The year 2020, changed almost everything in our lives, including the way we conducted Toastmasters meetings. Covid-19 struck and we were forced to move into the world of virtual meetings. We struggled to select the right platform and understand the mechanism of virtual meetings, but we finally succeeded.

Today,

  • We are experts in hosting online meetings
  • We have the maximum attendance in our meetings
  • Our agendas are packed with every possible segment.

But let us pause and ask ourselves, have we really succeeded?

In the virtual world, no doubt we have more people attending, but how many of them are actually active attendees? Some appear connected but are not present, some are simultaneously present in multiple meetings, and videos of participants are switched off most of the time.

While we must applaud ourselves for adapting seamlessly, we also need to find ways to enhance member involvement and focus. Let us explore some ideas to make club meetings more interesting and value-adding for members, by asking and answering a few questions.  

Are your meetings interesting and entertaining?

 First and foremost, it is important to understand the nature of the club and the reason why its members attend meetings.  Is it a force of habit, the urge to learn, or the excitement of performing a role? Accordingly, within the framework of a Toastmasters standard meeting, we could experiment with variations.

While project speeches are a must, the evaluations can be conducted differently.

  • We could think of a panel evaluation to get more members involved.
  • Another idea could be to have an ‘expected evaluation session’ before the project speeches, wherein the General Evaluator throws a challenge to the evaluator, “I would like you to deliver an evaluation with traces of humour”. The twist could bring a refreshing change.  

A reverse meeting can have the attendees in splits of laughter. The President begins with a concluding address, followed by the General Evaluator who indicates with an imaginative presentation what the other role players are expected to do. A recent reverse meeting at ESCF Toastmasters Club, was a laughter riot when following the instructions of the GE, TMOD Shilpa Shreemanth appeared with an inverted image, Grammarian Rania tried a hand at Hindi, and speaker Usha Soman sang a birthday song for herself.

A captivating theme can make even an online meeting energetic and engaging. At Star of Arabia TMC, when TMOD Rajesh Sequeira related the true story of a driver without education making crores by investing in stocks, the members were all eyes and ears. He offered simple investment tips by taking the examples of 10 well-known companies. The productive meeting was a huge success. 

Are you from time to time involving the attendees?

The Table Topics segment gives the greatest opportunity for member inclusion and creativity.   

The TT master at one of the meetings brought an attractive visual – a tray with an assortment of fruits. picked up a fruit one by one and asked the audience to guess which member’s favourite fruit it was. She followed it up with a Table Topic related to the fruit. The attendees had their audios and videos on throughout and for the duration of her 25-minute session the entire crowd of 25 people was actively involved.

Are the items on the agenda standard ones, or is there variety?

 The agendas for most of the virtual meetings seem to be standard – 3 project speeches, 3 evaluations, table topics, grammarian, word master, general evaluator, Sergeant at Arms and President’s address.

Change the philosophy – it is during times of fun that we learn a lot. Bring in variety with a quiz, impromptu debate, an education session, OR even better, have a members’ only meeting and thrash out the problems of your club.

Riyadh Gems TMC conducts Impromptu Debates wherein the topic and the 2 member teams are chosen on the spot. Akin to Table Topics, the opening speakers present their arguments without prior preparation and the rebuttal speakers invalidate the arguments immediately. UAE Advanced TMC experienced the thrill of impromptu debating for the first time at a joint meeting with Riyadh Gems TMC.

Organize Joint Club Meetings. During the times of physical meetings, we yearned for joint club meetings. Today, we have the opportunity to hold joint meetings with clubs in any part of the world if the timings are suitable. This gives an opportunity to gain insight into the cultures and practices of different countries.  Business Excellence TMC held a joint meeting with Carsons TM Club in Sri Lanka during Ramadan this year. Roles were shared equally between the two clubs and when members tried to learn a smattering of each other’s languages the entertainment was total.

Do attendees get any value from attending your meetings?  Last but not the least, ask yourself whether you are getting any value from attending your club meetings. If you are not satisfied, then how do you think others are finding value? Time is Money and every minute spent is valuable. Any meeting should result in something valuable for the participants; either information, entertainment or skill development.  Members at the end of every meeting must eagerly look forward to the next. So, put on your creative hats and come up with innovative ideas.

Last December DTM Michael Bown of District 21 organized “Holidays around the World: 24 Hours of Toastmasters and Culture”, in which a marathon of 12 Toastmasters meetings was held back to back across different countries. It was a memorable and phenomenal meeting with attendees from around the world for Morison Muscat TMC who were the hosts from District 105. The Virtual platforms have allowed us to attend meetings from the comfort of our houses or offices.  For many of us, they have even reduced the burden of the fees we were paying. We can travel around the world even several times a day. Adopting simple steps like keeping our videos on, participating with a single-minded purpose, minimizing presentations and maximizing interaction can help add more energy and engagement in our meetings. So, until we get back to physical meetings or hybrid ones at least, let us continue pushing the envelope.

Balaji Nagabhushan, DTM

Past District Director of District 105 for the year 2018-19, DTM Balaji led the District to win the Smedley Distinguished District award. A Toastmaster since 1998, he is passionate about learning and mentoring and has mentored several clubs and members over the years. He is presently the Group Chief Administrative Officer of Tristar.

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