By Marta Munoz – DTM

WHAT MAKES AN ORGANIZATION A LEADER? Over the last 90+ years, Toastmasters has been leading change by inviting people to gather in person to learn and practice public speaking. First, simplifying the daunting task through succinct and precise educational material, and now in the 2020s, embracing hybrid meetings and events as the new norm.

Hybrid – “produced by a combination of two or more distinct elements,” is the adoption of Toastmasters meetings in person, with people in a location, concurrently with people connecting remotely, via a computer or cellphone, from anywhere in the world. Face-to-face and digital, at the same time.

This past August, Toastmasters demonstrated this model with its first hybrid convention in Nashville. After two years of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Toastmasters opened at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center hotel with 700 people in attendance and 9,000 connected through Zoom from 171 countries. In addition, Toastmasters carried out its landmark ceremony, training and networking, and the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking competition.

This coveted competition highlights Toastmasters vision and mission, including the semifinals and the final contests. Twenty-eight members from around the globe competed in the hybrid format.

Change is not an easy process. This is especially true in this organization that addresses people intimately, at the root of our humanity – communication. A hybrid international speech contest is a high achievement. However, it showed disparities and inequalities for contestants because of the two different elements’ features. It is understandable; it is just the beginning. How is the light on the stage? How is it online? How does body language translate online? Eye contact? Where is the audience? What a challenge, not only for the contestants but for the judges. Translate that to the hybrid club meeting: such a challenge for speakers and evaluators.

Globally accepted in government, corporate and academic environments, hybrid events are here to stay. While the technology was available before the pandemic, it was through its adoption that Toastmasters experienced incredible power and growth. From the club meeting to the international convention, there are no limits, no frontiers. Face-to-face, online, or hybrid, Toastmasters will continue to be the place “Where leaders are made.”

Understanding the times and leading change makes a leader, and Toastmasters has been at the leading edge of change since its inception. We can now rise to the unique challenge of this moment and continue to pursue excellence in communication in a genuinely global Toastmasters Club.

MARTA MUNOZ – DTM is a Member of the Edmonton Advanced Club and the Latino Canadian Club