Replay: Webinar on Holding Contests Online

This is the replay of a webinar led by District Contests Co-Chair and Technology Support Co-Chair Lois Margolin, along with a collection of resources you can download.

District Leadership Committee Report: Nominees for 2020 – 2021

We are pleased to provide you with the District Leadership Committee report. Kindly note the following individuals that are nominated for District Leadership during the 2020 – 2021 Toastmasters year. The full report, including candidate biographies, is available for download.

District Director

Ivan Thompson

Program Quality Director

Andrew Bern

Brandon Kinsey

Club Growth Director

Austen Canonica

Andre Kelly  

Division A

Price Polynice

Division B

Lois Margolin

Division C

Anthony Ellie

Division D

No applicant

Division E

Sarah Cherres

Division F

Julianna Clarke

Division I

Verna Bonaby

Replay: Webinar on How to Host Online Toastmasters Meetings

This workshop on how clubs used to meeting in person can go online was led by Lois Margolin, DTM, President of Online Presenters Toastmasters, and a District 47 leader. The program included participation from other Online Presenters members from District 47 and throughout the world.

Louis Magolin leads the webinar

The club was founded by District 47 Webmaster David F. Carr, DTM, who provided some of the technical how-to content. See also David’s blog post which includes specific tips on lighting, sound, and meeting organization.

Online Presenters invites guest visitors to attend its Monday night meetings to get a better understanding of how an online Toastmasters meeting works in practice. Register to visit as a guest at https://op.toastmost.org

100 people crowded into the Zoom video conference used for the event, while more watched on Facebook Live.

The webinar was simulcast on Facebook Live

Watch for follow up guidance on how to conduct contests online, as many areas and divisions are now planning to do.

Additional resource: meeting chat

How to Hold Toastmasters Meetings Online – Tips on Technology and Managing Meetings

A meeting of Online Presenters Toastmasters

Many Toastmasters leaders are having to come up to speed quickly on how to conduct meetings and contests online because of the current public health crisis.

As the founding President of Online Presenters Toastmasters, I can offer some perspectives on the advantages, disadvantages, and practical complications of meeting online. I love my online club because it has allowed me to meet people from all over the world, while practicing skills that are useful in business meetings conducted online and for hosting webinars and similar online events. In this particular moment, it may also be good practice for functioning if your workplace goes #SuddenlyVirtual.

A mixed online/offline meeting at Club Awesome

On the other hand, one of the best things about Club Awesome, my local Coral Springs, Florida club, is that attendance gets me out of my home office and into the community. I’m sure many community clubs will miss bringing everyone together in person — and will try to get back to that as soon as possible.

Still, you might learn a few things in the process. For what it’s worth, there is a Pathways project related to managing online meetings.

Budget and Choice of Video Meeting Platforms

Zoom is the most popular choice with online Toastmasters clubs, several of which started with another tool, then switched. Corporate clubs might also consider using Microsoft Teams, which includes a good video meeting tool. There are many other options, and your choice might be driven by whether a club member has an account they can share for club use.

Do you have money in your budget to pay for one of these services? Zoom does have free accounts that support up to 100 simultaneous users, but in the free version meetings are limited to 40 minutes. You might try to get that limit lifted under a program Zoom has announced for educational organizations. Or you might hold shorter meetings. Or structure a longer meeting as a series of < 40-minute meetings, maybe taking a 5 minute break in between segments.

The basic paid Zoom plan that eliminates the time limit costs just under $150 per year (or $14.95 per month, which might make sense if you consider it to be a temporary expenditure).

Challenges About Meeting Online

Watch out for these issues:

Audio Problems

When you have a lot of people in an online meeting and they all have their mics turned on, you run into feedback and other distortions as well as distractions like barking dogs, crying babies, and the sirens of passing ambulances.

For that reason, we typically recommend that everyone mute themselves when they are not speaking. In Zoom, the buttons to turn your mic and camera off and on are in the lower left corner.

Zoom’s mute controls

The absence of sound creates its own challenges for the speaker — when you say something funny, you don’t hear the laughter and may have no idea whether anyone other than you thought it was funny. (Sometimes you can see people laughing, though).

Also, once muted, meeting participants often start speaking without turning their mic back on. If they have a hardware mute/un-mute switch on their computer or headset, they may get confused about why no one can hear them and take a minute to get it straightened out.

One Zoom-specific tip I just learned recently is that when your mic is muted, you can un-mute temporarily by holding down the space bar on your computer. As soon as you release the key, you will be muted again. Perfect for delivering a timer’s report or making a quick comment!

As a meeting host, you will also have to deal with people who forget to turn off their mics before walking away from their computer and doing something noisy. Zoom provides meeting hosts and co-hosts with a “mute all” button (mute everyone but yourself) and the ability to mute participants selectively, as needed.

Do You Need a Headset?

I currently use a wireless headset that plugs into the USB port of my laptop. Other members simply use the microphone and speaker built into their computer. I’ve often advised using cheap earbuds as a simple way of getting better sound and avoiding audio feedback.

You may have to experiment to find out what works for you. Do you get better sound with the headset? Or would you rather not enter the meeting looking like an air traffic controller?

If you go without a headset, try to find a quiet place for your participation in the meeting.

Timing

The role of Timer takes on some added complexity in an online meeting. The timer can show green/yellow/red timing signals by holding timing cards up to the screen, but tricks of lighting can make green and yellow look the same. A bigger problem is that the speaker may loose sight of the video feed from the timer. For example, when a speaker is screen sharing or showing slides, the timer’s image may be bumped off screen.

At Online Presenters, the experienced Timers tend to use a virtual background images that are green, yellow, and red. We also offer the speaker the option of getting an audible signal at each timing milestone.

Video and Visuals

Most laptops come with a built-in camera and mic. Your smartphone probably has a great camera built in. External webcams are available for desktop computers and may give you better quality on a laptop. An external webcam that can be mounted on a tripod may be helpful if you’re trying to set up a camera in a meeting room where those physically present will be interacting with remote participants.

Inadequate lighting tends to be a bigger issue than the quality of your camera when it comes to what people actually see on screen. You may find yourself investing in additional lights for whatever space you use to join an online meeting.

Pay attention to how your face will be framed by the camera and what other participants will see in the background.

I often see people angling the camera so it’s looking up their nose or cutting off the top or bottom of their face. One tip for laptop users is to place a couple of thick books under your computer so that you raise it to closer to eye level.

Frequent online meeting participants may use virtual background software (a basic version of which is built into Zoom) to replace a messy office with a photograph of some more attractive or fanciful scene. There are tutorials on the Online Presenters site about how to do that, but if you’re new at this I’d recommend trying to position yourself in front of a plain white wall, if you have one, of some other scene that’s not too distracting.

Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact with your audience is difficult because your camera is not where the images of the people you’re speaking to are. Most laptops have the camera peering through a pinhole lens above the screen. That means if you try to look into the eyes of my onscreen image, you will appear to be looking a few degrees down.

There are various techniques for trying to compensate, but my simplest recommendation is to periodically try to look directly into the camera to create the illusion of eye contact for your audience. Warning: it will feel unnatural, and you probably won’t be able to do it the whole time.

Group Chat and Voting

Most online meeting platforms include a text chat function, along with the video. This can be useful for back channel communications, or to share links to online resources.

At Online Presenters, we appoint a Chat Monitor as an additional meeting role so someone is watching what is going on in the chat and can alert the meeting organizer to any problems being highlighted there. The Chat Monitor gives a report at the end of the meeting to tell people what they might have missed.

Some members value a lively chat going on parallel to the meeting, while others find it distracting and think it should be discouraged when a speaker is speaking. You’ll have to find your own balance.

For voting in regular meetings, we use private chat messages to the vote counter. For contests, we use an online voting tool (see below).

Mobile Access

Most online meeting platforms, including Zoom, allow you to participate in an online meeting using a mobile phone app, rather than a computer. Given a choice, I would recommend you use a computer as the better experience.

Online Contests

Online clubs conduct their contests online as a matter of routine, but many other clubs, areas, divisions, and districts are currently hustling together plans to go online with events that were originally meant to be traditionally staged. I am on a technology advisory committee for my home district, but there is a lot we are still figuring out.

You can see a replay of last year’s Video Speech Contest from Online Presenters as an example that may spark ideas.

A few thoughts:

  • One practical approach might be to have contestants and a few other functionaries physically present in one location but the judges and other functionaries watching remotely. That would minimize crowd size but still allow speakers to deliver their presentation more naturally, from a standing position.
  • The online judging and vote tabulating tool I created particularly for online contest use may be useful in this context. For compliance with the official rules, it may be necessary for judges and timers to still fill out and sign paper documents, take a picture, and email or text that image to the chief judge. (I’m trying to get a ruling from TI on whether my tool’s method of submitting scores can be considered a “digital signature” under their rules.)
  • For some reason, the rules state that all audience members must mute themselves and turn off their cameras while the speaker is speaking. I anticipate imperfect compliance with this rule and hope TI will be understanding.

Zoom How-To Tips

Because I and most of my Toastmasters teammates have the most experience conducting online meetings in Zoom, we have some particular tips for that environment.

I created this tutorial for my home club, which will be conducting its first all-online meeting March 20 (just as a test at this point).

Tutorial for my home club

My friend Chris Guld, a member of Online Presenters as well as Early Bird Toastmasters, created this tutorial on Zoom basics. She and her husband Jim run Geeks on Tour, a technology training business, so this is a very professional introduction.

Keep It Simple

There is a lot to learn, but do not feel you have to tackle it all at once. Study up, coach your members, and encourage everyone to be patient with each other while you learn. Try to get the benefits of the online tools without allowing them to detract from our mission of better communication and leadership.

Your Toastmasters Club Website Can Help With Recruiting

When guests visit Club Awesome, one thing we often hear from them is, “I looked up a few local clubs, but I really liked what I saw on your website” … which is my cue to beam with pride.

There are certainly limits to what a website can do for you as a recruiting tool — what guests experience in person has to measure up to what they saw online — but a good website can attract guests and, ultimately, members. A bad website can also scare them away. And while I promote WordPress for Toastmasters and have considerable ego wrapped up in the idea that it is the best online platform for clubs, the software is less important than what you do with it. I’ve seen some very uninspired WordPress-based club websites, as well as some good Free Toast Host examples.

I’m only sharing the positive examples, but here is what makes the good ones good:

  • They tell an attractive story, in words, images, and maybe video about the club experience.
  • They clearly explain, right up top, where and when meetings are held, how to attend as a guest, and that guests are always welcome.
  • They focus on answering questions people with little or no knowledge of Toastmasters are likely to have, rather than on insider information for current members. Particularly on the home page, avoid navel gazing.
  • The images, videos, and colors used are carefully chosen to support a clear, welcoming message.
  • Bonus: More depth beyond the home page. Examples: Member directory, blog articles, link to an active Facebook Group or Facebook Page.

I like the Miami-Wynwood Toastmasters example shown above because it features a collage of dynamic images: four Toastmasters in the act of speaking, not posing woodenly with a ribbon or a certificate.

In fact, it inspired me to add a semi-similar image at the top of the Club Awesome home page.

Top of the Club Awesome home page as of Feb. 2020

My version does feature a ribbon-passing photo (with smiling, friendly faces), but also some images of club members in action. As is true of the Miami-Wynwood home page, the image is followed by a couple of paragraphs of “why this is the right club for you” copy, then details on where and when we meet. We include a Google Maps link, and they embed the actual map.

What to Avoid

The negative examples I cite here might not necessarily scare a potential visitor away, if your club has established a good reputation in other ways (offline word of mouth) and meets at a convenient place and time. However, we know how important first impressions are, and these days someone’s first impression of your club is likely to be an impression they get online, before you even get them in the door.

Things I recommend against:

  • Outdated information, like a message congratulating the “new” officers … from 3 years ago.
  • Insider messages that only make sense to people who are already in Toastmasters.
  • Home pages that are all text, no images, video, or other eye-catching elements.
  • Group photos and ribbon/certificate passing photos that fall flat. Not all group photos are bad, but if the group is small and the members don’t look particularly happy, ask yourself why you’re sharing it. Try to feature dynamic, engaging images, particularly at the top of the page.
  • Photos where no one is smiling or looking at the camera. One local club prominently features a photo taken from the back of the room where everyone is looking in the other direction.
  • – don’t think you should use every available font, or make everything bold and italic (the whole point of those is emphasis, and you can’t put equal emphasis on everything).
  • Wild, random color choices. A simple, consistent design tends to be much better.

Let’s get back to the positives.

Using Video

Video is one of the best ways of showing Toastmasters in action. Here’s a good use of video, right at the top of the home page of Hobe Sound Toastmasters. The still image is eye-catching, making it more likely that a visitor will click “Play.”

Club Awesome uses two video clips, not at the very top of the page but a short scroll down. home page, you find a video of club members endorsing the club experience, and another showing what it’s like to receive a standing ovation (which we customarily give to every Ice Breaker).

Club Awesome videos

We also often post blogs that feature speeches that the speakers were particularly proud of, as well as contest-winning speeches (with the speaker’s permission).

See my article on How to Routinely Record and Share Toastmasters Speech Videos for tips on both the mechanics and the etiquette.

Shooting video is also a way you can get better photography for your website because you can pull still images from the video of a speaker to capture a moment where they are making a dramatic movement. Here are how-to instructions using free tools for Windows and Mac.

Going Beyond the Home Page

A good club home page can do a lot for you, but adding additional web pages or blog posts does a few things for you:

  • Gives the interested website visitor more to explore and an impression of the club that is more than skin deep.
  • Creates alternate entry points: a website visitor may start with an interesting page or post found through search or social media, then navigate to the home page to get the basic details.
  • Gives you an alternate link to promote on social media, beyond your club home page.

Plantation Toastmasters has created a Speakers Gallery where their most accomplished / ambitious speakers have their own pages. You can see they use a group photo on their home page, but it’s an impressively large group where people are smiling and looking into the camera.

Club Awesome sometimes builds blog posts around videos of outstanding speeches, like this one from Dr. Andrew Bern.

When you feature an individual club member, you create an opportunity for that members and their friends to share and like any social media postings of the article. Website visitors who read the blog and / or watch the video will have a point of reference when they come to the club and meet that person.

You can also encourage members who like to write (or, at least, are willing to write) to share a blog post about how to write a speech, lead a volunteer organization, or any other topic on which they have expertise. They can get Toastmasters credit for the Write a Compelling Blog Pathways project.

Access to a built-in blog is one of the reasons I recommend WordPress. However, if you’re on Free Toast Host or some other platform, you can also post links to articles on LinkedIn (which has its own blog-like tool for publishing articles), Medium, or some other publishing web publishing platform.

More Positive Examples

Creative framing of a group photo, with Spanish language content to emphasize the nature of Broward Bilingual Toastmasters Club.

Home page photo taken from an interesting angle: Delray Newsmakers.

Do You Really Need a Website?

The next two examples, the official website you get directed to from Find a Club on toastmasters.org are a Facebook page and an Eventbrite page.

One Voice Unity:

Young Professional Entrepreneurs:

In both cases, I think these clubs do a good job of sharing images and information that might entice someone to visit. On the other hand, I would argue these options inherently limit the kind of content you can post.

I absolutely think you should take advantage of Facebook as part of your club marketing plan, and it has a lot of advantages. Posting an image and a couple of sentences to Facebook is easier than creating a blog post; on the other hand if you want to post more in-depth information and control the presentation of your content, that is not as easy on Facebook. Also, not everyone is on Facebook, and some of the people you want to reach may actively dislike the service.

In other words, I think it’s better to use online services like this as an extension and amplifier of what you do on your website, not as a substitute for it.

Worth the Effort

Maybe you don’t have time to write a dozen blog posts per week, or share tons of videos on your website. You don’t have to go crazy. But I hope I have convinced you it’s worth investing some time and effort in making your website more attractive and interesting for potential members to explore — and eliminating the negatives that could be scaring them away.

Storytelling for Speakers

Stories are the speaker’s most powerful communication tool, but how does storytelling work? Why do some stories connect while others don’t? I share the answers in the video from my February, 2020 workshop on storytelling and in the text below.

When I was a young man still in college, I found myself—quite through happenstance—in the company of an odd band of folks who lived aboard their sailboats in the free anchorage in Miami. The stories they told about harrowing adventures in faraway places captured my interest. Up until that time, I’d been a private prep-school student headed toward some sort of advanced degree and the career that followed, but when I realized that stories of adventure at sea were not just the stuff of books and movies, I resolved to find stories of my own. Thus began my storytelling journey.

Stories inspired me, and the secret floating village of Miami’s Dinner Key anchorage was a storybook Steinbeck himself would have envied. I took notes and photographs and began to develop my “story consciousness.” I didn’t know exactly what stories were, but I made it my business to look for them. My first big realization was that no matter how grandiose the setting or how severe the storm, stories are always about people. This is the golden rule of storytelling. Put colorful people in a colorful setting and give them colorful things to do, and you’ve got stories to tell. Take away the people and you’ve got nothing. If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear, does it make a sound? No.

Continue reading “Storytelling for Speakers”

Table Topics Tips

Lois Margolin leads a Table Topics workshop at the Division B TLI

At Division A and B, I was honored to be asked to provide a session on Table Topics. Actually, I begged to do this. Regardless of how it happened, we discovered that Toastmasters are hungry for information on Table Topics.  With John Schneyer as the Table Topics master, we created an experience where each volunteer had 45 seconds to address a topic. The audience would then tell them what they did that they loved. Then we discussed a tip they could use to enhance their story. 

Great speeches are those where the audience connects with the speaker. In our 40-minute sessions, we heard 30-35 Table Topics, and each tip was different.  Some tips included how to enter the room, appreciate a punch line and determine where to put your hands. Throughout both sessions, I felt three tips stood out that can benefit every Toastmaster. 

Continue reading “Table Topics Tips”

Talk Up Toastmasters Membership Drive, Through March 31

The “Talk Up Toastmasters” membership program provides the opportunity for you to invite guest to a special meeting, where prospective members can learn about Toastmasters’ many benefits. Then add five new, dual or reinstated members with a join date between February 1 and March 31, and you’ll receive a special “Talk Up Toastmasters” ribbon to display on your club’s banner. Qualifying clubs can also earn a special discount code for 10% off their next club order. 

District Conference: See How Keynote Speaker Darren LaCroix Became a World Champion

The 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking Darren LaCroix used his win to catapult himself into a career as a professional speaker, coach, and trainer on topics including the power of humor.

He will be a keynote speaker at the Toastmasters District 47 Conference, coming up May 1-3, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale.

Here is the speech that made Darren LaCroix a world champion.

Learn more about the district conference and register today to see our own future world champions compete in the district’s International Speech, Table Topics, Humorous, and Evaluation contests. The conference will also feature educational workshops (workshop presenter applications being accepted until Feb. 15) and other opportunities to network and learn from Toastmasters leaders.

Continue reading “District Conference: See How Keynote Speaker Darren LaCroix Became a World Champion”

Contest Chair and Chief Judge Briefing Scripts for Winter 2020 Contests

Thanks to District Contest Chairs Lois Margolin and Patricia Hamilton, contest organizers have 2 new scripts they can use as the basis for their contest briefings — designed to help ease contest-day jitters.

See also the Contest resources page.