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. 
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