By Bett Bollhoefer, DTM
When we started this year, I had lots of plans; then we had a global pandemic and we had to pivot. As we approach the end of this year, it’s good to think about the twists and turns that we endured and what all we accomplished in the process.
Our goal was to increase the quality of all our clubs, creating a consistently excellent experience for guests, members, and officers in our district. The strategy to achieve this was to run a consistent and high-quality Toastmasters Leadership Training Program.
- We auditioned trainers to improve the quality.
- We also created a consistent training agenda and material for all events.
- We ran two TLIs (Toastmasters Leadership Institutes) in the summer with record attendance and three in the winter! Kudos to Julie Garrett, our TLI Dean this year.
- We experimented with the curriculum, introducing “Brain Writing,” a way for everyone to share solutions to problems. We received very high ratings from the attendees on these events.
- We also leveled up the training quality by running two train-the-trainer sessions, chaired by Manoj Ramanan.
Other programs that we introduced this year to great acclaim include the Vice President of Pathways program, chaired by Janice Fairfield, and the MasterClass program, chaired by Patricia DeSa. Both have been huge successes.
Everything was going wonderfully for our district; then the COVID-19 global pandemic hit our world! The way it impacted our program quality is in contests and club meetings.
When the pandemic took hold, we had a few area contests left to be done and all the division contests too. Our contest team had to scramble to learn what worked and what didn’t. Our aim was to have fair, yet fun contests. We learned at each contest how to improve the process and we got better and better each time. Our final two contests were completely smooth with no issues. I am ridiculously proud of my contest team: David Dai, Wing Lok, and Marissa Smithwick.
The club meetings had to move online as well. Zoom was the tool of choice for these virtual meetings. This transition was a huge stretch for many members, but we bought 7 more Zoom licenses and started helping everyone move online. I started a new video series on online meetings to assist this process.
Almost every club has now adopted the new virtual meeting idea and just like with contests, we learn and improve these all the time.
The pandemic also took down our conference this year. My wonderful team James Forslind and Zohreh Khodabandelu had put together an impressive set of workshops that then had to be moved online. But they pivoted seamlessly and worked with the MasterClass chair Patrica DeSa to make all the presentations, including the Keynote address by William Hung, into Masterclass webinars. This is even better in some sense because all of these are recorded and archived for posterity!
I look back on the year and have three take-aways:
- Training is everything. We always must focus on making our training better and better.
- Good people make all the difference. My leaders of Vice President of Pathways (VPP), MasterClass, Conference, and Contests did incredible, innovative work this year and they moved with the punches.
- Don’t try to be perfect. Everything we did, we learned and improved as we went. Mistakes were made! But we learned and moved on. Some districts didn’t even try to have online contests. I am proud that we tried and learned.
I will be taking over as the District Director for our district next year. I look forward to taking all the learnings from this year to make our next year even better!