Recently I was reading an article in a local newspaper about a beautiful tourist bureau located in a refurbished, covered bridge here in New Brunswick, Canada. In recent years, tourists kept stopping in to use the restrooms but left without picking up maps or brochures, or without asking the volunteer staff about local attractions. That’s because tourists these days plan their itineraries online and then rely on the GPS unit in their car or phone for directions. The business of tourism has changed. And the beautiful tourist bureau is now available for purchase. I have to wonder if it could have evolved in some way to remain more relevant to travelers.
Business changes quickly these days. I’ve been asked if Toastmasters is still relevant in our increasingly digital world. Of course we are! More than ever. Toastmasters exists to empower people to become more effective communicators and leaders. And club meetings are the vehicle for letting members practice these vital soft skills.
Toastmasters now allows online clubs, providing an additional opportunity for members to practice communication skills in virtual environments. Every day many of our members participate in teleconferences and video conferences in their professional lives. I’ve personally participated in Cisco TelePresence video conferences so realistic-looking that people have banged a hand on a wall trying to pass a pen to a virtual counterpart.
Online clubs complement our face-to-face meetings. Our Board of Directors approved the existence of such clubs because Toastmasters has a role in enabling effective communication in online environments. However, I do believe that many new members who are attracted to our online clubs will also see the value of participating in our in-person clubs. Face to face is the essence of human communication, still more personal than online environments.
In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger challenges readers to consider what percentage of word-of-mouth communication happens online—through tweets, emails, blog posts, etc. —versus face to face. He indicates that only seven percent of it happens online. We tend to overestimate this dynamic because it’s easy to see tweets, emails and posts. It’s much harder to measure conversation. But conversation and face to face still dominate.
Toastmasters has made great gains with technology in our very personal business. At Toastmasters World Headquarters, new-member applications, education awards and member payments are all entered online. Members order from online catalogs and rarely from print catalogs. Not long ago that was not the norm.
Toastmasters has adopted many new technologies. Our services and environment must be relevant to the way members live and work. However, our face-to-face club meetings will remain relevant and at the core of the Toastmasters experience for many years to come.
JIM KOKOCKI, DTM