By Chuck Ballinger
This past year of the Covid pandemic was a disaster for world travelers, but as a Toastmaster in lockdown, I discovered the perfect solution. I’d avoid the airports, airplanes, and travel hassles with a simple click of my mouse.
Since I love to travel and I love my Toastmasters meetings, I decided to travel the globe using my “Toastmasters passport.”
Using the Toastmasters Club Finder, https://www.toastmasters.org/find-a-club, members can choose between 16,000 clubs in 145 nations. In very little time, I found 14 countries that held meetings in English. I only needed to sort out the time zones and request an attendance link for their online Zoom meetings. Starting with clubs in Great Britain, South Africa, and New Zealand, I was soon underway.
Next, I moved on to European and Scandinavian countries that held meetings in their common language – English. Only two clubs had a bit of bilingual discussion.
I must say, it was thrilling to win table topics in places like France, Ireland, and India! I gladly accepted meeting roles in Malta, Denmark, and Australia. I was delighted to meet locals in a way I’d probably never have if I was just “traveling through” in person.
Then I remembered 20 years ago when I scuba-dived every state in America (An American Underwater Odyssey) I decided it would be fun to relive that journey by attending a meeting in each state.
And so I did. It became my mission to discover great ideas and procedures that I could bring back to my home clubs. I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow Toastmasters from our very diverse nation.
As it turned out, I learned a lot. I attended hybrid (in person/ online) meetings, joint meetings between clubs of different nations, and a host of secondary roles I was not familiar with. This was perhaps my greatest takeaway.
For instance, my first meeting in Scotland opened with a question for everyone: “What did you learn about yourself this week?” Members would give a brief one or two sentence answer and immediately became engaged in the meeting. It got everyone thinking and speaking from the outset.
I discovered roles like Quizmaster held at the end of the meeting to test everyone’s listening skills. This role has become a huge hit at my home clubs. Other secondary roles include Table Topics Evaluator, Evaluator Evaluator, “Rant” Master, and the “Inspiration Moment.” Most clubs would mix things up by either adding the roles to their agenda or alternating with other secondary roles like the Ah Counter.
I also learned about Gavel clubs; a kind of Toastmasters prep school for teenage communicators. I wish I had this opportunity when I was young.
My primary insight came from understanding what makes a successful club. Meetings should always be fun and engaging, never bland or obligatory. Clubs should inspire members to gain skills, confidence, and friends. Let’s not forget we’re privileged to be part of a very special global community.
As members of that community, getting to travel to so many clubs is an opportunity every Toastmaster should consider.
Charles Ballinger is a nine-year member of clubs 1441 and 7075 in Marin County, CA.
Upon completing his term as Division C Director, District 57, he will earn his DTM this June.