Tuesday, September 15, 2020

2020 Toastmasters Zoom Challenge - Part II

Part II - What I Learned, Where I Goofed, What Happened That I Didn't Expect, and Who I Have to Thank.

(Not necessarily in that order)

If you missed Part I - click here to check it out. 

As I said - the numbers don't tell the whole story. Completing this challenge took an amazing amount of time, energy, and PEOPLE to make it work. People willing to invite me. People willing to network with OTHER people to let them know they could invite me. More than once, people who were flexible and forgiving when I screwed up. 

A quick step backward is in order, before I go too much further. 

I had more than a few people, one of them ME, question my sanity for taking on such a challenge. What did I hope to get out of it? Stage Time, as Darren LaCroix coins it, was the big one. But it was more than just being on the stage - it was using it. As a speaker, I wanted to perfect a few stories by gathering feedback from what became 100 plus evaluators (some one to one, others in a round robin format). As an Evaluator, I wanted to demonstrate and hone my coaching skills. As a Toastmaster, I wanted to meet people I'd never met before, despite being in the organization for 21 years, and meeting people from all around the world at 5 International Conventions. There are ALWAYS more people to meet. Of course, having reasons doesn't necessarily bear full witness to my sanity.

I focused on three main speeches for club meetings - two Win Anyway speeches, one honing a story about playing chess with my daughter, the other talking about my friends career adventures as a Hollywood Film editor - both illustrating my Win Anyway concept of not letting the world define your victories. For other clubs looking for inspiration for new members, I used Speak Anyway, where I discussed my own trials as a speaker, and what I have learned over the years in our organization.

Evaluations were fun - working with new people at all different skill levels. Evaluating entire meetings provided the challenge of balancing my personal experiences with Toastmasters with what their local customs and expectations might be. My biggest evaluation challenge came in France, however, at a French speaking club. I was Table Topics Evaluator, and all I had to go on were tones of voice, audience reaction, and facial expressions!

The pace was fast and furious. I was speaking in China, Korea, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, Vietnam - sometimes at 1, 2, 3, or 4 in the morning. Meetings often went 2 or 3 hours! Other times, I was juggling my lunch hour to be at 9 or 10 in the morning, or going late at 3 or 4 to fit the meetings in. Occasionally, I'd speak at 4 meetings a day - Sri Lanka to Winnipeg to the Philippines to Beirut to Bangkok in a 24 hour span!

Opportunities started to expand from 5-7 minute speeches or 2-3 minute evaluations to 30, 40, 50 minutes full on keynotes or educational sessions for Districts, Divisions, or combined club meetings, in front of Zoom audiences of 150 or more. 

My Win Anyway and Lead Anyway Keynotes were given several times, while my workshops on Championship Evaluations as well as my Humor training - Laugh Anyway, were also popular. I wrote new material for workshops on using Body Language on Zoom and Mentoring in Toastmasters. 

Securing Spots Around the World

The publicity machine was strong outside the U.S. - many Districts, Divisions, and Clubs put together FB posters advertising my appearances. Every couple of weeks, I'd post an update video, and I'd have people cheering me on, enthusiasm building as I reached the halfway point. I was averaging 10 additional meetings scheduled per week in June as I closed in on my goal. 

I did have a few time-zone mishaps - two that stick out were both in New Zealand. The first one, I had double booked myself between 1:00 and 3:00 am my time. For awhile, I thought my chance to speak in D112 had been lost - especially with many clubs preparing to meet in person again in July. Thankfully, Jonathan Darby put me on the schedule last minute as a speaker, and disaster was averted. Well, maybe not disaster....

The second, and most embarrassing gaffe for me, however, was with Paulette Boyes and Scarfies Speechcraft in D72 - again New Zealand, where I was scheduled to give a full keynote, but missed the meeting entirely due to my lack of experience with the International Date Line. I left them high and dry - and felt terrible about it - heck, I still do. They were gracious enough to give me another shot the very next week, however. I put together a humbling and apologetic video for them, and together, we were able to pull off the meeting with true WinAnyway spirit!

What I've observed, learned, and had confirmed as a result of "The Challenge"

- clubs outside the U.S. treat Toastmasters more seriously, as a general rule, than many clubs I've visited in the US – higher attendance, longer meetings, more speakers, and many more evaluation positions. By that, I mean it has more of a corporate feel, vs. casual. Of course, club culture will vary, and I still have less than a one percent sample size to go on. 

- I witnessed many clubs utilizing time before the meeting, or during an extended break within the meeting, build rapport by playing music, having trivia contests, and/or simply creating extra socializing time.

- about 5 percent of clubs I've visited in the U.S. say the pledge of allegiance, and/or offer a prayer/invocation. Typically, these clubs were near a military base, or in the Southeast region of the country. 

- it isn't uncommon for clubs outside the US to start the meeting by restricting conversation about sex, politics and religion

- in this Zoom era, lack of eye contact, gestures, and/or a cluttered background will garner feedback more consistently than most anything else.

- Ralph Smedley and the history of our organization was often mentioned in the Asian Districts I visited. Clearly indicative of an appreciation for Toastmasters that I don't hear often enough outside of conferences and conventions. 

- Recognition in the form of electronic certificates and the mention of unique awards like the 'Hero' or 'Sparkplug' award were commonplace - and I've now got quite a file full of 'virtual awards' thanks to the creativity of so many of our fellow Toastmasters!

- it's not unusual for all roles to be timed, even the GE, grammarian, and ah-counter - though I haven't experienced it often in my own home districts over the years. On the one hand, it seems to save time, but that time might be used by extending the timer reports. It is something, though, my home club is looking at implementing. 

- Internationally, many clubs use Toastmasters as a place to learn and practice the English language, with at least one having an 'Idiom Master' who introduces an American idiom much as they do the Word of the Day.

- several clubs gave 'Best' awards for evaluators outside the primary speaking evaluators, such as Ah-counter, Grammarian, General Evaluator - sometimes combining all the evaluators, sometimes giving an second evaluation award.

- no matter where in the world you are, people forget to un-mute - and so will you.

- the TI program is a unifying force. It works for all cultures, all over the world. The meetings I attended were diverse in every way imaginable. Regardless of age, gender, religion, political view - people voluntarily come together with similar goals to improve both communication and leadership.

- Toastmasters is full of generous, helpful people, who want to help you, especially when you want to help them. But this I already knew. 

A Few Thank You's - though I have more than I can mention...

Many, many people helped me and encouraged me along the way. My 2019-2020 District Director, Mike Akins, Past District Governors Linda Rhea and Tom Hobbs, and Region 3 Advisor Violetta Rios all took it upon themselves to connect me with the right people at the right time, getting me into Mexico, Brazil, Minnesota, and California. Sheryl Roush used her Sparkle-Tude to get me into one of her clubs, and 3rd place WCPS winner Sherrie Su helped me get into my last District in China. Michael Goforth, Peggy Carr, Charles Roy Mencke were rooting me on and brought me into their clubs early in the process. David Drebsky, who made it to all 50 states via Zoom in his own challenge helped me get into one of the 'final four'. So many more - I've got a spreadsheet full of names. Thank you to all of you who inspired, encouraged, and enabled me to accomplish this gargantuan task. 

For however long, Toastmasters is going to be using Zoom, Google Meet, and other similar platforms all over the world. We just held our Convention, the Final Round of the Accredited Speaker awards, and the World Championship of Public Speaking in a virtual environment. We are no longer confined by our borders or lack of resources - we can go anywhere, meet anyone, at any time.

Challenge yourself – go Zoom somewhere in Toastmasters today. Listen. Laugh. Say something. The world awaits, and now more than ever, you are in position to Speak....Anyway!      

Monday, September 7, 2020