What to know about Toastmasters Virtual Meetings

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To prevent overwhelming our health care system , we are practicing physical distancing to slow the spread of corona virus. Divide and conquer. With this simple act, imagine that we are saving the life of your favorite “at risk” person.

Are you remotely prepared?

Some people are plagued by worry. We are preparing, not panicking, by avoiding non-essential in-person gatherings and frequently washing our hands. We are taking simple actions now, to avoid needing heroic action later.

We can still be sociable.

Until further notice, we’re having our weekly Toastmasters meetings entirely online, at our usual time. As a bonus, members who have been unable to make it out in a while, may join us again. We’ve had guests join from as far away as Atlanta.

We have purchased the Zoom pro plan for our club. It seems to meet all our needs. It’s a bad choice for business due to poor security, but our meetings are public. Learning how to take part in, run and host an online virtual toastmasters meeting is an opportunity. It’s good practice. You may need to host virtual meetings for work. You can safely join our meeting at any time, from anywhere.

A virtual online only Toastmasters meeting raises many questions, such as
– is there a greeter?
– how are evaluation forms delivered?
– how is the agenda distributed?
– can you vote and if so, how?
– how does the timer show the green, yellow, red signals?
– how does the table topics master select speakers?
– is there a video operator?
– how do you applaud?
– how do you know when you are being heard?
– how to get a recording of your speech?

This page is intended to answer all those questions and more. If you’ve never been to a Toastmasters meeting, watch this first https://www.peterwhelan.com/what-to-know-about-toastmasters/ Except for the differences noted below, the online meeting follows the same structure as the in person meeting.

Speakers, before the meeting, please email your evaluator a link to the evaluation form they are to use, along with anything in particular you would like to focus on.

Getting Your Studio and Zoom Profile Ready

First, find a quiet place to join the meeting. Headphones provide a good audio experience as they prevent feedback. It’s your choice if you want to enable your video camera. You may call in on any regular phone as well. Then it will be an audio only experience for you. A computer is not required for you to join in. If you are using a computer, wired connections are more reliable than wi-fi.

If you will be on camera, test your video and have the camera at eye level in front of you. Position the camera so that it’s above the screen you are looking at. You may have to give permissions for Zoom to access your camera. If you will be speaking, you may prefer to stand up.

Check how you look on video. Are you in shadow? Is the background distracting? Is it possible for someone to walk behind you while you are in the meeting? Movement is distracting. Try to fill the frame so that there isn’t a lot of space above your head and that your legs are not visible. If you wear glasses, adjust the lighting to prevent glare on them, so that your eyes are visible.

If you want to, print off a copy of the agenda for yourself from https://easy-speak.org/viewagenda.php This is especially useful if you are the chair of the meeting.

If you create a free Zoom account, you can set a picture of yourself at https://zoom.us/profile. This is shown when your video is not on.

Joining a Meeting From Your Computer

The link to join our weekly Zoom hosted meeting is emailed to members from Easy-Speak. We are on the pro plan which allows up to 100 attendees, control of who is in the meeting, muting of audience and recording the entire session. By joining the meeting you are acknowledging that you will be recorded.

You do not need a password to join.

Joining a Meeting From Your Mobile Device

You can install the Zoom app and join the meeting on your smartphone as well. Functionality is limited compared to a full computer, but you will be able to hear the meeting, share your video and participate.

If all else fails, you can call in to either of the local phone numbers sent to you from Easy-Speak.

During the Meeting

If you have a role in the meeting, rename yourself in the Participants window to be “Role – Name” For example “Zoom host – Peter”. the video operator role becomes the Zoom host role.

If you are the Zoom host of the meeting, make the chair the co-host. That way if you get disconnected someone can still control the meeting. Also, you are the a vote counter. Edit the polls for Speaker and Evaluator in advance. For table topics you must edit it as people are called on.

The greeter will verbally welcome you as you come in. They will tell you if your audio and video are good. The greeter will ask the guests to provide their email address and name in direct chat. It’s vital that there be one clearly designated person for speaking throughout the meeting so that everyone is clearly heard when it’s their turn to speak.

To “mingle”, the text chat feature allows you to send a message to everyone OR to a single person. Click on the meatball (3 horizontal dots) to change it to be a specific person to send them a private message. For example, if polling fails, we send private messages to the vote counter to confidentially vote on best speaker, evaluator and table topics.

To make a better experience for all attendees, limit background noise. Mute yourself when you are not speaking by clicking on the microphone in the lower left corner. Unmute yourself when it’s your turn to speak.

It’s polite to turn off your video it you need to leave, be on your phone or pick your nose.

You will be muted most of the time. You won’t be heard when you applaud or knock for the word of the day. Instead raise your hands to applaud so that they are on camera or do the jazz hands.

You can switch your display between the active speaker and gallery view showing all attendees. Gallery view looks a little like the old Brady Bunch TV show opening. You can choose to hide non-video participants from the gallery view so that your screen shows only the people on camera. When someone is speaking, switch to speaker view to give them your full attention. The speaker should remain in gallery view so that they can see the timers indicators and the applause/jazz hands

Video Operator

The video operator role now becomes the virtual meeting Zoom host. Once the meeting begins, they will mute all participants, except the chair. Look at your microphone icon to see if you can be heard or not. If you want to speak, raise your hand virtually by clicking on the hand icon and/or raise your hand on camera and wait to be recognized.

Recordings are limited to one meeting. If you want a copy of your speech you must download it before the next meeting. A link to the recording will be included in the minutes.

Sharing Your Screen

In a virtual meeting, there’s no need to deliver your slides to the SAA. When it’s your turn to speak, you can display your slides to everyone. The video operator will give you permission to share your screen.

  1. Load your presentation on your computer before the meeting starts.
  2. When its your turn to speak, first get your mouse pointer on the share button
  3. Begin your speech with your camera on.
  4. After your opening remarks click on the blue share button. Share only your presentation, as opposed to your desktop.

The awards will be presented verbally by recognizing the winners within the meeting and recording who won in the minutes.

Technical Difficulties

On occasion, due to technical difficulties, it will be difficult to understand a speaker. They won’t have any indication on their end that something is wrong, but it will sound horrible to everyone else.  At that point the video operator will interrupt and ask them to turn off the video feed.  If that doesn’t work, the speaker will be muted and the chair will proceed with the meeting.

The Timer Role and Related Apps

The video operator and timer roles are combined into the Zoom host role. We are testing out different approaches to timing. The host can run a timer app with audio notification and email the results at the end of the meeting. To get the attention of the speaker, we could also send a poll entitled green, yellow and red.

There are great timers designed specifically for Toastmaster’s. We are testing out different approaches. You can choose from Windows, Mac, iOS or Android platforms. You can also use the stopwatch feature on your phone to be aware of how long you have been speaking for.

We tried the following approach. But many speakers did not have a view of the timer and some were on the phone. An audio indicator is needed. Zoom has a virtual background feature that you can use to show the traditional green, yellow and red conditions. Once you are in a meeting in the Zoom app, click on the video menu and “Choose a virtual background”. Download these 3 images, then upload them to your virtual image album. When the speaker begins, the timer shows your regular background. Once the speaker has reached reached the minimum time, change to the green background which will remain on until it’s time to switch to yellow. Yellow remains on until it’s time to switch to red.

It’s the timers official role to do this, but anyone can. If you have talked too long, you may be faced with a sea of red backgrounds.

If you go too far over time, the timer or the chair may interrupt you to remind you to wrap it up.

The Vote Counter

The Zoom polling feature tallies votes automatically. If you are a host or co-host you can launch the poll and share the results. You will not be able to respond to the poll.

Before the meeting, the chair host edits the poll for best speaker, entering the speaker names from the agenda. Then edit a separate poll for best evaluator, again using the names on the agenda.

During the meeting the Zoom host (chair or co-host) creates the table topics poll as people are called on. That way the vote can be held immediately at the end of the table topics session. The poll remains open until the speeches begin. If the the chair is unable to poll, the co-host private messages the chair the winners name. Then launch the best speaker poll after the last speaker is finished. That poll remains up until evaluations begin.

If polling isn’t working, the vote counter sends a message to everyone asking them to reply with their votes.