Adapt and Thrive: Chamber Chatters in Defiance of COVID-19

By Stephanie Stuart, SR5

Adapt and thrive is a familiar mentality at Chamber Chatters Club in Pleasanton. As we watched our world change amidst COVID-19, the leadership team at Chamber Chatters didn’t skip a beat. While we shelter in place, find grocery store shelves bare and forget what day it is, members are finding comfort in the routine of regular club meetings. However, it was not always the case that this thriving club welcomed technology with open arms. The speed at which the club pivoted to virtual meetings is not only inspirational, but a masterclass in adaptation. While recommendations from the CDC developed and cases increased in the Bay Area, Chamber Chatters leadership began discussing virtual meetings. Despite a global pandemic and shelter in place order, we have not canceled a single meeting!

Prior to shelter in place, the idea to hold virtual meetings wasn’t a slam dunk. There was a rumbling that if virtual attendance was an option, the club culture would suffer and members would not gain the same skills. Last year, Chamber Chatters tested their appetite for semi-virtual Officers Meetings, but only after officers could not attend meetings due to work travel or illness. This left the door ajar, but certainly not wide open, to more regular use of the technology.

Over the past year, with the leadership of VP of Pathways, Vivica Hubbard, Chamber Chatters has risen to the top of the leaderboard in Pathways points. The rise in the leaderboard came from dedicated members doing several Pathways projects. The coincidental focus on technology-oriented projects in this mix led to increasing comfort with technology. With newfound exposure to tech and the ensuing confidence, the door, once ajar, opened!

Enter COVID-19. The discussion began with the officers – What does this mean for our club? How will we serve our members and keep them safe? Who is at risk and what can we do to mitigate it? In early March, as the Toastmaster of the week, Lisa Fairchild was compelled to solicit ideas from membership on the future of our Club. She challenged members and rallied, “We are a club of leaders- let’s lead the way!”

As Toastmasters, we know the value of practice, right? The officers chose to start with a Zoom Officers Meeting on March 11th; it was a success! The same day, Haruka Yamashita, the VP of Public Relations, joined the Chamber Chatters Club meeting via Zoom while the officers tested the connection and set up. At that time, the officers were planning to continue in-person meetings and adding optional attendance via Zoom. Although there was no directive from Toastmasters International or local jurisdiction, the health and safety of the membership was top of mind. Jill Daniels, President, sent out communication to the club inviting members to the zoom meeting and motivating, “Let’s get out of our comfort zones… together!”

Over the following week, the Shelter-In-Place order was put into effect and District Leadership announced that it was time to shift all in-person club meetings to virtual/online club meetings for the time being. The hybrid in-person/virtual meeting had quickly turned into virtual only. With the foresight and preparation, the first meeting was a success – there were 17 attendees, including a guest from South Dakota. Although we don’t recommend posting zoom links on social media, it is ok to inform the public you are still meeting and accepting guests via invite.  Members that already had Zoom experience, volunteered as Toastmaster and gave tips and tricks during the meeting to help people along. We learned to patiently endure poor tech quality, relax our personal grooming standards, and genuinely  connect in isolation.

On April 1st, we decided to level up and host an April Fool’s Day backward virtual meeting. Backwards meetings are literally held in reverse and everybody must pay close attention. Despite some hesitation that it is very easy to become confused in person and it was too challenging virtually, it was a blast and just as rewarding and funny. We started to see familiar faces we hadn’t seen in a while and our members in their 70’s and 80’s on the screen (So. Impressive). This was the one hour a week we could feel normal and what gave us motivation.

The door swung wide open when Chamber Chatters decided to maintain the annual tradition of hosting a join meeting with Diamond Club #4582 in Pleasanton, CA. Diamond Club had just begun meeting online the week prior and joined Chamber Chatters, now experienced veterans to the Zoom-game. Observing another club’s virtual meeting is an opportunity to learn new skills. In this meeting we adopted a new role, the Technical Host, mimicking the best practices from Virtual Contests and alleviating pressure from the Toastmaster.

In a world of uncertainty and change, knowing our friends will be there every Wednesday at noon is uplifting. Through preparation, practice, and participation we grow as humans, friends, and Toastmasters. If your club is not meeting regularly via Zoom, I encourage you to reach out to your leadership and offer support to get started. We are all in this together, even though we are at least 6 feet apart.

A big virtual thank you to the Chamber Chatters Officers; Jill Daniels, Vivica Hubbard, Dara Connolly, Haruka Yamashita, Manjunath Tarikonda, Kate D’Or, and Serean Kimmel! Check out how Chamber Chatters is documenting their journey on Facebook

Stephanie Stuart currently serves as the Area H34 Director and is a member of Chamber Chatters Club #2332 in Pleasanton, CA. She joined Toastmasters in 2017 and quickly embraced the opportunities. As a commercial interior designer specializing in Senior Living, she credits Toastmasters with increasing her confidence in presenting.