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Out & About: Zoom meetings give Toastmasters group a new public speaking challenge

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/20/2020 9:58:33 PM
Modified: 6/20/2020 9:58:31 PM

In this new world that we live in, Zoom has become a virtual gathering space for everything from children’s play groups to important business meetings.

But as many of us have learned since the COVID-19 pandemic began, communicating via video is much different than talking in person. With that in mind, Toast of the Valley Toastmasters pivoted their meetings — which take place the second and fourth Tuesday of the month — from getting comfortable speaking in front of a crowd to getting comfortable speaking to a virtual audience.

“(It’s) giving us the opportunity to further our skills as a speaker because there’s a lot to think about when you’re speaking on camera to an audience rather than being in person,” said Julie Johnston, vice president of membership for the Upper Valley branch of the organization, which typically would meet at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon.

Speakers need to make sure they’re making eye contact with the camera instead of looking beyond it at another point in the room. If they’re using hand gestures, those should be visible on screen, and if a speaker is wearing glasses, they need to make sure their lighting isn’t causing glare.

“You’re now sitting in a chair and some people are sitting in their office chairs and they’re swiveling around and moving,” said Johnston, who lives in Barnard. “You don’t want to do that. You want to sit still.”

The next virtual gathering will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Guests are welcome to come and participate in the tabletop speech portion where people speak on a topic for one or two minutes. Membership fees start at $45 for every six months of membership, with dues paid in April and October.

“I joined to overcome my fear of public speaking to help with my business,” said Johnston, owner of Travel Light By JJ, adding that she thought she would give a few speeches and that would be that. “Actually, Toastmasters is so much more than I ever understood it to be. It works on all different types of skills. It’s not just learning how to be a better speaker. It hones your skills on leadership, team building.”

It’s also a low-pressure way to practice public speaking.

“This group of people is a very nurturing, supportive group, and I can’t stress that enough,” Johnston said. “You go at your own pace and you grow as you need to grow and the people along the way nurture you and support you and give you guidance, which is invaluable.”

Editor’s note: For more information and to access the Zoom link for Tuesday’s meeting, visit

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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