The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 meant many people around the world had to do their jobs completely online. It also meant that for many, including myself, new work opportunities opened up. I work in Hong Kong as a wellness speaker and fitness trainer, and being able to also do these jobs virtually gave me greater flexibility.
As a Toastmaster I decided to explore this new online horizon and charter an online-only Toastmasters club with members from all over the world. We would focus on three themes: sustainability, wellness, and veganism. My vegetarian friend Samantha Ng and I chartered Earthlings Toastmasters Club. We chartered in early 2021 with 26 members, grew into a club with 38 members from more than 10 countries and nationalities, and achieved President’s Distinguished status (in the Distinguished Club Program) in June 2021. We earned President’s Distinguished again in 2022.
So what did we do right? Perhaps the story of our global online club can inspire other Toastmasters wanting to charter a new club and launch an exciting and fulfilling journey.
Focus on Unique Selling Points
There were more than 100 clubs in District 89 (China), but there was not one with the style and culture I was looking for. So the first question to ask yourself is, Why do I want to charter a new club? There are so many great Toastmasters clubs in the world already, so your reason must be a good one; otherwise, it will be hard to attract charter members.
For Earthlings Toastmasters Club, we focus on our three themes: Sustainability is anything about going green and being earth-friendly, wellness covers both mental and physical health, and veganism is all about eating a plant-based diet. We have three meetings a month, one focusing on sustainability, one on wellness, and one on veganism.
Members meet in online breakout rooms to talk casually in Mandarin and English—what we call Language Exchange.
I was also adamant about making this club international and bilingual. (We are an “earth-based” bilingual club with one Mandarin meeting and two English ones each month.) I also put a premium on diversity. We wanted people residing or working—at least part of the time—in different countries to share their unique views in their prepared and Table Topics® speeches. Many of our guests and members have mentioned that this was one of the major reasons they were attracted to the club. They want to listen to different viewpoints, as well as people who speak Mandarin and English well.
Create a Fun Online Environment
Our members make the most of our virtual experience. We have fun with our online activities like word games and a book club. Members meet in online breakout rooms to talk casually in Mandarin and English—what we call Language Exchange. We have also had an online open house, awards ceremony, and speech contests.
These activities help us connect, as does chatting in the message group or by email almost every day. It is a community, a second family, and a learning platform, so the focus is not about missing a physical stage.
Deciding on Common Platforms
While meeting online can bring together diverse members from different countries, communication platforms and member currencies can also be challenging for the club. China is in a completely different world in terms of social media and communication channels. In order to find common ground with members from various countries, we use the Chinese app WeChat as the messaging platform and Google Drive for our online library. It means that some of our American, Japanese, Singaporean, and Korean members are trying WeChat for the first time, and Chinese members are using VPN to access Google Drive and our social media pages such as Meetup and LinkedIn.
Handling our club finances can also be complicated. Members submit their dues in three different currencies. We restructured some payment systems to adapt to this challenge.
Fortunately, the members of this international club are usually excited about learning something new and stepping out of their comfort zone.
Set Up to Succeed
To help members of a global online club succeed, we have an orientation for every new member, and pair a mentor with new members to boost their confidence and comfort level. This is a very useful approach. To provide support and resources for our members, we also organize different mini-workshops—about giving speech evaluations, learning how to earn a Distinguished Toastmaster award, and mastering Zoom.
We cannot meet each other and give each other hugs to show love and support, but we have found different ways to let the members know we are still a family, whether it’s playing online games or providing consistent encouragement and support to enable members to succeed.
The Earthlings club has taken a unique and exciting path. Throughout this chartering journey, we became stronger, wiser, and kinder. Chartering a club wasn’t easy but it was a rewarding and fun learning opportunity.
We want to see more global online clubs sprout and flourish. Toastmasters is a wonderful educational platform, and with more online clubs, we will be able to reach more earthlings—inhabitants of Earth—who want to be better leaders and communicators in their communities. Such clubs can bring more positive learning and inspiring messages to every corner of the world.
Angie Palmer, DTM is founding President of Earthlings Toastmasters Club, and she was also chosen as District 89’s 2021–2022 Toastmaster of the Year. She is a wellness speaker and fitness trainer for various Fortune 500 companies. Reach her at Instagram or LinkedIn @bethislight.