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June 2024
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Lessons From Around the World

What I’ve learned from virtually visiting clubs in other countries.

By Bil Lewis, DTM

Man dressed in black top hat and white scarf
Bil Lewis, DTM, performs in costume as U.S. President James Madison, often practicing at his club meetings.

I sat there, horrified by the speaker’s description of the desperate fight of native birds trying to survive the ravages of the invasive pythons in Aruba.

Ronny, a Toastmaster I knew from past visits to Aruba, was articulate, passionate, and knowledgeable. He was among the invited speakers to “Stories of the Solstice,” an international hybrid meeting hosted by my club, Humor and Drama Toastmasters, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Members from over a dozen clubs came together from all parts of the world—including Japan, Kenya, England, and France—for formal presentations and a unique Table Topics® session.

Connecting with Toastmasters from other countries has been an unexpected benefit over the past few years. When clubs began moving online, all I could think was, Yippie! I can visit any club anywhere at any time of the day! Like a kid in a candy store, I went wild. Sometimes I would spin a globe and point somewhere, then search for the nearest club. Other times, I would select a certain region and choose clubs there to visit. What an adventure!

The opportunity to visit clubs online in different cities, different states, and different countries is a unique and precious gift to our generation. Not only is online communication good for our speaking skills, but it builds international connections and destroys many vague stereotypes.

I have visited some 200 clubs in 40 countries. I have listened to hundreds of speeches from people with completely different backgrounds and different ways of viewing the world. I have often found myself saying, Huh. That’s an interesting way of thinking about this!

I had never considered the challenges of running dog teams, nor the intricacies of 12th century Muslim friezes (a type of artwork). I found myself overwhelmed by the complexities of India’s new identification system, and in tears listening to stories from “Boat People.” In Kaunas, Lithuania, the American movie Home Alone is revered, and it served as a theme throughout the entire club meeting I visited, evoking much hilarity.

I’ve had some really happy times visiting my old clubs in California and Stockholm, Sweden, where I lived for several years. Although Mandera, Kenya, the town where I taught when I was in the Peace Corps, has no club, I was warmly welcomed in the Kenyan cities of Nairobi and Eldoret. My friend and fellow Past District Governor Paul White, DTM, invited me to his club based in Washington, D.C., where I got to see him deliver a beautiful speech on his mother and “Trees.” Impossible without Zoom!

The opportunity to visit clubs online in different cities, different states, and different countries is a unique and precious gift to our generation.

It is fascinating to observe the various ways that clubs implement the Toastmasters mission within the sensibilities of the local culture. In many clubs, members refer to each other with the slightly more formal “Toastmaster [person’s last name],” which I find comforting. Some clubs recite the Toastmasters mission. Some clubs in the United States recite the Pledge of Allegiance. There are roles like Quiz Masters, and jokes/poems/thoughts/moments/prayers, etc. All of which are grand individually, though excessive taken as a group.

When visiting clubs in other countries online, I invariably give a speech. I want them to get a feel for who I am and what (some) Americans are like. (My contribution to international relations.) I also want to be a good example. I practice. I hit my time. I have a written introduction. And I always, always, always, do a Pathways project.

At first, I spoke about how to use Zoom effectively for business purposes. I have one friend who is using basic Toastmasters skills to organize small-business meetings through that online platform. There is so much opportunity to use our Toastmasters skills to build our professions, and I wanted to help people do it. I also wanted to make people feel good. I once sang a stanza of What a Wonderful World and proceeded to give examples of my friends and acquaintances doing good deeds.

Visiting other clubs around the world has been the most wonderful experience. Plus, when I decide to visit Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Lima, Manila, or Sydney in person, I’ll have people I know that I can visit!


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