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    When Virtual Is the New Normal | Local Toastmasters Host Meetings, Remain Connected via Video Conferencing Platform

    By Stephanie Dufner, Freelance Writer

    COVID-19 has prompted many organizations to halt in-person gatherings, yet members of Toastmasters International have not allowed the coronavirus to stop their scheduled get-togethers.

    Modern technology has enabled clubs around Ventura County to virtually convene, so members can continue to enhance their public speaking and leadership skills during the global pandemic. 

    Toastmasters International, which has more than 50 clubs locally, encourages the use of Zoom, the conferencing platform that lets users meet via video for weekly or bi-weekly meetings. These meetings consist of prepared speeches, speech evaluations, and improvised “Table Topics” questions and answers, all which are timed to simulate the flow of real world business meetings. Members take on roles such as Toastmaster, who leads meetings, timer, grammarian, and other functions.

    A Useful Tool

    Brian Rafelson, Area Director over five clubs in Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Simi Valley, refers to Zoom as “an incredible tool” that helps Toastmasters stay connected with their clubs. “I was delighted to see Toastmasters fully embrace this technology as a way forward,” he says.

    Area club members concur with Rafelson’s assessment of the web-based platform. President of CLU Expressionists and Distinguished Toastmaster Bozena Chorazewicz admits her club has successfully utilized Zoom since mid-March. “The meetings are running smoothly. Meeting agendas are posted to the club’s homepage for our visitors. The participants efficiently mute and unmute themselves, avoid distractions, and experiment with virtual backgrounds for timer and word of the day.”

    “Zoom is very easy to use.  I am not a “tech” person,” acknowledges Helen Hunter Rush, who serves as President of Thousand Oaks Toastmasters and Vice President of Education at Moorpark Toastmasters. Pre-pandemic, members of these clubs respectively met at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and the Moorpark Chamber of Commerce. Now they unite online for their weekly assemblies.

    Hunter Rush calls Moorpark Toastmasters a “can do” group as they quickly adapted to using the digital platform for their Wednesday evening events. “In the beginning, I sent the Zoom invitation thirty minutes before the meeting started, just in case someone needed help. By now, the members are Zoom pros,” she says.

    “The first meeting went much better than I expected, “ adds Hunter Rush’s fellow Moorpark member, Distinguished Toastmaster Dan Waldman, who helped to charter the club in September 2007. “We also set up a new role of video evaluator. Their job is to critique everybody’s video presence.”

    Enhancing Relationships

    Katy Porter Member of Two Local Toastmasters Clubs

    One might think that going virtual would loosen the personal ties Toastmaster club members have established with each other, but local Toastmasters dispel this notion.

    “It is helping me stay grounded during this difficult time, knowing that several times a month I’ll virtually be connected to fellow Toastmasters, sharing stories, memories, and hopes within our hour together,” says Distinguished Toastmaster Katy Porter, a member of Thousand Oaks Toastmasters and ACE Toastmasters.

    “After almost seven years of meeting every week at noon on Tuesdays [for Thousand Oaks Toastmasters], I missed the camaraderie and fun. We continue to have a theme each week, such as ‘How are you coping with confinement’ or ‘Heroes’,” she says.

    ACE Toastmasters typically meets at Pickles Deli & Restaurant in Newbury Park the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. However, members have turned to Zoom over the past month during the collective quarantine.

    “We worried sometimes that our boisterous appreciation of each other’s speeches, prepared and impromptu, were bothering patrons at the restaurants we’ve met in, but with Zoom we can cheer and giggle to our hearts’ content. We become even more aware of the preciousness of connections with friends when we come close to losing them,” Porter concedes.

    “It [Zoom] has allowed us to continue learning and growing all while staying connected to our fellow Toastmasters,” Rafelson agrees.  

    To learn more about Toastmasters International or find a local club, visit https://www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club.

    Stephanie Dufner is a resident of Ventura County, freelance writer and Public Relations Specialist


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