I just finished running an hour-long training session for Toastmasters officers, after leaving my regular 7 pm Thursday evening Toastmasters meeting 45 minutes early, going out with a bang telling a story of how my cousins used to jump all over my dad with calls of “Uncle Bob, take out your teeth!” I also had my regular noontime Toastmasters meeting today. That club, my original one (which started to form 14 years ago this month), just managed to rebuild to charter strength in the midst of the pandemic, and to earn President’s Distinguished status for the first time in four years. (Before then, we earned it for nine years running.) Just a year ago, I was feeling burnt out. Our membership had not recovered after our move to our new building, and just a couple of people were holding the club together–barely. We were cancelling meetings. There was a sense that we were on the downward slope, and might not survive. Even as recently as March, I was thinking we would do well to get the eight renewals we’d need to keep our status as a club in good standing. And now, we have 21 members–and the best part is that I’m just one piece of that puzzle. I no longer feel the club would collapse if I left. I also don’t want to leave now!
I find myself really looking forward to my Toastmasters meetings again. After so many years I was getting a little burnt out, but suddenly, there’s a sense of newness and revival–and it’s not just the new members in my clubs. There really isn’t a thing we can’t do in a virtual meeting that we can do in a live one. And it’s giving me huge valuable experience with videoconferencing, including the teaching I just finished up. I really think this is going to be very valuable going forward for all manner of things. Videoconferencing is here to stay, but how to speak effectively using this tool is still evolving. I bought a new webcam last week, for instance, annoyed at how the built-in cam on my laptop made me look like I was in a dungeon.
But the best thing about my Toastmasters sessions is that they like a Venn diagram intersection of a social call and a working videoconference, and the intersection is that sweet spot that avoids the exhausting parts of both types of calls. I come out of my Toastmasters meetings refreshed, contented, maybe laughing, maybe having learned something, but not feeling like it was some sort of a sad substitute for in-person meetings or a chore I had to slog through. It is the one activity from the “before times” which I think has actually gotten better through these months of isolation.