your presentation but also shapes the impression everyone attending the meeting has of the club or event.
  2. Your emotional presence determines the quality of your experience, and that of everyone else present. It is hard to be authentically present when you are in your own home environment with a thousand distractions pulling us away from our screen. It’s easy to liken the moving pictures on our computer to YouTube or Facebook videos that we can pause, walk away from, or tune in and out of as it suits us.

    But when we lose emotional connection to the real people who are on the other side of that screen, they lose connection with us. We visibly contribute to a collective attitude of apathy, instead of to a collective attitude of engagement. Would we lean back in our chairs, stair at the ceiling, and yawn if we were in a physical meeting room during someone’s speech? I hope not! Then why would we think it’s okay online?

    By making the intentional effort to be emotionally present, and visibly demonstrating it, we create and support a culture within the event that generates energy. It encourages speakers. It motivates participation. It welcomes guests. It shows integrity.
  3. Online meetings require interaction far more than physical meetings do. If your meeting or event consists of simply talking at the attendees (like most webinars default to), the attendee would honestly find it far more convenient (and easier to focus) by simply watching the recording at 2X speed while going to the bathroom over the course of a week. You need to make sure there’s a lot more going on than simply presenting information.

    In a physical meeting there is a lot of commitment displayed by simply showing up. That commitment creates a baseline level of engagement and authenticity which is harder to establish in an online event. So what do you do in order to create that greater level of commitment and connection?


    A successful online meeting is above all else, a conversation. It must involve all parties, whether it’s through chat (a personal favorite of mine, when done right), or sharing the stage with people by giving them time to speak themselves. Whatever you do, it must be more than a passive experience.

Those are three takeaways that I’ve personally observed hold true for everything from a one on one coaching session to a seminar spanning multiple days with thousands of participants. But like I said, there’s always more to learn — particularly when Zoom keeps changing its features and controls.

Two of the best Toastmasters clubs I’ve encountered when it comes to authentic, engaging experiences online are the Nerdmasters and Sound Advice. And in February they have teamed up to help you unlock the technical secrets of running a smooth meeting on Zoom, whether you’re new to it or already experienced, and whether you’re coming as an attendee, presenter, host, or event chair.

On February 3rd at 7:30pm PST, Nerdmasters will be presenting Zoom 201: Advanced Zoom Tactics. We’ll help you:

  • Learn how to be an excellent attendee, using your full powers of participation.
  • Learn how to be a riveting presenter, taking advantage of all the tricks of the Zoom trade.
  • Learn how to be a reliable Host and Co-host, astonishing others with your knack and making things happen smoothly.
  • Learn how to be a phenomenal event chair, preparing and planning for an online event with aplomb!

Register here before it’s too late!

On February 18th at 6:30pm PST, Sound Advice will be presenting Zoom 101: Tips & Tricks from Toastmasters. We’ll help you:

  • Navigate the Zoom interface as an attendee to be able to confidently interact with meetings.
  • Use Zoom as a prop for your presentations instead of treating it like a handicap.
  • Master the controls as Zoom Host and Co-host so you can create a clean and smooth experience for your club.

Register here quickly!

I look forward to seeing you at both of these events! There will be a lot to learn for everyone, including me!