When the 2019 novel coronavirus began forcing local clubs to shut down or go virtual, the Skwim Toastmasters club was fortunately well-prepared, club member Lindy MacLaine said. A number of technology-savvy members this spring helped make the transition to online meeting quickly and smoothly, and with some good-humored aplomb.
“We are a club that laughs a lot; that helps immeasurably,” she said.
But MacLaine, a past president of Skwim Toastmasters, noted that because recent international speech competition she was prepared for generally sees contestants offer inspirational speeches, the online shift presented a challenge of feedback — or, rather, lack of feedback.
“What’s missing by performing to the camera is the audience; (it’s the) response noises the audience makes that lets you know they’re with you,” MacLaine said.
“It’s like switching from stage to screen, because now you’re on camera. That has a whole different quality.”
That challenge didn’t keep MacLaine from scoring wins at several local and regional competitions and earn the Sequim resident a third place finish at the 2020 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking on Saturday, Aug. 29.
MacLaine, along with seven other final contestants, reached the championship level after several eliminating rounds that began more than six months ago with 30,000 participants from 145 countries.
MacLaine said she had a performance background before joining Skwim Toastmasters in October 2016, but found public speaking much different than being on stage in a play.
“(There was) a big learning curve with me with crafting (my) own message,” she said.
No stranger to high levels of competition, MacLaine qualified for the world championship semifinals in 2018.
This year, she advanced from club, area, division, district and regional competitions through to the semi-finals with a speech titled “The Slice You Left Behind,” a presentations about passions the listener may have left behind. At almost each level along the way contestants go back and tweak a bit here and there, finely honing their 5- to 7-minute speech for the next competition.
But the move online meant getting used to performing for the camera instead of a live audience. In Zoom sessions, that meant MacLaine had to focus on speaking to the camera and not the Zoom meeting participants; otherwise it’d look like as if her eyes were going all over the place.
“You can use your space a little bit (but you) have to be award of your background and you have to learn to relate to the camera as if it’s a real person,” she said. “It’s easy to let your eyes go flat because you’re speaking to a screen, not a person.”
Another challenge, MacLaine said, if that a speech maxed out at 7 minutes means anything added means something must be taken away. Rules state that there is some flexibility to allow for speeches up to 7:30, but any longer earns the contestant a disqualification.
Additionally, she said, “each time you compete you do not get feedback from judges.”
During the competitions she relied on other Toastmasters from outside the club for assistance in presentation and form.
Per contest rules, World Championship semi-final contestants have to offer a different speech. MacLaine prepared “Your Buried Story” for the Aug. 25 event. Her speech evolved from a 2018 speech based on the year she spent as a 16-year-old exchange student in Peru.
While she found other former exchange students kept up relationships with their host families over the years, she hadn’t.
“I considered them part of my past and there was a loss; there as also a shame about it,” MacLaine said. “In the process of telling that story again and again, the memory of that came alive. All these feelings came up.”
MacLaine eventually found her former host family through Facebook; they had moved to Orlando, Fla.
“You have a varied story, (sometimes) a story you don’t want to tell,” she said. ” For people a new ending may appear and that’s what happend with me.”
MacLaine and other finalists had their final speech recorded three weeks prior to the Aug. 29 broadcast; her parents and club members joined her virtually in watching the finals.
“That was the first time I ever got a chance to watch myself compete,” she said.
“I gave it a hundred percent; I felt like I could not have done better than I did,” MacLaine said of her finals speech.
While she enjoyed the World Championship finals, she said the all-online format meant contestants wouldn’t be able to connect face-to-face as in years past.
In those times, she said, “your world grows (to) wider and wider circles.”
Skwim Toastmasters is part of Toastmasters International, a worldwide nonprofit educational organization that “empowers individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.”
In “normal” times, the Sequim club meets every Tuesday from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Gathering Place in Sunland, 135 Fairway Drive; group members are currently meeting on Zoom. Join a meeting via the link on the club’s website home page at 907529.toastmastersclubs.org.