“Online clubs are not proper Toastmasters clubs.” I would be quite rich if I had £1 for every time I have heard or seen that in the last few years. I beg to differ: They are ‘proper Toastmasters clubs and in fact they are vitally important to keep our organisation alive and thriving.
Pre-2020, online clubs were serious outliers, most were un-districted although that had started to change, but by early 2020 ALL clubs were either online or closed until they could return to regular meetings. I would like to take a moment to thank all those wonderful Toastmasters who went online, kept their clubs functioning and growing and most probably helped to save our entire organisation from having to rebuild from the ground up.
What did those online Toastmasters clubs discover? Wow! An entire world of clubs to visit, plus a mass of new visitors for their clubs. People joined clubs who would not have been able to join a club before even though they might have had a desperate need to do some confidence building and learn some valuable skills.
I want to be clear here that I am talking about online-only clubs, not hybrid which is a story for another day.
As far as I can gather there are now about 126 online clubs of diverse types worldwide listed on Toastmasters International. I am fairly sure that only one D91 online club is on that list even though I believe there are at least ten online-only clubs in our District, including closed corporate clubs.
As D91 Alignment Chair even I have found it hard to find those clubs, so I am not very hopeful for the public finding an online club if they wanted to find one.
A quick Google search brings up the Toastmasters International website listing for Online-only Clubs, with its one D91 club but little else of any help.
Let me explain why we need to show our online clubs some extra love and attention: Basically we are missing a huge opportunity to gain not only new clubs but also to spread the word about Toastmasters outside its usual demographic of people.
Belonging to an online Toastmasters club in the UK offers several advantages. Just like being a part of any Toastmasters club, they focus on developing communication and leadership skills, plus here are some specific advantages of being a member of an online Toastmasters club:
- Convenience: Online clubs offer a convenient platform to work on your speaking skills from the comfort of your own home. You can participate in meetings and events without the need to commute. This not only saves time but also eliminates transportation costs and environmental concerns.
- Flexibility: Online Toastmasters clubs allow members to attend meetings from anywhere with an Internet connection. This flexibility is particularly useful for individuals with busy schedules or those who live in remote areas.*
- Diverse Membership: Online clubs often attract members from various locations, backgrounds, and cultures. This diversity can enrich the Toastmasters experience, exposing members to different perspectives and communication styles.
- Networking Opportunities: Online clubs enable members to connect with professionals from various parts of the UK and worldwide, potentially expanding your professional network.
- Skill Development: members will be learning skills that are needed increasingly in the workplace.
- Feedback and Evaluation: Speeches are often recorded at online meetings to give members detailed constructive feedback with the opportunity for them to review their performance and rapidly see where improvements can be made.
- Personal Growth: Just like a traditional Toastmasters club, the online club can boost self-confidence and self-esteem in speaking and leading in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.
- Cost-Effective: Online clubs may have lower membership fees compared to in-person clubs since they do not have to rent physical meeting spaces. This makes Toastmasters accessible to a wider range of individuals.
- Accessibility: Online clubs can be a great possibility for individuals with physical disabilities or other limitations that make attending in-person meetings difficult.
- Cultural Exposure: If you join an international online club, you can gain exposure to various cultural nuances in communication, which can be a valuable skill in our interconnected world.
Overall, an online Toastmasters club provides an excellent opportunity to enhance your communication and leadership abilities, offering the same benefits as in-person clubs with the added convenience of remote access.
Online clubs can easily become ‘niche’ clubs by specializing in a single interest, humour, a sport, a hobby, advanced speaking skills and the online platform makes it far easier to attract members to those clubs. They can be international or local hubs for rural areas.
Online clubs can attract speakers and presenters from across the world to speak on a wide range of topics. They can attract ex-pats and international visitors as members to add to a club’s diversity.
Who are the prospective members for a locally based online club? People who cannot attend a regular meeting, due to work commitments, caring commitments, costs, transport difficulties, physical, emotional, and mental health issues that make it difficult to travel.
Those who live outside London do not always have reliable regular public transport.
How many people have heard stories of people who take weeks, months or even years before they feel able to visit a club in person? Attending an online club is a gentle way to start the journey of personal development.
There was a recent post on the Toastmasters Facebook group from a member who has just received her DTM with her online club where she is a Division Director in Founders District in USA and ironically, she is based on the Isle of Wight.
I have just had a talk with a member who must leave the club she currently belongs to as she is moving because of a new job in which she will have to do a lot of online presentation. She in now interested in joining an Online Club to help improve her skills.
Online meetings can be vibrant and fun if you choose to make them that way, be available for socializing at the start and end of meetings. Competing is just as viable online as in regular clubs as shown by our District 91 International Speech Contest Winner this year, Anthony Garvey.
Our existing and potential new Online Clubs need attention from us all. Find out where there is an online club so you can point people to it. There are people who do not know about online clubs but would benefit from joining. Regular community clubs are not providing what they want and need.
Online clubs are not something to be hidden aways and shunned as inferior. They are part of the future of Toastmasters.
We can only go forward now and integrate the new, going back was never an option.
Barbara Saph DTM
District 91 Alignment Chair
*Travel costs are £16 every time I visit my nearest in-person-only home club – ed.