Losing the Magic:  Virtual Toastmasters is No Laughing Matter

Toastmasters International is losing more than clubs and members- it is losing its magic!  The nonprofit organization has 1,400 fewer clubs than it did in 2019.  As a result, there are 82,000 fewer people receiving the benefits of the educational programs.

The mindset of virus avoidance and remote meetings is taking its toll. In person meetings, training and contests are the exception while virtual events are the rule in 2022.

Many members are dissatisfied with the distant and disconnected experience of Zoom meetings and especially virtual contests at the area, division, and district levels. 

Delivering a humorous speech without a live audience is no laughing matter.  The lack of body language cues, emotion and feedback makes it hard for the speaker to connect and adjust to the audience’s reactions.  The lack of energy can add an extra burden to the speaker. 

Photo by Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent on Pexels.com

A long-time Distinguished Toastmaster in Arizona recently shared this in an email, “Live entertainment in the Toastmaster world seems to be coming to an end. The winter contests have been eliminated and now the Spring contests in 2023 are virtual.”  This dedicated mentor and coach joins hundreds of people in expressing their frustration with the lack of live audience speaking opportunities at Toastmasters.

Nature abhors a vacuum and the live-speaking gap will be filled by other groups. The desire and demand for direct, in-person events is raising in 2022 and a growing number of clubs and people in Arizona are organizing to meet the challenge.  Innovative and creative ideas are being implemented to provide large-scale speaking experiences and competitions.  Once such event will be held on Oct.11, 2022 at the Tempe Improv where 8 finalists will perform in a humorous speech competition.  The laughter, fun and festivities are free and open to the public and is not an official Toastmaster contest. Click here for tickets to the event.

I have attended this high energy and boisterous competition for three years and am happy that the tradition continues.

Twenty-eight years ago, I joined Toastmasters for the communication and leadership training but I stayed for the friends and the connections.

I love the positive energy, support, and camaraderie of the clubs and had no idea that the program and the people would have such a profound impact on course of my life. The last two decades have been an amazing experience of growth, experimentation and achievement.

Some of my best friends were met at Toastmaster meetings in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California. These close bonds would never have been made had I only attended meetings through a zoom portal.

A Toastmasters club holiday party

I am still active in three clubs in the Phoenix area but worry that some of the great power and magic of Toastmasters is being lost as fewer and fewer in-person training sessions, leadership conferences and contests are being held.

The value of live language connections should not be underestimated and Toastmasters Districts across the country should strive to meet the needs of all of its members.

I strongly believe that the benefits are of the strong educational programs are not fully realized when a speaker and an evaluator never get to meet and talk in person before or after the meeting. 

Virtual Toastmasters is falling flat and can be energized by creative and innovative leaders who think out the box to find in-person and hybrid event options.

Laughter is the best medicine and can be the prescription for what ails lagging club and membership numbers.

Energy, excitement, engagement and enthusiasm can all be recaptured.

Commitment, connection, confidence and coaching can be reinvigorated.

The magic of Toastmasters is not a mystery. 

The magic of Toastmasters is live and in person.  

5 thoughts on “Losing the Magic:  Virtual Toastmasters is No Laughing Matter

  1. Why not have future District 3 speech contests at the Tempe Improv? Free with a two drink minimum. That would entail freeing the contest from the weekend minutiae.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with Brenda’s comments. As a member of Toastmasters for over 38 years , I love the personal interaction with my club members. I tolerated the zoom meetings during the height of the pandemic but refused to participate further last year. Zoom meetings and competitions has decimated the program and will continue to do so until it is eliminated.

  3. As a Psychologist and a Professor, I agree with Brenda. I was scheduled to conduct a Zoom class this semester. There were 45 students, and it was a complex subject (Cognitive Neuroscience). I polled the students, and only 3 preferred the Zoom format. I got the school to change the format to live, and the class has been going well (even for those three who preferred Zoom).

    I also identify with the issue of humorous speeches needing to be live. I have competed in humorous speech contests, and the feedback from a live audience is key to elements such as timing and body language.

  4. I have to agree with the fact that live TM meetings offer much more for each toastmaster in the form of feedback and comaraderie. in our New Braunfels TM Club in Texas, we have discussed having open mikes during a member’s humorous speech so that he can have the opportunity and joy of hearing his humor appreiciated with laughter. Our club is now hybrid because a couple of our members have moved out of state and want to continue to be members of the club. This has been very successful. so glad that others agree re the need for personal interaction.

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