Lessons Learned – two years on …
Online Clubs first emerged in March 2016 and since then we have seen a total of 19 clubs chartered. We have a few community clubs, a sprinkling of corporate clubs and a group of advanced clubs – all meeting 100% online with their members on a regular basis. There are substantial numbers of Toastmasters involved with Online Clubs; either as visitors, guests, members and leaders.
This was the description of 100% online clubs from WHQ in 2016!
How many Online Clubs have chartered since then?
Here is the latest from the Dashboards at Toastmasters.org. Imagine my surprise when I noted another new club just chartered on May 24, 2018 – DJ & MC Toastmasters. The count is now 19 chartered clubs with an overall membership of 1,017 Toastmasters.
Noted in the details above are those Online Clubs who have succeeded in reaching Distinguished Club, Select Distinguished Club, and Presidents Distinguished club status. Congratulations to all.
There are several Prospective Online Clubs still waiting in the wings – striving to reach charter membership requirements. Three of these are very close to becoming chartered: Ablaze Online, Diversity Toastmasters Online and Witty Birds Online.
Of course there may be others entering the Online Club environment and we hope to hear from their leaders soon.
Where can I find current Online Club details?
Here is the line up of clubs currently displayed at Find-A-Club, with their meeting times, specialties and prerequisites. Visit Toastmasters.org and select the Find-a-Club icon. Then select Find Online Clubs.
Note: this does not include all chartered clubs at this stage – display still to be updated by TI.
Critical Questions from Leaders building Online Clubs?
Leaders who are contemplating the establishment of an Online Club will benefit from considering this set of critical questions that others have asked themselves:
- Who to build the club for
- What time zone will be the basis for meetings
- How to choose effective web conferencing tools
- How to define meeting styles
- What promotional tools to use for recruitment
- Which club management tools to choose
- Which websites to use for ease of access
- What skills are required of online executive teams
- What types of meeting roles are required
- How to maximise success by collaborating among online clubs
- How to do what seems impossible
Biggest joys for me, from being part of the Online Clubs development for two years, include:
- the benefits of attending Toastmasters from computer or mobile device wherever I may be
- watching and supporting those who have stepped up to create new online clubs
- bringing new perspectives to my Toastmasters journey as I follow their lead
- seeing what can be achieved online – going beyond perceived barriers
I was invited to be part of a radio interview recently, to explain the rise of popularity of Online Clubs and to talk about the benefits of belonging to online clubs, the differences of experiencing Online Toastmaster meeting and the challenges of support for online clubs. The radio station was Coast.FM situated in Adelaide, South Australia. I was happy to report on the benefits of belonging; the differences at online meetings and the challenges experienced.
Benefits of belonging to Online Clubs
Toastmasters who are already embracing online club membership will tell you that the experiences have helped them to develop their skills to another level among an international audience.
- Attendance online is easier – no travel required, no need to leave the home in bad weather, no restrictions for differently abled people
- Performing meeting roles at an online club is challenging – builds networks, builds skills for screen presence, builds confidence in presenting for webinars and online meetings
- Being a member of an online club – stretches your personal learning network, enables immersion in wider cultural environments, and provides greater connectivity between meetings
Note: For me, I really like how the communications between members of Online Clubs between meetings, generates another method of ‘connection’ with fellow club members. It far exceeds the amount of communication between my fellow land-based club members. It has increased my Personal Learning Networks and enabled a huge growth of experience and confidence.
Differences at an Online Meeting
Best way to find out about what is differeent at an online club meeting, is to visit an Online Club in a time zone that suits you and experience them for yourself. These are some of the typical differences you will notice immediately:
- You are seen and heard in small video windows within the meeting software and you become more focussed on the speakers – up close and personal.
- Mostly you will be seated and displaying head and shoulders only.
- Your background becomes a focal point and one to pay attention to improving to avoid distractions.
- Meetings will usually begin with some networking that everyone can share, and there is need for an interval or a break time to chat with others.
- Different roles are required to help with initial networking and tech checks, providing feedback on screen presence and keeping track of the chat texting.
- The Toastmaster is the host and has control over the muting and unmuting of microphones.
- Everyone has equal opportunity to share screens for display of websites or presentation sides.
- The Timer needs to be innovative with timing devices and to provide audible sounds when required.
Note: For me, I find increased value in performing my meeting roles in online clubs as it enables my innovation to shine with a brighter light.
Challenges for Online Clubs
Currently all Online Clubs are categorised as Undistricted – with no supportive structure for Program Quality and Club Growth. There are no Area Directors, Division or District Directors keeping everything on track. There are no official Area Contests or the ability to proceed to District contests except through the Video Tape Contest. There are no District level Publicity Managers or Finance Managers – each online club manages their own publicity and finances. We are working on that support by encouraging leaders and members from all online clubs to join the Facebook group – Online Alliance.
One major challenge has been the need for inter club leadership training that will provide greater networking between executive teams from a variety of online clubs. The training that is provided is scheduled from within the club. Online clubs are exempt from earning DCP points for training unless the executives can attend training in their land based districts. We are discussing the potentials for online training at this Facebook group – Online Training for Toastmasters.
Recognition among the Toastmasters community as clubs of equal value is still an ongoing challenge – there are still many Toastmasters who are not in favour of Online Clubs membership. On the other hand there are still many Toastmasters who are not yet aware of online club membership. We are working towards correcting that perspective by encouraging Toastmasters to visit the very active Facebook group – Online Toastmasters Resources.
Note: For me these are the challenges that provide the ‘spur’ for greater innovation as we create solutions to these issues.
Recent benefits from Online Club Meetings?
A recent project for me was to talk about the experiences of being in an Online Club, during an interview on the radio. This fitted ideally into my Pathways projects planning and I accepted eagerly. The process and preparation for this event was all contained in one email from the presenter.
These were the questions that I answered at that radio interview, hosted at Coast.FM, Close Encounters of the Community Kind on May 14:
- Tell us about the online clubs
- How did online clubs begin?
- Why did they begin?
- Were online clubs accepted by Toastmasters International immediately?
- What process occurred before acceptance of these virtual clubs?
- What benefits have you seen of virtual clubs?
- Are there any other places in Toastmasters where technology is being used to close the gap?
I was able to relay that information to the Coast.FM listeners and to cement my own convictions about the real benefits of Online Clubs.
My next step was to schedule a speech, for delivery at an Online Club; to explore the benefits of promoting Online Clubs in different media. A bit like an interview about an interview.
I wanted to complete the Elective project from my Strategic Relationships Path and put another spin on this by choosing to deliver the speech as an interviewee at one of my online clubs, Ablaze Online.
This is how I structured a set of questions for my interviewer:
- Q.1 What attracted you to a radio interview about Online Toastmasters?
- Q.2 How did you get involved with a Radio Interview recently?
- Q.3 What advice were you given prior to the interview?
- Q.4 What were the benefits of online clubs you promoted to the audience?
- Q.5 What advice would you give for other Toastmasters who wish to promote online clubs on radio?
This project gave tons of scope for exploring radio interviews and those for the small screen. I did feel challenged, both in preparing for the radio interview and the questions from the Toastmaster at the online meeting. The thing that helped me the most was being able to structure my speech around a set of questions and to provide an authentic, off the cuff style, rather than a ‘canned’ speech.
This activity did pose some challenges for my Evaluator – it was new and different – however, I am pleased to say that the feedback was encouraging and uplifting.
Pathways has provided me with a renewed focus on participating in my online club meetings and a way of exploring new and challenging projects. It has made me think more deeply about the processes involved in:
- choosing and Electives
- completing the Project
- scheduling the Speech
- preparing the Evaluator
- embedding the Feedback
- repeating at another time at another club with a greater understanding of how to inspire.