Staying In Is The New Going Out

In view of the current Coronavirus crisis and the government guidelines to stay at home, we obviously cannot meet up at the moment so we have had to quite rapidly adapt to a new way of meeting.

At first it seemed that only the vulnerable would need to stay away and that we would hold a hybrid meeting with some people in attendance and others online, but with the situation rapidly changing and evolving it was soon apparent that we would not be meeting in person and would have to hold the meeting entirely online.

Bromley speakers committee wasted no time in getting together and organising its first online committee meeting using the remote conferencing services of Zoom Video Communications. For some of us it was the very first time we have used video communications in this way and we rose to the challenge wonderfully.

We are extremely lucky and thankful to have David Henson on our committee as, not only does he have great slide presentation skills, he has some extremely useful online conferencing experience and some useful equipment to get us all up and running with Zoom.

David shared his experiences and expertise with the committee at the Zoom meeting and we all tried it out for ourselves, in order to get a feel for it and we know that many other Toastmasters clubs were doing exactly the same at the same time.

That week we held our very first online club meeting and I am pleased to report that it was extremely well run and immensely successful.

Our members rose to the challenge spectacularly and the speaking slots and roles were soon filled by some very brave people.

There were a few hiccups, as expected, as people started to join the meeting but as one person after another joined it was great to see the faces pop up on the screen. We soon had a total of 30 people at our first online meeting, with six guests from other clubs. I guess they were keen to see how the Zoom meetings are working / will work for other clubs and it was a pleasure to have them with us.

Our Zoommaster was David Henson. The Zoommaster is a new role that has rapidly been created to adapt to this unforeseen situation. David explained how the meeting was going to work and invited everyone to change their name tags if they were not displaying correctly. The people taking roles and doing speeches were invited to also add this information to their nametags.

President Christine Morrell delivered a fabulous and inspiring introduction to the meeting, giving special thanks to Susan Rayner and David Henson for their hard work in making the meeting happen.

It was an extremely brave decision to take on the role of Toastmaster at our very first online meeting and Susan Rayner continues to be a shining example of what we can achieve if we just say ‘YES’!

The warm-up session, taken by Deborah Goodman, proved a little tricky as everyone appeared on people’s screens in a different order. It soon became apparent that the person taking the warm-up session would have to say everyone’s names as it went along.

Our timekeeper Tom Jewers, had to quickly think of another way of displaying the ‘red, yellow, green’ and as he was working from home he had no time to go out and buy coloured card so he cleverly used some household items that he had to hand. We also found it extremely useful for him to type in the comments to let us all know when the speaker had reached the different time stages.

We were continually learning as we went along.

New member Caroline Jeffrey has been throwing herself into the club roles without hesitation and holding the meeting online was no barrier to her taking on a new role. She gave us her Top Tip for the evening which was a lesson on how to use pauses.


Robert Parker was our first speaker of the evening with his speech entitled ‘What Communication Style Should You Use?’

Robert took up the online challenge with expertise and confidence. He used a slide presentation which was useful to experiment on how this would work in online meetings and we learned a lot from it in many ways.

Our second speaker was Phillip Khan-Panni with his speech, ‘Tell The Right Story’. Philip joined us from Dublin and we were delighted to be able to welcome him to the meeting.

Both speeches focussed on communication in different ways and the Zoommaster was able to ‘pin’ the speakers to the screen.

Evaluators Richard Green and Margot Glover also rose to the challenge and there was no information lost in translation over the internet.

Getting to know you better

At Toastmasters we can get to know people quite well over time, especially because many people give speeches about their own life experiences or interests. Some also form closer bonds and socialise outside of the club. However, another benefit of online meetings is that we get a sneaky preview into people’s homes – which gives us even more information about our fellow club members! It takes us to another level of ‘getting to know you’. We are well aware that there may be a few people who don’t want to take us into their home in this way and the good news is that they can create a background that prevents us from seeing their room, if preferable.

We were entertained in the break with some impromptu guitar playing from David Henson and Philip Khan-Panni, which is yet another benefit of online meetings and we are looking forward to developing this ‘entertainment’ idea further. Let’s see what talent we have in the club!

The second half of the meeting went well as David Hampton asked the Table Topics questions.

David asked some topical questions about first-time experiences, first impressions, dating on the internet and changing jobs.

Ross Taggart amusingly reminded us that, not only is there a first time for everything, but also a last!

Vinu Madhavan evaluated the topics and gave some helpful feedback to the speakers.

The ballot for the best Table Topic was held online with a very impressive voting form created by the Zoommaster which enabled us to see the speakers’ names and click on the one we wanted to vote for.

Congratulations goes to our winner – David Wilson!

Overall, it was an extremely successful meeting. General evaluator Sue Shaw congratulated everyone for stepping up and taking part. She said that it was a great opportunity for us to try something new. Something, she said, that we are going to need more and more from now on.

She gave us some great advice about how to adapt ourselves for online meetings. For example, hand gestures don’t work well when close to the screen, fiddling with our screens when someone is speaking and she asked us if the ‘word of the day’ actually added anything to the meeting.

What did we learn?

Guest Samir Malak has four years of experience of online Toastmasters meetings and he enthused about how impressed he was with the meeting and how smoothly our transition from face-to-face meetings to the online meeting was. He congratulated us on our first successful meeting.

Speak to camera

Many of us are learning a whole new skill. We have spent years being told to speak to the room. ‘Look at the people at the back’. ‘Don’t forget those at either side of you, as well as at the front’. Now we are speaking to one point only – the camera. It’s more like we are speaking to one person and it’s easy to get distracted by looking at ourselves or the other members on the Zoom meeting. Looking at our listeners on Zoom doesn’t translate the same as being in a room full of people.

Be fully present

We are not getting the energetic feedback from our audience. The audience has to learn to still be engaged with the speakers, to not get up and wander out of the room during the meeting. To not turn off their camera to do a chore or do things that they would not do in a face-to-face group meeting.

The additional nerves will decrease as we get more used to being online and for some it may even be easier.

Share the meetings

It’s so much easier now for people to join each other’s meetings as distance is no longer a limiting factor.  

Meet you at the bar!

After each meeting there is always an invitation to join us in the pub. Obviously we can’t do this at the moment so those who wanted to, stayed behind on the Zoom meeting, got themselves a drink and chatted online. It had a very different feel to it as usually people break off into smaller groups. However there is a feature on Zoom that enables people to break off into different meeting rooms so that might be something to think about in future.

Cheers everyone – stay safe and positive and please reach out to the committee, your mentor or anyone else who can help if you are in need of a bit of support at this difficult time.

Members Profile – Karen Mefflin

Karen Mefflin has been a member of Bromley Speakers for over six years after joining in order to conquer her fear of public speaking.

Toastmasters always encourages its members to visit other clubs and as well as attending regular meetings in Bromley, Karen has taken advantage of this benefit and has also visited other clubs in the south east in order to see how they are run, to join in the meeting and to meet other Toastmasters.

Years ago Karen suffered from a viral infection which resulted in her having a hearing impairment in her left ear it, which means that she occasionally mumbles when speaking. It also means that she can’t always define how loud she needs to speak and it can be hard for her to hear in a noisy place, with just one hearing ear. 

“I can’t define where the sound is coming from, for example if my mobile phone rings. I find it difficult to hear conversation in a noisy place like a pub or somewhere with music.”

Karen says, “The club has been good for me as it has encouraged me to speak regularly which I need to do with my hearing impairment. It has also helped me to improve my speaking skills and be more articulate.”

Karen, who works for a well-known insurance company, uses what she learns at Toastmasters to help her in her career.

“I have spoken occasionally on training days at work. I work in the marketing department, which is responsible for all the advertising on TV, radio and social media.

“My team manages the letters and policy documents to ensure it meets FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) regulations along with any other requirements like re-branding.

“I haven’t done any prepared speeches for a while at the club and I would like to do more. However, I have been working on my evaluating skills which means that I have to listen very carefully to the prepared speeches and I have learned a lot from doing this.”

Outside of work and Toastmasters Karen’s passion is travelling and she has travelled all around Europe including Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

We are very pleased that she finds the time to travel to Bromley Speakers Club and we are looking forward to hearing some more prepared speeches in the near future.