ZOOM kept the Shannon Toastmasters club running for 18 months, but its last few meetings have been in person once again, writes Owen Ryan.
Of course the meetings now are quite different to the spring of 2020.
“It’s a big change, we’re doing the same things, but we have to be conscious of social distancing so our chairs are more spread out and there’s mask wearing,” says President Maura Meaney.
“You have to think of all that, but we have the same format of meetings.”
The club meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month and Maura says the members adapted very quickly to the pandemic.
“We went online straight away once the first lockdown came in. It was a big change for everybody, and it kept the club going and alive, but people were more than happy to go back to in person meetings.
“There’s a better buzz about it, a better connection between people. Even just to hear people talking at the break, or anything like that, it’s so different from the Zoom meeting, where you come on, do your meeting and you go through all the formalities, but there’s no chit chat at the end of it. We’re delighted to be back to be honest with you.”
Describing what happens at a Toastmasters meeting, Maura says, “At an average one you’d have between ten and 20 members there. There’s three parts to the meeting, you have prepared speeches, people are given the task of preparing a speech, five to seven minutes long. They deliver that speech on the night and there’s an evaluator, a fellow Toastmaster.
“Then you have the table topics section, where members are asked to speak impromptu on a topic that they have no prior knowledge of, for one to two minutes. That can be very enjoyable and good fun, generally the topics are light, not political or anything like that.
“The third part of the meeting is the evaluation. We have a general evaluator who looks at the whole meeting, tells us what we did well on the night and tells us where we can do things a little bit better.
“That evaluator will introduce the speech evaluator, who will give a two to three minute evaluation of a person’s speech.”
The prospect of being evaluated isn’t as frightening as it might sound.
“You think ‘oh, that sounds very critical’, but it’s not. We pride ourselves on being a very friendly and supportive club.”
She feels there are a lot of benefits to being involved. “You develop your speaking, your communication and leadership skills.
“As a club we have helped numerous people over the years from all walks of life to develop those skills, and that goes into the community, in your work or college or voluntary work, you take that back into the community.”
While there are still concerns about Covid, she says members have largely returned to the in person meetings.
She says that people had become a little fed up of the Zoom option by the time it ended.
“I think there was a kind of a Zoom fatigue by the end of it. Everything was done through Zoom over the last 18 months or so. Work meetings and all that sort of thing, and then you’d to get ready for your Toastmasters meeting and that was on Zoom too.
“People got tired of it and the feeling in the club was that people wanted to go back to in-person meetings.”
She feels that Toastmasters offers a lot to those who join.
“You develop your speaking, your communication and leadership skills. As a club we have helped numerous people over the years from all walks of life to develop those skills, and that goes into the community, in your work or college or voluntary work, you take that back into the community.”