Monday, May 2, 2016

Online Toastmasters- Boldly Going Where Nobody Has Gone Before!

Yesterday, History was made at Toastmasters and another step was taken for mankind as well. Yesterday was the Charter Party Meeting for the Firebird Collective, one of Toastmasters first totally online chartered clubs.

Toastmasters International has been a non-profit global educational organization focused on the development of communication and leadership skills for over 90 years now. It has been largely known in the United States and has been growing more and more outside of the U.S. for a number of years with more than 14,000 clubs worldwide and more than 300,000 members. Toastmasters started a strategic initiative a few years ago to rework their entire educational program, something that they’ve called the Revitalized Education Program (more commonly known as REP). The program has recognized that the needs of its members and future members have changed and the educational program needs to reflect these changes. Traditionally, Toastmaster members have met at brick and mortar clubs tied to a single geographical location (face to face). The Toastmasters Board of Directors cleared the way for online clubs with what they referred to as Phase 1 and Phase 2 clubs and then in February of this year they decided to allow online clubs to charter or to become full-fledged Toastmaster clubs. The Firebird Collective was “officially” chartered on March 29, 2016, the second totally online Toastmaster club. Yesterday was charter celebration of a chartering process one that until February 2016 was only allowed to the traditional bricks and mortar club, now club definition has evolved to allow for online clubs!  

There are a lot of Toastmasters who have been working on bringing the bricks and mortar functionality of traditional clubs into the online world, some have been working on this for ten years and longer, so to these people, this is quite an achievement. Manhal Shukayr gave a speech during yesterday’s meeting telling us a little bit about the history of online Toastmaster clubs. He told us of how an interest in bringing together various groups of elderly people together to form Toastmaster clubs led him to test various tools to bring these people together. Within Firebirds, we know that people whose mobility is limited, still want to be a part of the Toastmasters experience and online clubs allows them to take an active part without leaving their homes and having to go through whatever ordeal they might need to go through to get to a traditional bricks and mortar club that might be quite far away and not at all a practical solution for them any longer. It boggles the mind when you think of how this could be very helpful for people with all kinds of disabilities!  As Manhal’s speech wasn’t a long keynote address, the audience really only got a taste of the history, but enough of a sense to appreciate that something monument had happened and that we were now all a part of it.

We were all treated to a speech by Jim Kokocki, the current Toastmasters International President. Mr. Kokocki told us how he has been using his monthly column in the Toastmaster Magazine to get a few messages out. One of his messages is that there are three things needed for leadership to grow: knowledge, a place to practice, and feedback, this is all something that Toastmasters has traditionally done very well with. He said that the actual product of Toastmasters is a changed person and that the meeting (physical and now online) is the delivery mechanism. Mr. Kokocki told us of a covered wooden bridge that was abandoned, then turned into a tourist center, that again feel into disuse because people were now using Google Maps and no longer needed to stop at such Tourist centers. We should all keep open minds, so that we don’t become some antiquated building that history has left behind. He was very optimistic about the role that online clubs can take to bring in new members to help keep Toastmasters relevant to the world we live in today as well as the world of tomorrow.

Another theme I noticed that was touched on a few times yesterday was that the online nature allows for a truly multi-cultural experience. When the Firebird Collective chartered, it was with 28 members from 11 different countries. How many people really get the chance to meet and socialize with people from that many different countries at one time, in one location, and never need to leave your home to do it?  Firebirds has members from: Mexico, U.A.E., New Zeeland, Australia, England, the Philippines, England, Germany, Canada, and the U.S. as well as guests from all over the world.  Kim Hahn, the Vice President of Membership at Firebirds, said during her speech yesterday that online has taken what had traditionally been a local experience (attending a Toastmasters meeting) and turned it into a global experience. She also said that we no longer needed to be geographically isolated.

With Smart-phones, Tablets, and all kinds of other devices, younger people are expecting that companies and organizations have an online presence. Toastmasters now have the opportunity to develop and present themselves in an online world. With online clubs you can work on the same skills that you would at a traditional bricks and mortar club, but you can also develop the skills you’ll need to succeed in a truly global world. If you have a company or organization with a global reach, imagine how this experience could help you and your employees/associates/customers? This is a brave new world with a lot of possibilities.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a big Star Trek fan and in March the Firebird Collective held a Star Trek themed meeting. Much of the technology shown in Star Trek and science fiction has become reality (think about cell phones and tablets) and even an online Toastmaster club meeting might not have seemed possible even two years ago, now it is. Remember, Toastmasters produced changed people, this can be at physical brick and mortar clubs, it can now be in online clubs, and who really knows what future technology might bring us.


If you’re interested in learning more about Online Toastmaster clubs, feel free to check out the OnlineToastmaster Facebook Group. The Firebirds Collective Facebook Page can be found here. I did an episode about online clubs for the Toastmaster Podcast Europe where we discuss what a normal meeting is like and other questions that you might find interesting that you can check out here. I interviewed Toastmasters International President, Jim Kokcocki which you’ll find here

Photo credit: The picture above was taken by Elise Lonsdale, capturing a snapshot of the meeting with a view of her desktop during the meeting. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Raise Your Voice- Blog Action Day 2015

Today is Blog Action Day (BAD) and this year’s theme is “Raise Your Voice”.  Today thousands of bloggers and different organizations from around the world will be writing about it for the 8th annual Blog Action Day on October 16, 2015. Every year Blog Action Day raises awareness about a specific theme and it is always a chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves to feel that you can make a difference in the world around you. This year’s theme of “Raise Your Voice” really resonates with me on a variety of levels, all of which I will describe.

I’ve been taking part in Blog Action Day since the first one back in 2007 and I’m happy to continue my involvement.  Every year the theme’s build upon with has come before and this year’s theme seems especially so, I’d even say that it is at the core of making changes in our world. In order to make changes someone first needs to speak up to “Raise Their Voice”. We live in a world of instant results and instant gratification, and where most people won’t chase after the big dreams. There is a lot of apathy everywhere and the overall feeling that you see is that “one person can’t make a difference”, “you can’t fight city hall”, “we’ve always done it this way”, “it will never work”, and the list of excuses we tell our selves seems to grow larger. But change has to start somewhere. I’m reminded of a story that I’ve heard several times in my life.

There were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

(note: you can find the story was summarized here). What escapes most of us a lot of the time is that we’re all “somebody” and sometimes we need to be the one to raise our voice when other are afraid or seem unwilling. That first voice gets momentum going and once momentum is going it is a whole lot easier to get others to join in on a movement and when the momentum is going fast enough, people will question what took so long and how come it didn’t start sooner. While momentum is no guarantee of success, if that first person doesn’t raise their voice, there is no inertia. In physics I was taught that a body at rest tends to stay at rest while a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

I’ve been very active in Toastmasters the last few years and one of the things that has stuck with me from Toastmasters is that we all have a voice. In the beginning many of us are afraid to use it before a crowd. Many of us spend a lot of time trying to find our voice. What is it we have to say? What is our message? Toastmasters provides a laboratory where you can practice using your voice, you can make mistakes, and people will support you.  We’re all human and everybody makes mistakes, don’t let the stop you from raising your voice. If you’d like to practice using your voice you’re welcome to visit any Toastmaster club, but I hope that you’ll take the chance to practice using your voice and to find your voice.

Sometimes our world today seems overly complex and overwhelming but when we’re in need of inspiration it can be found everywhere. We’re blessed to be able to see thousands of motivating videos by inspiring people on YouTube. We can find words of wisdom on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes you need to tune out all the noise but it is there for you to find.

Our world is full of people who are unable (or initially unwilling) to raise their voice, but human history if full of unlikely people who raised their voices and eventually others joined. If you look at Gandhi and Rosa Parks, who would have thought that these two could ever have accomplished what they did.  I encourage you to be Somebody! Have a look at the Blog Action Day website, look around the web to see what people are doing for Blog Action Day 2015, you can also look for #BAD2015, #Bad15, #BlogAction15, #RaiseYourVoice,  #FreeToWrite, #JustABlogger, and Blog Action Day as hashtags and keywords. Be Somebody and “Raise Your Voice”!

The Future is not yet written, Let's build it together!


Photo Credits: "Gandhi Graffiti San Francisco" is from here. "Rosa Parks Booking" is from here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

95 Reasons to Remember


November 14-16 was the first ever District Conference for one of the newest Districts in Toastmasters. More than 300 people were registered for the event in Frankfurt, Germany with quite a few people deciding to show up at the last minute. The attendees, participants, and all the people putting on the conference found at least “95 Reasons to be There” and then some. District 95 history was made with a whole lot of firsts, lots of memories, and plenty of good times, here some impressions that I had from the event.

I’ve been to a few district conferences now and while it won’t be too much longer until I can count the number I’ve been to on more than one hand, I always find them fun, memorable, and I always walk away learning lots of things (often about myself). This conference will be memorable for me for a number of reasons including my helping out at the registration desk, having a role in running one of the contests, great speeches, friends, and a great weekend.

During the Opening Ceremony, Norbert Poppe gave the audience a kind of Frankfurt for beginners kick-off; D95 Governor, Kees Broos, told us about a popular expression he learned when he was living in New Zeeland “Sweet as” (which was referred to quite often during the weekend); and International Director, Khaled Matlagaitusome, told us about how some district governors will say that their districts are saturated and that there isn’t any more room for growth (with Los Angeles having 3 districts alone compared to the 11 countries currently comprising D95). Our part of the Toastmasters world is indeed growing quite a bit.

Saturday brought us the District Council Meeting where there was a lot of time spent talking about growth of the district with applications for admission to join D95 coming from the Baltic States, Slovakia, and the Ukraine. After some lively discussion about all the national applications, the District Council Meeting approved all applications to join. We were informed that Toastmasters International’s guidelines are based on a country joining with at least 4 clubs forming an area. Since the Baltic States were looking to join as an area between the three countries, their application would ultimately need to be approved by Toastmasters Headquarters. The Ukraine’s application discussion didn’t take on the political discussion that you might have assumed it would but it is a little tricky because they will likely need to form two areas due to the current number of existing clubs and they will need to do a lot of work to get the currently existing clubs up to the necessary club strength. Slovakia has actually been working on joining a European district since 1999, but they already have been working quite a bit with the Czech Republic and Austria, so their admission appeared to be the most straight forward during this DCM. Kees mentioned that he wanted to revise the Strategic Advisory Board via committees and he mentioned the creation of some committees and their leaders. We were informed that Dananjaya Hettiarachchi (2014 World Champion of Public Speaking) will be the keynote speaker at the 2015 D95 Spring Conference. Prague’s bid to host the 2015 D95 Fall Conference was accepted and the 2016 D95 Spring Conference will be hosted in Romania. On a personal note, I was mentioned during the PRO (Public Relations Officer) report for the Toastmasters Europe Podcast. Provided that all of the applications for acceptance of new countries within D95 meet with all the necessary approval, this will be a pretty big expansion of D95 and signals that further reorganization won’t be too much further down the road.

There were great Humorous Speech and Table Topics (Improvisational Speaking) Contests held in English and German. Former D59 District Governor, Morag Mathieson, had the honor of being the first-ever contest master in D59 with the English Table Topics. Contestants were to incorporate the quote “Living dangerously is the only way to live” into their Table Topic speeches. It should be noted that Goethe came from the Frankfurt area. Alexander Lang got the house rocking as the German Humorous contest master. Toni Lämmel referred to the 2014 World Champion of Public Speaking winner Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, saying that he something in them, what do you see that others don’t? Ivan Aksenov reminded the audience we shouldn’t break the rules, in a true Ivan fashion. You can read the list of winner here. Congratulations to all the winners and participants. The creativity of our fellow Toastmasters never ceases to amaze me!

While it is unusual to have non-Toastmasters as Keynote speakers, we had such a speaker with John Lewis on Saturday afternoon. John told us about using “Humour as a Management Weapon”, telling us a few personal stories. John was a perfect example of why it is good to diversify your experiences, providing some good insights to the attendees.

The announcement of the contest winners, people achieving the DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster) Award and other recognitions were a few of the highlights of the Gala Dinner. There were quite a few well-dressed Toastmasters dancing the night away. Me and my two left feet stay off the dance floor, partaking in some lively conversation instead. With all of the contests and workshops being the focus of most of the conference, the Gala Dinner provided a good chance to catch up with some friends I don’t see that often and the opportunity to make some new friends.

The conference was blessed with some wonderful workshops, including one given by Toastmasters International Director, Khaled Matlagaitusome. My own schedule didn’t allow me to attend very many of the workshops but I was pleased to get several interviews for the podcast. I was able to interview former D59 District Governor and current Regional Advisor for Region 11, Morag Mathieson, where she told me about some of the changes being planned for the Educational Program. I have a few interviews in the queue to release before I’ll be releasing these interviews, but I plan to release these in the coming weeks.

I had a conversation with a local Toastmasters that I know and she pointed out how the nature of the district has changed, which really struck me. When we were part of D59 (until July 2014) we were part of Continental Europe and now you can see the emergence of Eastern Europe with the success of some of the contestants and with the decisions being made to add the Baltic States, Slovakia, and the Ukraine. With several of the countries that have joined the district in the past few years, there is a younger demographic and the overall demographics are changing. You can also notice the wonder and excitement of our new Toastmasters. You could see how excited the delegations from the different countries that applied to become part of D95 were, when they were accepted. History was being made for this countries and it is an exciting time (especially to see excitement and potential through the eyes of our new members and the feeling of renewal that they bring the longer-term members) to be in our district.

I’d like to say a big thank you and congratulations to everyone that helped to organize and pull off this wonderful conference! I now know what it feels like to host a district conference and although I didn’t play nearly the big role that many people did, I feel the pride in having hosted a district conference in "my own backyard". I’m excited for the cities that will be hosting the upcoming conferences. I’d also like to say that if your area gets to hold such a conference that you should do what you can to help out, you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve really enjoyed these past few days and I look forward to seeing everyone in the coming months. To the Toastmasters out there that haven’t had the chance to experience the Toastmasters world outside of their club, I encourage you to give it a try, you’ll learn a lot and make some great friends along the way. See you next time, Happy Toastmastering!

Note: All of the pictures are from here. I took several pictures but many have red-eye that I’d like to remove before posting. Upper left picture is the English Humorous Contest winners, upper right picture is of the German Table Topics winners with the contest master, lower left picture is of the German Humorous Contest winners with the contest masters, and the lower right picture is with the contest master, the winners, and D59 Lt. Governor of Education and Training, Tuire Vuolasvirta.