Real Benefits from a Virtual World

By Anthony Garvey, Shilling Speakers & D91 International Speech Champion 2023

Online Clubs in District 91

Do you think the majority of Toastmasters clubs in District 91 are online only, face-to-face or hybrid clubs?  The answer may surprise you.

38% of clubs in our District are hybrid clubs, just 30% have fully returned to face-to-face meetings, while 16% of our clubs are online only.  If you are wondering where the other percentages have gone, 11% of our clubs alternate between face-to-face and online and 5% switch between online and hybrid. I am Anthony Garvey, the recently crowned D91 International Speech Contest winner. Let me tell you my story:

It was a freezing Winter’s night.  I faced a 30-minute drive on icy roads to sit in a village hall with minimal heating for our Toastmasters meeting. Brrr! Later, I would have to navigate my way back safely, knowing my two kids would be fast asleep by the time I arrived home.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Toastmasters.  But I wondered if there was a way to get to meetings without risking life and limb, while staying warm AND being around to tuck my kids in at night.

District contests as we know from our recent conference are now hybrid and with practice, you can win the contests if you compete online – I am living proof! And there are other benefits too.  While my fellow competitors were biting their nails nervously in the Barbican in London, I took time out in Tralee in the Republic of Ireland to nip down and make a refreshing cup of tea!  Try doing that at a live contest!

I began to visit online Toastmasters clubs – there are lots of them – and in just ten weeks, I had visited clubs in every continent in the world!  I was impressed by the warmth with which I was greeted at the meetings and by how much I was learning. As most of my work is now conducted online, I was also noticing an improvement in my communication skills, thanks to the tips and advice I was picking up on my journey of discovery.

Because of the time difference and scheduling Toastmaster meetings around work and family commitments, I began to narrow my search back down to the UK and Ireland, where there are 350 clubs. Some meet in person, others meet online and there are hybrid clubs too.  The variety is staggering. Let me tell you a little about just four of the clubs.

Melting Pot Toastmasters was originally set up as a corporate club in 2018 for employees of the businesses within Milton Park, a 250-acre mixed use business and technology park in Oxfordshire.  The club currently has 16 members and was originally chartered as an in-person club but has moved to online only.  Melting Pot Toastmasters meet every other Tuesday on Zoom, at 1200 GMT for one hour.

“We run a few joint meetings with other clubs in Abingdon and Didcot, to give our members an opportunity to socialise face-to-face, now that the pandemic has eased somewhat,” said Andrew Graner, the club’s VPPR, who carries out his club duties while working from California in the US.  “Whether you need help delivering a best man speech, preparing for an interview or developing your management skills, our club will help you along the way, plus you will also be able to meet an amazing group of people who share similar ambitions and challenges.”

Experience French Toastmasters also started as a physical club in London in September 2012 and moved to meet online in March 2020 during the pandemic. Their meetings are on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Mondays of the month at 1845 GMT/BST.

This is a Bilingual French and English club,  they alternate between English and French language meetings and are open to people speaking both languages. An unusual trait is that the Toastmaster speaks the opposite language during their meetings, so you can experience and practice both French and English every time you attend an Experience French Toastmasters meeting. The club meetings are currently hybrid, at the London campus of Dauphine University near Angel.

“We have members based in the US, Greece, Cameroon, France, and the UK in our club,” said Club Mentor and Immediate Past President, Annelise Lepage.  “Hybrid meetings offer our members the flexibility to visit us in person or connect with us online, depending on their circumstances.”

Unlike clubs which have experimented with online and hybrid formats due to the pandemic restrictions, Firebirds was originally founded as a global advanced online club at a time when there were hardly any online options.

“We meet every Sunday and alternate between morning and evening meetings to allow for time zone differences. We currently have members in Australia, New Zealand, Nigeria, France, Germany, Ireland, UK, Canada, USA, Spain, Argentina, India and have guests from many other countries,” said club member Andrew P Bennett, twice a District champion.  “I enjoy the global feel of the club. It is truly Toastmasters ‘International’ and several members have won contests and undertaken roles in Districts around the world.”

Bennett said he was thrilled to see some clubs returning to in-person meetings, as he knows that for many, that is an important part of their club identity.

“Online clubs provide a different sort of experience. There is the possibility for Toastmasters who live a long way from an in-person meeting to join us or those whose working lives make in person attendance at a meeting difficult. From my perspective , with some mobility difficulties, it is helpful to be able to attend online.”

Eventually I whittled my shortlist of clubs down to just one and I joined Shilling Speakers.

Shilling Speakers has 28 members from 9 different countries, with three TEDx speakers and 7 Distinguished Toastmasters (the highest level a Toastmaster can reach), but the club is open to speakers at all levels. We also have 8 members who are completely new to Toastmasters.  We meet on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month at 1930 GMT.

This year I was lucky enough to be elected President of the club, which is a great honour and even though it involves a little extra work, I still manage to get to our meetings.  I’m warm and cosy on freezing cold, Winter evenings and I also get to tuck my kids into bed at night.

So, if you are reading this and you want to improve your communication and leadership skills, or you simply want to try something different, pop along to an online or a hybrid Toastmasters club near you.  There is a great range of clubs both on your doorstep and online and I would encourage you to try a few out before settling on one or two to join.

We would of course love to see you as our guest at Shilling Speakers.

Register for any of our meetings by clicking here:

To attend Melting Pot Toastmasters, register here:

Should you wish to attend an Experience French Toastmasters meeting, please register via their Meetup group: or contact them on

Drop into Firebirds Collective through their meeting link: or follow them on the Firebirds Collective Facebook page:

Check out the new online search tool on the Toastmasters’ website for the full range of clubs:

Anthony Garvey, President, Shilling Speakers & D91 International Speech Champion 2023