Online Club Leaders take a leap of faith!

As I write my blog post for this week, I have been reflecting on the many hurdles that we need to overcome in order to get our newest global online clubs across the line. The biggest hurdle has  been the lack of any District support … that’s because they are Undistricted. So a few onliners are taking a leap of faith in filling the gap – supporting where we can.

Think about the support currently in place for starting up new clubs of the ‘bricks and mortar’ variety; first you have the guidelines provided by Toastmasters International; second you have a New Clubs team at WHQ from whom you can ask questions; third you have a Club Extension Chair and a Club Growth Director in your District – to name a few. This is NOT yet in place for the new global online clubs. Instead the process is being supported by leaders from existing global online clubs, especially the Firebirds Collective. We look forward to the day when more support from TI emerges, especially as the number of Chartered Clubs in Division O, Area 1 begin to grow during the latter half of this year.

Note: we are likely to have 7-8 global online clubs by the end of 2016. We need District support for online clubs!

Second big hurdle is to gain potential membership using only online tools. Social Media has been the big player in this arena, as the new clubs form communities of practice in Facebook groups first. This is an important first step to ensure that there is a critical mass of potential charter members who are willing to make the financial and attendance commitments. Three of the five prospective clubs are visible and active in social media and time will enable them to grow in confidence and make their presence known. There are two other prospective clubs who are just emerging now and we are trying to reach them to offer support.  The onliners need to be a community before they becomes a club!

Third big hurdle is for the club leaders to determine which online web conferencing tool to use for their online meetings. There seem to be two preferred tools for the clubs I know; GoToMeeting or Zoom. You can find reviews on the functionality of each of these from  If you are looking for video tutorials, GoToMeeting is well supported with their video tutorials in their YouTube channel. Take a look at my post called Select and Trial Online Meetings Spaces for further information. Online Clubs need a robust meeting space with easy to use: web cam and audio options; recording functions; and scheduling facilities!

An associated hurdle is the issue of paying for the selected service. Currently the GoToMeeting cost of approximately $400 US per year, is prohibitive for clubs of small numbers. Those clubs with a critical mass of 35-40 will be able to spread the cost over their membership more easily. I think it would be strategic and beneficial if TI could provide a shared meeting platform to save the expenses being faced by every online club investing in an account with GoToMeeting for example. Online Clubs need an affordable meeting platform?

Fourth big hurdle is for the club to work through the paperwork required for chartering and streamline the process to fit with their online status. This will usually take longer as club leaders discuss with their potential members how to send their signed application forms and make electronic payments. With members located in different time zones there are usually delays in this process. The club Treasurer will need to ensure that they have a suitable budget that includes the cost of TI fees and the upfront cost of their selected web conferencing tool. Online Club fees need to be $35 US or less!

The fifth hurdle for the online club leader, is to determine a workable communication plan and get buy-in from each club officer. The amount of electronic communication between members of online clubs and their executive teams are likely to be greater than those of land-based clubs and systems need to be established to manage that communication process. Some clubs make use of social media posts only; others make use of task management tools such as Trello; and most will use club management tools such as easy-Speak. Online Clubs need a SMART online communication plan!

A final hurdle has emerged – especially in the Facebook groups – the voices of those who are against the formation of online clubs. For some of the leaders, this has become distracting and distasteful. All of these online clubs are being initiated and managed by enthusiastic volunteers from several different countries. My view is that they each deserve some respect for what they are doing and would benefit from greater support rather than an onslaught of negativity in social media. Online Clubs need your support!

Come and join the Online Toastmasters Facebook group  (already supported by over 1300 members) and find out when and where the newest online clubs meet. Download the latest file called Online Club Meeting Details?

Club Promotions with easy-Speak

  • Did you know that the front Home page of your site is the first landing page for visitors?
  • Do you know how to add pizzazz to the Home page and invite your visitors in?
  • How will you make use of the Membership tools for promoting your club?
  • Are you the Web Master, VPE, VPM or VPPR for your club?

Then this article is for you! Let’s visit the King Arthur’s Playground easy-test site and see how the team are managing their club promotions.

Step 1: Manage the Home Page

new home page 2 aug 16

Home Page Essentials

First we need a welcome message; bright colorful imagery; correct  meeting information; and a link to being a guest. In my opinion Peter Pan (IT Support) is providing all of these clearly on the home page of King Arthur’s, shown above. Some of these web parts are automatically in place for you once you have completed the Club Setup. For instance the Meeting dates and times; locations and Club Affiliations. You don’t have to do anything more to those! How easy is that!

Next we want to consider what further information our visitors will need and add those web parts to the Home page. Background story for the club, advice to participants and a list of future meetings. See our King Arthur’s example below where a couple of extra web parts have been added: Toastmasters Mission, Toasty-Tip and a link to Facebook. This is what you see when you scroll further down the Home page.

new home page 2 aug second half member view

My recommendation is that you choose the web parts carefully to help in the promotion process. I also advocate that one member of the team should be the one to update frequently and add extra notifications of upcoming special events in one or two lines.

For example:

“King Arthur’s Club has scheduled their Club Contests during August – come and see how they shape up to represent us in the Area Contests this year.”

Step 2: Manage Member Status

Minnie Mouse (VPE) at King Arthur’s, is now planning to ensure that any visitors to the club, enticed by the information on the home page, will be able to receive email notifications about future meetings.

minnie edits member status in control panel

She needs to open the Control Panel for this and enter the Member Status screen. Above is what she sees when selecting the Member status of Guest! Minnie ensures that the options for receiving Meeting emails is selected as Yes. (Note: if she is editing here, she must click the Save icon at the bottom of this screen to action that change for all Guests.)

After receiving information from a Guest who has visited the home page and now wants to be a Guest at the next meeting, but is not sure of how to do that, Minnie can now add the new person to site as a User with status of Guest.

adding new guest

This new user with Guest status will receive the Meeting email reminders that are sent out by Minnie when the Agenda is ready.

Step 3: Manage Prospective Members

Whilst Minnie is checking the User List, she finds that there are a few prospective members who need following up. She sends that list to the VPM Gandalf the Wizard.

User list of guestsGandalf can now enter the User List and select each one of the Prospective Members and then select the email icon to send a standard message to them both.

For instance:

“Thanks for being a Guest at King Arthur’s, we valued your attendance. If you are considering joining the club please do contact me by reply email.”

Gandalf could also followup on the Guests who have visited the clubs and change their status to Prospective Member if required.

By using the easy-Speak Member Management tools the Club Executive Officers can all work together to promote, recruit and sign up new members!

Some of these steps will be featured in the upcoming Webinar Series from the easy-Speak Help Desk! Details of these are located here for promoting to your easy-Speak colleagues.

You will need to RSVP and register for these by joining the easy-speak Toastmasters Community.



Managing Meetings Online

Let’s take a deeper look at how to manage your Toastmaster online meetings effectively!

g2m_screenshot_step4_ENI will include the following elements in this post;

  • managing screen time – the technical aspects
  • facilitating online meetings – the management aspects

Throughout I will refer to the practicalities of doing this in GoToMeeting – another robust web conferencing tool, ideal for Toastmasters.

1. Managing Screen Time

In my experience I have noticed that there is a potential for more personal interaction with Toastmasters in an online meeting – participants are up close and personal with their web camera presence. The image of each participant is shown on everyone’s screens and often you are the focus of attention for several minutes. It is important to help participants to manage their ‘screen time’ for maximum impact.

I suggest that you have a 15-30 minute ‘setup’ time prior to start of actual meeting, in which the Logistics Manager: assists members, visitors and guests in using their Audio and Video tools efficiently. During that time have two or three people on screen to demonstrate whilst the Logistics Manager provides advice. Then invite individual visitors to practice using their voice tool first, then their web cameras, one by one.

Instruct the participants about when the tools should be used by – for instance when speaking, evaluating, timing or reporting – and provide ‘best practice’ examples at the beginning of the meeting. For example, ensure that the Toastmaster of the Day, Grammarian, Timer and Video Monitor, showcase best web camera presence at the beginning of the meeting.

When you have a speaker who is presenting with slides, you will also need to provide advice on best practice for them during the ‘setup’ time.

They will need to know:

  • how to setup their slideshow (setup slideshow – browse by individual window)
  • how to ensure they can still see their GoToMeeting Menu
  • how to navigate the slide deck (select Slide Show – use mouse clicks)
  • how to ensure that everyone can see what they see (activate Audience View)

2. Facilitating Online Meetings

Before you felt comfortable in joining a meeting online you will have benefited from practicing in your selected meeting space. Your audience will feel the same – give them opportunities to practice by sending them links to recorded videos on YouTube or provide them with links to User Documentation. My examples this week are from GoToMeeting Channel in YouTube, a treasure trove of visual tutorials.

Top-10-Free-GoToMeeting-AlternativesNow spend some time in getting to know what is ‘best practice’ in facilitating online meetings. One blog article you may find educational is from the Smart Blogger – How to Run your first Webinar. There are few, if any, specific articles about facilitating online Toastmaster meeings that I can recommend here. However I would encourage you to read widely on the topic and adapt the learning to fit the Toastmaster meetings.

GoToMeeting support pages provide very useful tips for Keeping Control of Online Meetings. There is also a downloadable and printable PDF version of these tips. They focus on the following:

  • Understand the technology
  • Know your outcome
  • Look, act and sound professional
  • Make your points clearly
  • Answer questions confidently
  • Manage difficult or hostile situations
  • Keep control
  • Make clear presentations
  • Manage technology

Top 10 Tips

My personal Top 10 Tips for effective facilitation, by the Toastmaster of the Day, in Toastmasters Online Meetings are as follows:

  1. prepare well in advance of meeting time – print agenda, note the theme, who is speaking and the order of agenda items
  2. be early and help the Logistics Manager with the ‘meet and greet’, welcoming guests and checking that all those taking a role are present in the meeting
  3. model best practice in use of audio and web camera and speak clearly
  4. be on screen throughout first half of the program
  5. handover to General Evaluator when relevant
  6. avoid speaking over anyone
  7. be smart and swift with segues between segments
  8. ask the Listener to watch the posts in the text chat and alert you to questions
  9. ask for comments and feedback from guests
  10. keep a close eye on the clock and ensure the meeting is running to time

Next week I will focus on the Social Media Presence for your online club!

Preparation for Online Clubs

preparing for an online club headerLet’s start with the FOUR recommended steps for Preparing for an Online Club!

These steps are outlined briefly below. In further posts I will provide more detailed explorations of those that are more complex and time consuming.

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Step 1: Explore the following resources at Toastmasters International :

Club Minimum Requirements: amendments

Regular meetings are conducted in-person, except when a club decides to allow a minority of its members to attend online, or when a club has chartered as an online club in which all members may attend online.

Step 2: Prepare your online spaces

Step 3: Define your procedures

Place information and procedures in your website early; for example here is how the Firebirds Collective have displayed their visitor procedures for:

  • how to join
  • how to attend meetings
  • how to participate effectively in meetings

Step 4: Master the meeting space

After you have evaluated the attributes of selected web conferencing software;  and considered the functionality, ease of use, support structure and price etc., you should:

  • setup and master the meeting tool for quality of experience for all
  • determine the meeting dates and times (provide time zone conversions)
  • embed the link to meetings within websites and social media spaces
  • learn how to manage the meeting, recordings and follow ups required

Preliminary Feasibility Study!

In my previous post on Starting an Online Club,  I highlighted the Preliminary Feasibility Study as the first step to take in building an online club.

an assessment of the practicality of a proposed plan or method.
“a feasibility study into the possibility of starting an online club”

FeasibilityHere in this post I will unpack the FOUR steps you need to take for success at this level.

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Step 1. Identify potential membership

Identifying potential membership can take up to several weeks or months, so be prepared to take the time to locate and communicate with your potential members.

Networking is the key to success in this first step of your feasibility study. Frequent the online spaces where global Toastmasters are to be found; take opportunities to speak about your plans with your local networks; and be sure to act on all leads.

Some online club leaders have been asked about how they first identified their potential members. More of these testimonials will be added here. You may wish to leave a comment with your own testimonial.

Susan Ellsworth: Sponsor and VPPR of Firebirds Collective (global online Toastmasters club)

Identifying the first 10 potential members of Firebirds was easy-cheezy …. After that it was a matter of word of mouth, in the ONLINE TOASTMASTERS group. Susan says prospective members of Firebirds Collective can see the commitment to Respect, Integrity, Service and Education (RISE) through our protocols for joining – we require attendance at two meetings prior to being voted in. Susan is now seeking members for a new online club ‘Great White North Online Toastmasters’. Request to join them in Facebook.

Kim Hahn: VPM and President Elect of Firebirds Collective (global online Toastmasters club)

Inviting new members of Firebirds involved individual contact with club officers in other countries who were not yet represented in the global club. That personal approach has brought in 8 new members since we Chartered in March. Kim favours the use of Facebook Events to invite potential members. Kim is now seeking members for a new online club ‘Toastmasters Without Borders’. Request to join them in Facebook. Join Kim for this event.

Step 2. Engage in open discussions in social media

Social Media offers a unique method of engaging in open discussions where you can be assured of swift responses and meaningful comments. You might start a Poll in a Facebook Group; or Send an inquiry post in LinkedIn; or create a Twitter conversation with a specific hashtag for collecting.

Facebook Poll from social media

reasons for visiting

Provide a consistent presence in your select social media tool(s) and aim to make the best use of the shared advice and opinions from your posts and polls. Follow up on those who are seeking further information and invite those who wish to share leadership skills in your domain.

Step 3. Identify the skills and benefits of online clubs

Ensure that you provide up-to-date and meaningful information about the online Toastmasters experiences with lists of benefits; and pre-requisite essential skills required. These should be communicated to your potential members well in advance of the Startup Procedures. They should specifically explain the types of equipment required and how best to use the video and audio aspects of being online.

Essential Skills Required

Online Learning: Are You Ready to Learn Online?

Five Need-to-have Skills for Online Students include:

  1. Computer Skills: The Basics
  2. Digital Communication
  3. Web Search
  4. Time Management
  5. Collaboration

Visuals matter — audio too!

If you’re located anywhere other than at a telepresence site, give careful thought to your surroundings and your appearance on camera — that goes for both presenters and participants, video veterans say. …

… and if you are the presenter: Six Steps for Success in Virtual Meetings …

Many websites provide information and comparisons between different web conferencing tools and software. Just use a Google search on ‘web conferencing tools’ to see what I mean. However, what you need to do is send your potential online club members to sites that explain what ‘computer equipment and accessories’ they will need in order to participate effectively. Try this link to Opposing Views blog as a starter.


Presenters’ and participants’ computers should meet the minimum specifications required by the Web conferencing software, which will vary between applications.

Internet Connection

A fast Internet connection helps the overall experience by transmitting video, audio and presentation data at speeds that ensure a smooth viewing and listening experience for everyone participating in the conference.

Step 4. Build a community to support the new club

Once you have a critical mass of potential members,  then create an online community in which you can communicate, collaborate and support the growth of the online club. You may choose a Facebook Group or LinkedIn Group or a Twitter hashtag or a WordPress page or a Googlesite.

If necessary take some lessons (online of course) in facilitating online communities. One of my personal favourites is the Gilly Salmon Five Stage Model.

5 stage model.jpg

Whatever you choose, use your skills as an online facilitator to steward the online community.

How can you be an effective community steward?

Take a look at the Digital Habitats book and workbook from Nancy White and Etienne Wenger about Community Building and Stewardship.

Digital Habitats: Action Workbook

This useful book and shared workbook  “takes you through the steps of stewarding technology and outlines what to keep in mind at each step”.

  • Preamble:  reflection on the role of tech steward
  • Step 1:  understanding your community, its characteristics, orientation, and current configuration
  • Step 2: providing technology, choosing a strategy, selecting a solution, and planning the change
  • Step 3: stewarding technology in use, in the life of the community and at its closing

In my next post I will take you through the Learning and Preparation Phase of starting an online club for Toastmasters.

Please join us in the Online Training for Toastmasters Facebook Group for further discussions or subscribe to this blog or be my guest and leave a Comment below.

Starting an Online Club: sequential steps

learning objectives.JPGIn recent social media discussions with other online Toastmasters, we unpacked a series of Learning Objectives for the budding Online Club creators.

In a short space of time my original list of 8 expanded to 16: such is the power of social learning. I received feedback from a wide range of people in different countries, with varied experience levels and interests. I have taken the 16 and expanded them for clarity and added some practical examples where relevant. I am sure there is room for more!

The next step was to organise these into a more manageable sequence of steps. These I have grouped in stages as follows: Preliminary Feasibility Study; Learning and Preparation; Startup Procedures; and Management Procedures. You may find this list helpful if you are preparing to start an Online Toastmasters Club.

Preliminary Feasibility Study

  1. identify potential membership
  2. engage in open discussions in social media
  3. emphasise the skills needed for speaking online with audio and video tools
  4. build a community to support the new club

Learning and Preparation

  1. learn How to Start a New Club at Toastmasters International
  2. place structures and procedures in place early eg how to join, how to request speeches, how to evaluate, how to schedule Executive meetings
  3. evaluate the attributes of web conferencing software eg functionality, ease of use, price
  4. setup and master the use of a web conferencing tool eg GoToMeeting or Zoom

Startup Procedures

  1. invite and communicate with guests and prospective members eg select and invite guidance committee and action team as High Performance Leadership project
  2. delegate tasks for interim club officers eg create promotion and education plans
  3. setup a Club Management site eg easy-Speak (allow 24 hours for this) or FreeToastHost
  4. setup a home website eg WordPress or Googlesite

Management Procedures

  1. setup bank accounts, paypal & international transactions
  2. manage the digital footprint of club eg branding
  3. build in special club officer positions eg web master, video monitor, logistics manager, listener
  4. consider advanced v regular clubs; and gain advice on club splitting

When all of this is in place the prospective leader of an Online Club  will be in a better position to move to the next steps:

  • Schedule first online meeting
  • Assign roles for first meeting
  • Invite and promote meeting
  • Start and moderate the meeting
  • Close and record the meeting

I will be expanding upon each of these Stages in further posts here. Please add comments or subscribe to this blog.

For further tips on starting an Advanced Toastmasters Club view this post from Prolific Living some years back.