Magic Sunrisers Toastmasters Temporarily Move to Virtual Meetings in Response to COVID-19 Epidemic

San Francisco public speaking club leverages video conferencing as an ad hoc social distancing solution.
By: Magic Sunrisers Toastmasters Club
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SAN FRANCISCO - March 12, 2020 - PRLog -- Today's weekly meeting is the first they have ever conducted both in-person and virtually. Responding quickly to the growing coronavirus epidemic, the governing board of Toastmasters International gave license to Bay Area clubs with high-risk of virus exposure to meet virtually. "Toastmasters is about speaking live to a responsive audience," said Club President Jason Serafino-Agar. "As a group, we're figuring out how to preserve that experience in a virtual meeting."

Adapting the Unique Toastmasters Experience to a Virtual Meeting

A typical live in-person Toastmasters meeting involves one to three members giving a scheduled five to seven-minute speech on their topic of choice. Audience members then deliver short evaluations of the speech confidentially and anonymously to the speaker using paper ballots. These speeches are followed by a round of "table topics" where members are called on to speak extemporaneously on surprise topics. Attendees then vote for the best speech and table topic using secret paper ballots. Being able to receive candid feedback was a requirement for the plan to conduct meetings virtually. The Magic Sunrisers settled on a hybrid format combining in-person, videoconferencing and phone call-in.

Free Off-the-shelf Technology Makes It Easy

"Some of our members are very tech-savvy and others are just the opposite," said Serafino-Agar.  "Any conferencing software had to be comfortable for the majority of our members, including the self-proclaimed Luddites." The club decided on using Google Hangouts for video conferencing because of its ease of use, capacity, and unbeatable cost - it's free.

The Challenge of Secret Ballots

To take the place of the paper ballots, the club is using Google Forms. Although it was easy to replicate their regular printed forms in the application, preserving secrecy was a challenge.  "Votes and comments will still be anonymous, but one person besides the speaker will get to see the feedback on any speech," said club officer, Sabin Speiser. "It seems to us a reasonable compromise to keep evaluations candid and useful."

Silver Lining of Accessibility

"Potential club recruits may find a virtual meeting at 7:00 a.m. to be a lower hurdle to clear than showing up in person. It's free to try and we'd love them to join us either way."  Those interested in trying out the Magic Sunrisers Toastmasters club should RSVP on the club's Meetup page for directions or a link to the video conference.


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Tags:Public Speaking
Location:San Francisco - California - United States
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Page Updated Last on: Mar 12, 2020

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