I’ve repeated this so many times and I would do it again: Toastmasters is a non-profit organization that helps people become better communicators and leaders. If you aspire to be a good leader, the first step would be to be a good communicator. Being a Toastmasters’ Member gives you ample opportunities to build confidence, become a better thinker, gain experience at public speaking, meet amazing people, take learnings from and give help to other people, and overall develop a good personality. The organization has been around for over 90 years (which proves that it works!) and has had lakhs of members who have benefited from its conducive environment which lets one grow better at their own pace. It has brought a lot of positivity for myself and I have renewed as a Member again in October 2020 after continuing to be a member since June 2016. Although I have renewed again, according to me, this is the toughest time ever for Toastmasters in this 90 years journey. I have continued to stay on but I am sure that we are going to witness an unprecedented number of drop-outs this season. I can list out 100 ways in which Toastmasters can be beneficial to people but in this post, I want to share my opinion on the current problems and possible ways to fix them, if I may.
The Good (What bring people here)
The majority of people who join Toastmasters do so because the personal growth path is straightforward and simple: if you start speaking in front of 10-20 people week after week, get instant feedback (intended to make you feel positive), apply the feedback (which you think works for you), and speak again (by getting better). Do this repeatedly and soon you will have the confidence to try out a different audience, take more risks content-wise, and definitely with the gained confidence, you will notice your improved self.
The Bad (What’s making people give up)
With Covid-19, it is not possible to gather the public for your speeches. Yes, we have it online but then you will not hear the resounding and reassuring rounds of applause and the positive criticism as evaluation which sets your happy hormones like Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Serotonin into action. Instead, you will have to deal with Emojis and silent claps which makes you feel nothing. The evaluation would be half-baked because half of the time, the evaluator got distracted, and in the other half there was a lag between your words and your action. Sometimes, the speaker wouldn’t be heard, the other times, the Zoom Background would cut the speaker’s limbs. People are already spending so much screentime, they are just tired.
TL, DR; No Public, No Public Speaking, No camaraderie, No Clear Path, Members Drop-Out. Virtual is not the same as Real.
The Ugly (How to fix it?)
If we are going to stay online for some more time, we have to try the following 3 things:
1. Present Toastmasters in a new light
If you see any YouTuber or Instagram Influencer, you will see a confident individual who is very expressive, uses the medium well, and is always willing to adapt to the changing landscape of the Intenet. In the ongoing environment, the way speeches are delivered and evaluated is still the same way as they were done in public. The stage has changed, the medium has got updated and the perception of the audience is hugely different. Toastmasters need to showcase itself as an organization that can also help you deal with online presentations, create better webinars, ace at zoom meetings, and if possible teach people how to be adept at using such online tools. We cannot afford to lose the demography who has mentored us all.
2. Bring back the CC/CL
Call me old school but when the CC and CL modules were there, one could see a goal and the path to reach that goal. You knew that after 6 speeches, the basics of Public Speaking i.e. content, body language, voice modulation, and the way to organize them all would become understood. You knew that if you do certain roles for certain times, you will be better as event managers and the club would gain new leaders. With Pathways, the path is long and small achievements don’t mean a thing. For non-Toastmasters, Pathways is a black box and they cannot foresee when and how will they become proficient. 5 Levels and 14-15 speeches is a long road with loads of obstacles. Bring back the CC/CL and of course, make it available online. Call it a Basic-Path or whatever but for non-Toastmasters, make it easy to grasp
3. Minimum Membership Number to be halved
At least for a year, the minimum number for a Club to stay functional should be halved to 10. The current officers have done nothing wrong but they are all under pressure to reach 20. We need to cut them some slack so that they can do their job normally and not feel like total failures. The cushion speakers get when they don’t do well in their speech, is not given to the officers if they don’t meet certain targets. There is no need to drop quality, but there is a need to drop the required quantity for time being. People don’t join Toastmasters to become better Toastmasters. They want to become better in their real lives. Officers are always kept on their toes to achieve Toastmasters’ goals that the majority of them take an oath to not become officers again.
TL, DR; Make Toastmasters attractive for people who want to become better at Online Communication and give them goals which they can see doable in 6-10 months.
I am not sure if this would solve everything. But we have to give it a try asap. With the same format, the numbers will keep on dwindling, and Club Officers will keep on struggling to keep the club afloat and not be able to do what they wanted. Toastmasters is super flexible when it comes to adapting to changing times but still somewhat adamant on a few things which are difficult to cope in these times.
I owe a great deal to Toastmasters and I want to see the organization flourish. I can’t wait to go back to normalcy and see and hear those ever smiling faces who would clap at anything said on the stage. I crave to have the same experience back. But there is time for that and we don’t know the deadline.
Back to you Toastmasters!
All photos used are from Toastmasters International Website.