The 2020 Toastmasters calendar year is one for the history books.
Two notable events—the formal transition to the Pathways learning experience as the organization’s official education program, and the International Convention originally planned for Paris—would be distinctive milestones in any year. But 2020 is not any year. In fact, it has been one of the most uncertain, sobering, yet exhilarating periods in Toastmasters history.
The year opened with COVID-19 shock waves, which spread daily in devastating intensity. The initial impact on our global organization, with its 96-year history of in-person learning, was jarring. Yet almost immediately, members and leaders mounted a worldwide drive to preserve club viability.
The Board of Directors acted quickly to allow all-online meetings; clubs, Areas, Districts, and regions responded with what turned out to be a deep, untapped zest for technology and creative innovation.
“This uncharted territory has caused the organization, at every level, to innovate in ways previously believed to be improbable, or even unacceptable. But courage and commitment to Dr. Smedley’s movement has, so far, prevailed,” said Toastmasters Chief Executive Officer Daniel Rex in his August 2020 CEO Report.
Here is a look back at 2020, highlighting how Toastmasters members reacted not only to ensure, but to exceed the expectations of that experiment.
Toastmasters’ rapid, organization-wide transition from in-person to virtual meetings tops the year’s news. The numbers tell the story:
- By September, some 83% of clubs were meeting online, up from 5–6% in early 2020.
- Meeting technology propelled Toastmasters over geographic boundaries and time zones. Members either ramped up existing technological skills or became overnight tech experts to create brand new meeting experiences on a global scale. More than 100 members were peer-nominated as Masters of Online Meetings, a Toastmaster magazine series celebrating virtual tech training heroes.
- Four first-ever professional development webinars, featuring expert Toastmasters presenters, drew 40,000 registrants.
- The 2020 World Championship of Public Speaking became the first all-virtual championship in Toastmasters history; the contest video drew at least 98,000 views by September 1.
- When the Paris convention was postponed, Toastmasters created a free, first-ever online convention extravaganza that attracted some 60,000 registrants from 203 countries. Nearly 90% were first-time attendees.
- In rapid response to COVID-19, World Headquarters staff created a flood of online materials to help members preserve club vitality during the unprecedented upending of traditional meeting formats. New webpages featured pandemic-related news and hundreds of targeted resources, such as videos, Q&As, virtual membership and programming materials, virtual meeting tutorials, professionally designed meeting backdrops, exclusive Toastmaster magazine stories, and even a space for clubs to share online successes. All traditional materials were retooled for online sharing.
“Trust me when I say that you are on the cusp of an adventure of a lifetime (with Pathways),” said Lorinne Griswold of ChevMasters Club, in San Ramon, California, on what she realized after resisting and then ardently embracing Pathways.
On July 1, Pathways became the official education curriculum. Highlights from the 2019-2020 Pathways annual report:
- 86% of surveyed participants said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with Pathways projects and real-life applicability.
- Innovative Planning is the most popular path; “Connect with Storytelling” is the most popular project.
- 170,000 Ice Breakers have been given since Pathways began.
Four new paths—Presentation Mastery, Leadership Development, Visionary Communication, and Effective Coaching—are now available in Korean and Tamil.
The Rotary/Toastmasters Alliance
Nearly a year into a unique alliance between the international organizations, Toastmasters has created eight custom education courses for Rotary. Want to reach out to Rotary members in your community? There are dozens of resources designed for collaborative interaction.
Above and Beyond
Despite the pandemic, Toastmasters continued to prize excellence in action, as these numbers demonstrate.
Dynamic Districts: On July 1, four new Districts formed—District 117 (Eastern North Carolina); District 119 (South Manhattan and Long Island, New York); District 120 (Tamil Nadu, India); and District 121 (Kerala and Karnataka, India).
Bravo: To these Distinguished Districts that faced COVID-19 challenges for a significant part of the 2019–2020 program year, and still rose to Distinguished status.
So Many to Celebrate: The overwhelming positive energy of clubs, even in the midst of a global health crisis, is a continued cause for celebration. The Board of Directors created new awards at the club, Area, Division, and District levels just for the 2019-2020 program year.
Generally Great News
- I Have Something to Say, John Bowe’s new book about his Toastmasters experience, was among the nominees for the Fall 2020 Next Big Idea Club, a list of must-read nonfiction titles compiled by noted authors like Malcom Gladwell.
- The original Toastmasters club, Smedley Chapter One, in Irvine, California, held its 2,300th meeting this year. The club first met on Oct. 22, 1924.
- LinkedIn ranked Toastmasters third among its Top 10 U.S. volunteering organizations, based on the number of volunteer activities the site’s users listed on their LinkedIn profiles.
- The Toastmaster magazine received three editorial awards from Folio, which recognizes outstanding writing and design in the publishing industry.
The Toastmaster Magazine
What Were You Reading?
Cost and distribution issues related to COVID-19 led to the temporary suspension of the print edition; the magazine went online-only in May. Interestingly, 2020’s top three articles were pandemic-related exclusives:
Where Were You Reading?
The magazine’s popular Traveling Toastmaster section pictured members taking their magazines around the pre-pandemic world, from Istanbul and Cape Town to the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon. The magazine went on skydives, paraglides, and scuba dives. Later in the year, as people were forced to stay close to home, members creatively submitted pictures of themselves with their magazine in their hometowns and front yards.
Members and leaders persevered and elevated the Toastmasters mission in 2020. You were vigorous in reaching out for answers and assistance: Between March and September 2020, World Headquarters fielded 20,900 phone calls, 10,500 emails, and 11,000 chats.
Stephanie Darling is a former senior editor of and frequent contributor to the Toastmaster magazine.