Ending an extraordinary year

Time flies and it’s hard to believe that we’re already in the middle of June with the end of the 2019-20 Toastmasters year just a fortnight away. The least I can say is that this year was a very interesting year for the District and a very successful one on so many levels.

What an event!

On the first weekend of May, we held our annual conference and what an event! We brought to you the most successful District conference ever to be organised in District 91, with over 800 participants over the weekend. I hope you had a fantastic time and learnt a lot over the 2 days. Missed out on the action, you may still access all sessions.

On 2nd May, you once again put the District trust in my hands as District Director elect. This is a humbling moment and an exciting time to take the helm of District 91. At the time of writing this note, we have already started planning for the 2020/21 programme year and look forward to sharing some details with you soon.

In the meantime, I am looking for Digital professionals to join our Digital team (data scientists, web designers, cloud solution specialists), interested? Let me know …

Last week, I attended one of my Clubs, The Toasted Sandwich, where President Fatma Salahioglu delivered the Pathways Project Reaching Consensus.

The topic for the 20 min project was “To go virtual or to remain physical” with a purpose to better understand and lay the foundation for what post-COVID-19 meetings should look like for the Club. It was fascinating to witness the discussions and how a complete agreement was reached to retain an element of online meetings.

Even more interesting were the reasons brought forward: greater flexibility and greater retention were two I picked up with great interest.

I will encourage all Clubs to engage in such an exercise and start looking at what the post-COVID-19 experience should look like for our members.

Together, we are shaping our District, and refreshing how and what we do within the Toastmasters framework, this is an exciting time!

See you all very soon!


Our new windows to the world

The online events and club meeting experiences are proving to be a winner. In the last few weeks, all seven of our Division Contests events were held. All had over 100 attendees at some point during the event, with one reaching the 200-attendee mark. Absolutely fantastic showcases for what Toastmasters offers.

The small thumbnails on a screen are now our windows to the world. Visiting clubs has never been easier. We are a global organisation and from the comfort of our own homes, we are travelling the world. Our members have shared their experiences of joining meetings around the world, from Vancouver to Lisbon, Lille to Qatar. Each member is hearing new stories, picking up tips on how other clubs run meetings and strengthening the Toastmasters community bond. And in turn, we have been joined at our events by guests from at least four other continents!

Back in September when I mooted the “30 is the new 20” about club membership, some clubs embraced the challenge. One of our newly chartered clubs, Didcot Speakers, which chartered during this period, has reached that target. At the time of writing, Burnham Speakers, with 23 members has just voted to charter, at this rate they will have 30 members by the end of this Toastmasters year.

Toastmasters International, I have heard it said, is the best-kept secret for learning. Let’s share this secret and shout it from the rooftops. Now is the time to step up and seize the opportunity to embrace online webinars, demonstration meetings and open house meetings. As a District we have held a pilot demonstration meeting to test the format – it works! More of these events will be set up through May and June. If you are struggling for guests, hold an online open house meeting and invite all those people you know would benefit from the Toastmasters learning experience. It’s great when I hear the success stories from clubs, particularly during this difficult time when they have guests becoming members.

To support membership growth, the +3 Challenge running from 1 April to 31 May, is simple. Sign up three new members and ensure they are registered, and the District will gift you £30. As we head into May and June the Toastmasters International membership campaign, Beat the Clock commences. Make sure you update your websites, social media and Easyspeak (if your club uses it), to let everyone know you’re meeting online.

Buddy up members to regularly contact each other and help each other out. If you haven’t heard from one of your members for a while during this period, pick up the phone, check-in with them. A note of thanks for all those that joined and engaged so openly in the Survival to Online Interviews webinar, good luck with your interviews.

We are a community and we are supporting each other right now.

Celebrating success

We have a lot to celebrate and be thankful for in District 91 during these challenging times. First of all, thanks to all of your efforts, almost all of our clubs moved their meetings online and we even have guests and new members joining our clubs in the virtual world. The standard of most of our online events has been superb and I expect our upcoming District 91 Conference with its amazing line-up of speakers to be one of the best Toastmasters online conference in the world!

Would you like to end your year on a high note? Why don’t you become a Triple Crown and complete a third educational award this year?

So far nearly 100 members have won this award over the course of the Toastmasters year. Could you be next? Find out how Mel of Didcot Speakers won her Triple Crown in the video below.

Don’t forget about the Pathfinders Award too that you can win for completing a path of Pathways. Many of these awards were given at the recent Division Hall of Fame and you still have two months to finish a path and become a Pathfinder too!

I am also keen to hear more stories of success and achievement from you. During our District Conference Hall of Fame, we will be rewarding a number of clubs and individuals. I am looking for nominations for the Toastmaster of the Year and the Club of the Year.

The Toastmaster of the year will be an individual whose actions were of the highest standard in supporting our members and clubs. Perhaps he or she inspired you and did something amazing. If you would like to nominate someone, please use this link.

The Club of the year will be a club who achieved excellence throughout the year. While excellence metrics are important, we are also looking for stories and how a club and its leaders supported its members. Can you think of a club that laid out amazing events? Is your club perhaps the best club if the world? If so, use this link to tell us more.

Preparing for the small screen

By Helena Boden-Brewer

Fellow Toastmasters this is our new reality. As we adjust to this massive change to our world, for the majority that is staying at home, pause to consider those that are working to support us, from the wider community. For some, this may be family and friends that work in the health service, the supermarkets and the delivery drivers. Follow the advice as we receive it. The changes are daily, and we all have to readjust again.

For our Toastmasters community, the switch to holding online club meetings, hosting events and contests, the response has been phenomenal. In such a short space of time, Zoom meetings are being held and the sense of our community is shining through. The club buddies of phoning members of within your club and checking in with members. It’s a small thing, that really matters. For those that are self-isolating or live alone, being able to join in, either online or via the dial-in details, hearing familiar voices, sharing stories, are providing support in these challenging times.

A new role of Zoom Master has sprung up. I’d like to thank all those members that have joined the Zoom Masters What’s App group and are sharing information and creating guidance, that we can all benefit from.

With these extraordinary times, comes changes to our personal lives, for some, this is about job security and certainty. The shift to moving job interviews online is something new to many. From the posts, I put on Facebook and What’s App last week, there are volunteers stepping forward, offering to help those seeking support for online interviews. Contact me if you require support in this area.

Last year for Toastmasters I wrote a series of articles about preparing for the small screen. There are similar tips if you are preparing to conduct a webinar, host a virtual meeting or be interviewed online.

Here are ten tips for you to consider.

1 – Are you sitting comfortably?

If you are delivering a webinar you will be sitting in the same chair for at least an hour. Ensuring you are comfortable, with good back support will help. Then there’s the position of your laptop or camera in relation to where you are sitting, which parts of you can be seen. Movement is tricky, if you lean forward towards your camera, the audience will receive an unexpected close-up.  Think about your habits, do you rock in your chair, place your hand under your chin, rub your ear or flick your hair? All small things, but easy to become distracting for your audience watching you.

2 – Who are you?

If someone has booked to attend your webinar, they may have done so for several reasons, such as you’re an industry expert, your webinar has been recommended, or they liked the subject matter of your webinar. Providing a brief induction about you and the purpose of the webinar helps settle the attendees. If you have over 20 attendings, it may not be possible to allow time for them to introduce each other. However, if it a business meeting, a small conference or an interview, it is definitely worth knowing who else is there. Allow time for introductions as simple as a name, position and company. This will assist you in knowing if all key stakeholders have joined, and if not, have they sent a representative instead.

3 – Can you hear me?

This is the biggest issue when delivering online training sessions. You need to check in with your online audience that they can actually hear you. The blips and crackles on the sound mean that you are battling with software and putting it this right, rather than delivering your webinar. Joining virtual meetings there is sometimes odd background noises which the attendees are unaware of from their location which is very loud. If you can control muting attendees, do. If not, then encourage them to mute themselves whilst listening. There may be times that despite all the checks that the signal just isn’t good enough. Be prepared to redeliver key points when you recap.

4 – What does that mean?

There are many turns of phrase that are quirky and very British. One recently which had a TV audience thinking about its meaning, ‘put jam on your shoes and invite your trousers down for tea.’ Whilst this may be an obscure expression to some, others will know exactly what is meant by it. When you add turns of phrases or language which are not readily in everyday use, consider how your attendees will interpret them. A webinar on an industry subject with a global reach delivered in English, all the whizz-bang technical jargon will be fully understood. It will be something else, that will trip you up. Consider the questions and time it will take for you to explain why you would put jam on your shoes and invite your trousers down for tea.

5 – It’s behind you!

Whilst you are busy focussing on the camera, have you checked what’s behind you? Whenever possible a clean background is the simplest. If you work in an office that has glass screens, walls and doors, it can be distracting for your audience to have people walking behind you when you are delivering your presentation or pitch. If it’s a virtual interview, definitely clear up the clutter and check what photos and artwork is on the wall. You need to ensure ample lighting for your face, particularly if your background is dark. Does any of the lighting cast shadows on the wall behind you? If it does, change this.

6 – Testing, testing, one, two, three!

It is worth conducting a run-through of any presentation you give. Treat online the same way and practice with a test session. If you are handling technical aspects, it’ll give you one less concern when you are delivering. For webinars, definitely consider recording and watching the test session. You can use this to make any necessary changes. Also, if you have technical problems on the day, you can always use this version to send out the attendees of your webinar later. If you are working with a software package, check out if they have online tutorials that you can watch, the tips may prove very handy, should the technical gremlins decide to come out to play.

7 – Lookin’ good!

Just like meeting people face to face, you have to look the part, your appearance matters. Being well-groomed will help you and your confidence, particularly in an interview situation. It’s not just the clothes, your hair, beard etc…. neat, tidy and professional. In the world of the big and bigger screens, makeup is the norm for a reason, for presenters and actors. Consider how to take the shine from your forehead, taking out redness from the face or conceal dark circles under the eyes. The camera picks up all those blemishes and to you, they will seem to be magnified and you will focus in on them. Be confident and use makeup if you need to.

8 – Any questions?

Be prepared to answer questions. Something to ponder is using systems which provide you with options, for example, attendees message rather than interact vocally. How will you manage this? You may want to consider having the support to deal with the online questions as they arise. They are likely to follow themes based on what you have said. You can have some standard responses ready which you can add into your webinar as you go along. If you are managing the live stream and the questions by yourself, pause after key points check in with the audience that they are following you. This is a good time to ask for questions, which you can then address before you move on. As you presenter, you control this and when you are ready, confidentially state that you will take any further questions about the queries after the webinar.

9 – Reading between the lines.

Try to avoid reading from notes. You will look down and your audience will have a great shot of the top of your head. If the notes are on screen, the movement of your eyes will look odd. All the warmth you will have generated will be lost as you are more likely to come across as stern and robotic. Know your presentation inside out, so that you appear natural. Having prompt cards with keywords on that you can glance at help with when delivering presentations. How about using post-it notes on the side of your screen? You can see them, but the audience can’t.

10 – And action! 

Start on the scheduled time. Greet your audience, colleagues or potential employer with a smile. All the skills that you have developed presenting in person apply here too. You have to engage your audience to ensure they receive your message. A mic or headset may be required, if you are waving your hands about, you may knock this. Endeavour to keep your hands out of shot, if need be, sit on them. Be aware of your nonverbal communications, your eye contact, body language and facial gestures, all come into play. Allow the best of your personality shine through.

Remember to keep a steady pace of speaking, take pauses at transition points and breath. Endeavour to engage with your audience by checking in with them and addressing their questions. Keep to the time stated.

See you on the small screen soon.