Following a workshop on The Future of Online Toastmasters, we got 40 responses to our survey asking about issues raised during the discussion. See also the responses received via email and the reflections by the workshop organizers. Some of the survey prompts are mutually contradictory, but participants were asked to choose the one closest to their view.
The area of greatest agreement was that the structure of the organization based on geographic districts needs to be rethought now that many clubs and districts have multinational membership thanks to online options. That doesn’t mean everyone agrees on the solutions, however. This data is being shared with the Toastmasters International board as input for their deliberations on future policies.
Additional Email Responses
My thoughts (not strictly on online Toastmasters, but TI in general) follow. Use them as you wish:
- Toastmasters’ primary purpose is to help people succeed in the real world. All other considerations are secondary.
- In the real world, on-camera communications (live online, video recording, etc.) is at least as important as in-person communications. (A strong argument could be made that in the very near future, it will be more important.)
- The skill set for on-camera communications is different from that of in-person communications. (For example, gestures, body language, eye contact, movement, etc.) Frequently, what works in-person does not work on-camera, and vice versa.
- Therefore, for Toastmasters to be relevant in the real world, TI must give equal importance (arguably, even greater importance) to improving members’ on-camera communication skills as it does to their in-person communications skills. This applies to all aspects of Toastmasters — the core educational program, contests, member recognition, etc.
Toastmasters was founded in the early part of the 20th century, and has a great track record of meeting the needs of people in the past century. But we are now 22 years into the 21st century, and it is time for Toastmasters to make itself relevant again.jim / Jim Barber / Toastmasters member for 33 years
-- Jim Barber TheBarberShop.com -- "Imagine How Great You'll Be!" FindersSpeakers.com -- "Find the Right Speaker with Finders Speakers!"
To the FoOT team,
Yesterday’s seminar was great. I only learned of it from a D100 friend, though some of my D28 friends were there as well.
A few thoughts:
– Some clubs are “hybrid” but due to work situations and realities, are online only. Two of my clubs are in this situation. Because nobody goes into work, and certainly not at the same time, we don’t have in-person meetings anymore.
– One of the questions was if clubs should be part of districts. I think that it should be framed as clubs should be able to be part of active districts, rather than agree/disagree/not-sure. I know some clubs are thrilled to not be part of a district.
– Part of what came up yesterday is that online clubs are a great way to get communities of interest. Beer, roleplaying games, people with DJ, MC or officiant jobs, etc. I think that subject merits a question as I think that should be something that TI puts some effort into.
Also, I suggested that there be a special seminar on how to make the best use of online, and was told that was the explicit purpose of the club.Even so, I think a “best of” would be incredibly helpful for those who don’t have the time to join a whole new club. I’m planning on running an HPL (or whatever it’s called now) on helping clubs do better with such things–and best practices from people who have really thought about it would be great.
After the event I got into a discussion with another attendee and he raised the question of whether online clubs work well for people new to Toastmasters. I had the impression that the attendees were all long-time Toastmasters who are part of advanced or specialty online clubs.
The needs of an online club geared to newbies may be more similar to the needs of a regular districted club.
I’ve always thought that TI needs a separate something for brainstorming for corporate clubs, since they are a very different animal from community clubs. Perhaps all clubs should be in a district since virtual district officer visits are possible, and specialty advisory units should be created that clubs could utilize if they wanted to.
I also think that the likelihood of anything getting approval from TI has to take into account TI’s dependence on a flock of unpaid volunteers to do the gruntwork of dealing with individual club issues. I have zero desire to be a District officer in my geographical area, but doing it in an online-only District sounds like fun.
Good luck with it all and thanks for what you do.
(Paraphrased from a WhatsApp message)
Toastmasters International should recognize the importance of technology to Toastmasters today by adding an officially recognized officer title, something like Digital Director, for the person in charge of making the technology work. Just as most companies today have an IT Director to keep essential digital systems running, Toastmasters clubs and districts should aim to have the same kind of support in place.
Working on this project gave me an appreciation of the challenges the Toastmasters International board and staff face as they try to reconcile the historical values of the organization with the opportunities and obstacles ahead.
From what I can tell, we’re emerging from the pandemic with a lot of “de facto online clubs” who will continue to meet online for the foreseeable future in addition to the officially chartered online clubs. Partly as the result of that phenomenon, the geographic boundaries of districts are becoming less relevant. The area of greatest agreement in the survey was that Toastmasters International needs to fundamentally rethink its organizational structure to recognize how much has changed.
My personal suggestion is that if online clubs aren’t going to be given a district of their own, they need some alternative form of organization that can support both districted and undistricted clubs that operate online, including the “de facto” ones. As you can see, opinion on that point is not unanimous, but 77% of survey participants agreed with that idea.
I have great respect for George Marshall, who argues the existing districts can offer that support. Maybe so, but they will need to change how they do business to accomplish it.
I organized this event partly because I didn’t see these issues being discussed anywhere outside of Facebook groups, and I hope we achieved the goal of giving them a thorough airing as part of a productive discussion.
David F. Carr, workshop organizer
Isn’t the logical next step for TI to support online/hybrid clubs by meeting their needs? Training, resources, contests and conferences to support these paying members is critical if TI wishes to remain relevant. Post pandemic business operations have taught companies that online meetings can help them save a ton of time and money. We are not going back! If we, as an organization, want to remain relevant, we need to give people the tools to communicate effectively online.
As moderator of this event, I also recognized a great amount of fire and frustration around this topic. Though not easy, TI needs to embrace changes in the world, in a more timely fashion, to help ALL clubs pivot so they are able to attract and retain members. It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what’s necessary to help ALL clubs succeed.
Marianne Grady, workshop moderator