Survey Results: The Future of Online Toastmasters

Survey Results

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.

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

Question 4

Question 5

Question 6

Question 7

Additional Email Responses

Jim Barber

My thoughts (not strictly on online Toastmasters, but TI in general) follow. Use them as you wish:

  1. Toastmasters’ primary purpose is to help people succeed in the real world. All other considerations are secondary.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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
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Greg Stockton

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.

-Greg

Linda Isaacs

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.

Linda

Joni-Renee Laidlaw

(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.

Organizer Reflections

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

Using PowerPoint Effectively on Zoom

As experts in public speaking, Toastmasters should use PowerPoint effectively if they are going to use it at all — and there are a few additional tricks to master when using it on Zoom.

This 5-minute video tutorial updates and expands on one of the most important tips I covered in a previous blog post, How to Start Your Slides More Smoothly In Zoom. These tips focus on PowerPoint but the principle of being prepared to start your presentation before you are introduced is the same if you’re using Google Slides, Keynote, or anything else.

You’re encouraged to like or comment on the versions of the video posted to the Official Toastmasters International Members group on Facebook or on the Online Presenters Toastmasters Facebook page.

Replay: the Future of Online Toastmasters Workshop

The video of our workshop on the Future of Online Toastmasters is included below, along with information about the participants and the results of a survey we conducted of attendees and early replay viewers.

Our Panel

Moderator: Marianne Grady has spent more than 20 years as an HR executive. Of late, she is providing coaching services related to Job Interviewing, Career Strategies and Presentations. Marianne is a long time Toastmaster and has held almost every board position at least once. She has been a member of Online Presenters since early 2020 and currently resides in the state of Delaware.

David F. Carr

David led Online Presenters to charter in 2017, served as its first president, and is currently VPE. He chaired the EVV CON virtual conference in 2022 and is the founder of the WordPress for Toastmasters project and Toastmost club website hosting service.

George Marshall

George Marshall was part of the original online club trial project that became Netizens and has been involved with many other online clubs, including as a charter member of Online Presenters. He recently wrapped up a year as District Director for District 57 in California.

Joseph Esler

Joseph is the founder of Tragicomedy Toastmasters, which was originally supposed to be a hybrid club — except that operating 100% online worked out so well. Part of District 31, the club chartered in 2021.

Larry Miller

Larry Miller was one of the founders of Netizens, the first official online Toastmasters club, and remains an active club leader.

Graham Cairns

Graham is a radio presenter, travel writer, speaker, trainer, voice-artist and consultant based in Brisbane, Australia. He was a charter member of Online Presenters.

Joni-Renee Laidlaw

In 2020, Joni-Renee Laidlaw of Jamaica stepped forward to help leaders in her District 81 become comfortable conducting online meetings due to COVID. She continues to work with “traditional” clubs that remain online because “they haven’t figured out what to do next.” She joined Online Presenters in June 2022.

Angela Heath Wins the Online Presenters Webinar Contest for 2022

Online Presenters member Angela Heath just won the 2022 edition of our club’s webinar contest. This is an unofficial contest format we invented — and encourage other online Toastmasters to try — as a way of testing skills specific to engaging with an audience online. Five top speakers from participating clubs will be invited to compete at EVV CON on April 23.

Here is the winning speech:

Angela wins!

Full event replay:

Online Presenters webinar contest

EVV CON is not an official Toastmasters event, but its organizers include leaders from a dozen online clubs, including several from Online Presenters.

Join Online Presenters for its Webinar Contest

Online Presenters will hold its webinar contest on Monday, and you’re invited to join us to see how it works.

RSVP Now!

This is not an official Toastmasters contest, but it is an opportunity for our members to test skills specific to delivering an online speech or presentation. The winner from our contest will go on to compete against winners from other clubs at EVV CON: Elevate the Value of Virtual on April 23. EVV CON is not an official Toastmasters event, but it is supported by volunteers from multiple online clubs.

How the Webinar Contest is Different

In addition to being conducted online, the webinar contest tests skills specific to engaging with the audience in the online medium — maximizing the advantages and overcoming the disadvantages of online speaking (more detail here).

The contest format has changed several times since OP hosted the first one in 2018, settling on a 5-7 minute format for this year’s event. Some of the winning speeches from past OP webinar contest included below are longer or shorter, depending on the rules in effect that year.

Angela Heath

Krishn Ramchurn

Sunny Fridge

Carol Prahinski

Zoom Mastery Workshop Replay and More Resources

See below for the replay of the Zoom Mastery Workshop at Online Presenters, followed by some additional tutorial resources for those wanting to get proficient as Zoom hosts.

Additional Resources

Here are some topics that either we didn’t cover in our workshop or that you may want to learn more about.

First, on the excellent Tech for Toastmasters YouTube channel, Cajetan Barretto has a tutorial on controlling the different views available in Zoom, both for yourself and for the audience. He covers pinning, spotlighting, and how to make the audience follow the host’s view settings.

Cat Mulvihill also provides a number of useful Zoom tutorials, and you may want to browse her Run Zoom Meetings Like a Pro playlist.

A few topics of particular interest:

Breakout Rooms

Adding Music to Zoom Meetings

Using Zoom Polls

Zoom Meetings Versus Zoom Webinars

Zoom Tip: Keep the Timer Visible to Everyone

Here is a tip for making sure all speakers will be able to see the Timer in a meeting or contest conducted on Zoom. This is an action that must be taken by the meeting Host (not a Co-host) that benefits all participants.

Placing the Timer in the upper right hand corner, using Follow Host’s Video Order

In Zoom Toastmasters meetings, the person playing the role of Timer typically shows green, yellow, and red signals background images as “timing lights” to let speakers know when they are running out of time. This use of the Zoom virtual background feature fairly well, except when the speaker loses track of the timer — which can be easy to do because of the way Zoom automatically reorders thumbnail video images according to some weird AI logic. People often get flustered when they get called for Table Topics and realize they can’t see the Timer.

I used to tell individual participants to go into gallery view, then drag-and-drop the image of the Timer into the upper right hand corner of the screen. This keeps the Timer visible in the same position in Gallery view throughout the meeting. Also, in full screen view, or when the speaker shares their screen, the Timer will still be at the beginning of the smaller film strip view that Zoom shows of other participants.

This self-service method works, but it puts the burden on each member (or guest) to rearrange their screen.

Instead, the Host can rearrange the video order for everyone by dragging and dropping the Timer into the upper left corner, and then selecting the Follow Host’s Video Order option on the View menu. That’s the same menu in the upper right corner of the screen that you use to toggle between Speaker view and Gallery view. However, the Follow Host’s Video Order option is only displayed to the Host.

This method sets everyone’s gallery view order to match the the Host’s choices. The Timer will stay locked in the upper right hand corner, and any people who join after the order was set will go to the end of the list. About the only thing that will mess this up is if the Timer gets disconnected and has to rejoin the meeting.

Caveat: You should turn this on before using other Zoom features that dictate the audience’s view, like Spotlight, because the Follow Host menu option is not visible when that’s active. (Thanks to Steve Crews for pointing that out in a discussion on TI Official Members group).

Although I’d heard something like this was possible, it took me a while to figure out how to do it because I often join meetings as a Co-host. For the most part, Co-hosts can perform all the same actions as Hosts, but this feature turns out to be one of the few exceptions.

Setting the video order is a small thing we can do to make participating in a Toastmasters meeting easier on everyone.

Search and Social Optimization Tips from the Online Presenters Webmaster

The way you make your club website into a stronger recruiting tool is by making links to your website visible and attractive in the digital world.

Google “online Toastmasters,” and a link to the Online Presenters home page will come up high on the first page of results. Share a link to our home page on Facebook, and you will see it’s accompanied by a neat preview image as shown below. Both are the result of deliberate effort to raise our club website’s profile.

Facebook preview of our home page

Here are some of the techniques I use. I apply them particularly to the home page and significant blog posts, like those featuring the replays of workshops we have hosted. Some of these techniques take advantage of optional WordPress plugins. However, the basics of search engine optimization are available to any club webmaster, including those whose clubs use Free Toast Host.

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of structing web content so that it’s indexed better and ranks better in Google and other search engines. There are SEO professionals who spend all day trying to boost traffic to a website by a percentage point and whose techniques are far more sophisticated than I’ll describe here. But you can make a difference just by getting the basics right.

Keywords

Come up with a list of target keywords that describe the character of your club and use them strategically on your home page and other pages of the site. For example, you’d want “comedy,” “humor,” and “Saint Paul” to feature frequently in the page titles, links, and home page introductory text of a club in Saint Paul, Minnesota focused on humorous speaking.

I have seen a lot of club and district websites that do not clearly state where in the world they are based, which is important for prospective members seeking local resources. If you accept online attendance, that should be spelled out, too. Both humans and search engines will understand what you have to offer if you state it plainly.

Also, many clubs list their club number prominently at the top of the page. Who cares what your club number is? Certainly not a prospective member. That space would much better be used for your location or some other significant fact about your club. List the club number for reference by members (who might periodically need to enter it on a form) somewhere lower on the page.

Headings

Structure your pages with subheadings, which should use the heading levels corresponding to the HTML tags H1, H2, H3 and so on. Think of this as being similar to the outline of an essay, as you may have been taught to write one in school, with major topics and subtopics. These become clues to the search engines about the important topics discussed on the page.

In WordPress, you choose the heading block instead of the paragraph block and select the specific heading level, as shown here:

Formatting a heading in WordPress

In the FreeToastHost editor, you would select the line of text you want formatted as a headline and change it from paragraph (the default) to the heading level of your choice.

Setting heading levels in FreeToastHost.

Site Title and Description

In addition to the visible headings on the page, search engines use title and description tags embedded in the HTML both to understand the content of the page and for display in search results listings. They determine what someone searching for a club like yours will see that makes them decide whether or not to click on a link.

If a description is missing, the search engines will use the first few words on the page — which isn’t necessarily what you’d want as a succinct summary of the value of your site. On many club websites, the description is missing or inappropriate — for example, one I happened across had “Contest rules” showing as if that was the only information you would find on that site.

I’ll detail how to customize these summary blurbs for both search and social media on a WordPress site later in this article. On FreeToastHost, the site title and description can be set on the Basic Settings tab.

Links

Search engines also analyze the web of links between pages to divine what is important and worth indexing with a higher ranking. One of the things you get with a WordPress site is the ability to add more pages and blog articles that can be focused on different topics and rank higher for those topics. Ideally, you will be share valuable information others will want to link to, further driving up the value of that content.

For example, next to the home page, the two web addresses that drive the most traffic to op.toastmost.org are an article on roles and responsibilities in an online toastmasters meeting, the replay of a workshop on hybrid meetings, and my blog post from a couple of years ago on how to start your slides more smoothly in Zoom.

I’m giving each of those articles another little boost by linking to them here and using relevant keywords in the text of the link. It’s less effective to structure the same reference as, “for the replay, click here” where the word “here” doesn’t say anything about what the link points to.

Bullet Lists and Ordered Lists

Like headlines, bullet lists and numbered lists add structure to your page that search engines can understand. For example, a numbered list is a clue that you’re providing a sequence of instructions. For example, if you do not already have a Toastmost account, to set up a Toastmost website you must:

  1. Sign up for the WordPress for Toastmasters mailing list, which you can do on the toastmost.org home page.
  2. Confirm your subscription to the list.
  3. Follow the link from the confirmation message to the page where you will set up your website.

In WordPress, “list” is a content block type like “paragraph” or “heading” and you can choose between numbered/ordered lists and bullet/unordered lists. In the FreeToastHost editor, you will see buttons on the formatting bar for these list types.

Search and Social Enhancements with a WordPress Plugin

One of the optional but very useful WordPress plugins for making your website more visible in search and on social media is Yoast SEO. You might also try a similar plugin, Rank Math WEO, which I’ve heard great things about but have less experience with. Both are available on Toastmost (just search the Plugins tab in the dashboard) and available to install for free on other WordPress sites. Premium upgrades are available, but you will get plenty of value from the free versions.

With Yoast active, I get an additional panel of controls at the bottom of each web page, blog post, and event post. There is also a Yoast sidebar where the same features can be accessed.

Yoast SEO controls

This allows me to customize the title and description fields I mentioned above, which are important for search engine optimization. The plugin also provides feedback on whether the “focus keywords” you’re targeting are mentioned often enough on the page and how readable the language is (for example, if you’re using too many long sentences).

As a volunteer webmaster, you don’t have infinite time to futz with these parameters, but you can take a few minutes to improve your score at least a little.

I pay particular attention to the Social tab in Yoast SEO, which allows me to manually set the featured image that should be displayed when an individual page or post is displayed on social media. That’s one of the things you can’t do at all (as far as I can tell) with FreeToastHost. If there is, even the folks who run the service don’t know it.

Facebook preview for toastmastersclubs.org

The Social tab of Yoast SEO lets me upload an image (or choose one from my media library) to add to social posts for Facebook and Twitter. (LinkedIn will also pick up on what’s specified for Facebook).

Facebook preview settings in Yoast SEO

One additional step I sometimes take is to test a link using the Facebook “debugging” tool for content sharing. This can be important if I’m adding or changing the preview image or text for an item that has been shared previously, where Facebook will use the previously cached content unless I tell it to check again (the button is labeled Scrape Again). This screen will give you technical data you probably don’t care about, but it will also show you how your content will be displayed on the service.

Facebook’s tool for debugging link sharing

A LinkedIn post inspector tool serves the same purpose for that service.

You can encourage viewers of your website to share blog posts by adding “share this” buttons for popular social networks. The sharing buttons on this site were set up using the Jetpack, the “Swiss army knife of plugins” from the company behind WordPress. You blowing your horn on social media is one thing, but having other people recommend you and your content is even better.

Featured Posts Display

One other tool I have found handy for formatting a website home page with SEO-rich content is the “Post Grid” content block from the Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg plugin.

Gutenberg is the codename for the version of the WordPress editor that’s structured around blocks of content. In addition to basic blocks like paragraphs, headings, and images, there are blocks that define layouts like columns, and blocks that serve as placeholders for dynamic content like the most recently posted blogs or upcoming meetings on your event calendar.

Post Grid is one of those dynamic blocks. You can set it to display the latest posts to your blog, or the latest posts in a specified category. Other parameters include how many posts should be displayed, and how many columns should be used for the layout. The preview displayed in the editor is approximately what will appear on the website (in this case, the headlines on the live site aren’t as crowded as they appear in the editor). WordPress columns are also responsive, meaning that they reformat to display in fewer columns or a single column if viewed on a small-screen device such as a phone.

Post Grid block in the editor

In this case, to get the preview image to display properly, I need to set the Featured Image for the individual blog posts. This option is found in the settings sidebar of the editor under Post (as opposed to the settings for an individual block within the post).

Setting the Featured Image

This can be the same featured image you use on social media, but it doesn’t have to be.

A Little Effort Can Make a Big Difference

To be clear, I haven’t gone through every step on this list for every page and post of every site I have worked on, and I don’t expect you to, either. However, if you do it when it really matters, the effort will pay off.

Online Presenters’ April 5 Open House

Come to the April 5th Open House. No fooling, April is a great time for guests to make a first-time or repeat visit to Online Presenters. Members can celebrate and showcase the excellence and diversity in our global membership. .

We’ll be revealing what makes Online Presenters so oustanding, including high-caliber evaluations, excellent leaders, and globally-diverse members.

A different kind of meeting?? Yes. Past club presidents will offer special reflections, a single speaker will receive 3 expert evaluations. Table Topics will elicit #MyWhy responses about being part of this premier online-only Toastmaster Club.

Non-members can RSVP – register their desire to guest-visit (and will receive a reminder email with the meeting link.)

SHOW YOUR COLORS. All attendees are invited to download their country/state flag or representation of heritage to use as a background — help celebrate the richness of the global membership in Toastmasters, and cultural diversity within our Online Presenters family.

Members – share this post to help “fill the house” with guests on April 5th. See you there!

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