Melanie Klinghoffer, CC, ALB
What do you say when someone asks you why you attend Toastmasters meetings? Most likely a few things immediately come to mind, like the public speaking practice that helps you advance in your career, the encouragement you get from fellow members and the camaraderie you experience during each meeting. It’s the quality of the club that keeps you in Toastmasters.
The Moments of Truth is your club’s guide to delivering quality service and outstanding member experiences. It’s available in multiple languages for free as a download in the Toastmasters Online Store. As part of The Successful Club Series, the guide states: A high-quality club encourages and celebrates member achievement, provides a supportive and fun environment and offers a professionally organized meeting with variety. In those clubs, officers are trained in all aspects of club quality to ensure that members have access to a formal mentoring program, are provided evaluations that help them grow and are motivated to achieve their goals.
Members of four clubs—ARBOR Toastmasters in Arlington, Texas; Voorhees club in Voorhees, New Jersey; Toastmasters Club of Fishers in Fishers, Indiana; and the Toastmasters of La Jolla club in San Diego, California— were asked what they value most about their clubs. To better understand the underlying elements that influence club quality, consider the six critical points as outlined in the Moments of Truth, and how four clubs leverage them to keep members engaged.
1. First Impressions
New members breathe new life into a club. The most important thing you can do to recruit new members is create a good first impression. Visitors are drawn to clubs that generate excitement and enthusiasm. When the room is infused with energy, people are excited about being there, and that’s what keeps members coming back.
• Make the meeting room easy to find and visually appealing n Greet guests warmly with a guest packet and name tag
• Introduce them to club officers and others
• Invite them to sign a guest book, roster or log
When the meeting comes to order, build the energy in the room! Energy is lifted when members know the meeting will be fun, friendly and a safe place to practice building confidence. Veronica Sites, CC, CL, a chaplain, a Ziglar Legacy Certified Trainer and a public speaker from Crowley, Texas, says she initially visited two clubs and decided to join the ARBOR club in Arlington, Texas, because “it showed enthusiasm and support.”
How do you raise the enthusiasm in a club meeting room? Try clapping! When members are recognized in this way when speaking or meeting a goal, others will be encouraged to participate. Include guests by offering them the opportunity to address the club. Treat potential members like they are already valued members. Follow up with everyone by email to keep the communication going, and don’t forget to invite visitors to join.
2. Membership Orientation
Congratulations! Your club has a new member. It’s time for a formal introduction. The New Member Orientation Kit for Clubs has materials to orient and induct new members. Welcome ribbons and membership pins are a great way to underscore the value of club membership. Make sure to:
• Explain the education and recognition programs n Involve the member in all aspects of club activities immediately
• Assign every new member a mentor
• Assess new members’ needs and assign them a speaking role
• Direct the new member to https://www.toastmasters.org/
Strong mentoring provides clubs with a vital boost. “Mentoring has great benefits for the new member, the mentor and for the club as a whole,” says Past Area Governor Matthew Goldberg, DTM, a member of the Voorhees club in Voorhees, New Jersey. “It improves the quality of meetings, helps retain members, and intangibly and noticeably contributes to a warm, supportive atmosphere.”
Sites says when she joined the ARBOR club, it was only a couple of weeks before she had a mentor. And it’s because of a mentor’s suggestion that Sites became an award-winning chaplain.
“Toastmasters has helped me to become a more polished speaker and a better evaluator—not only of others but of myself,” she says. “I also believe that my listening skills have increased tremendously, and that is priceless for a chaplain.”
The support she gets at her club helps her speak on topics including goal achievement, self-image, building winning relationships, bully prevention and overcoming tragedy. She has traveled to Bolivia, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria and many states in the U.S. to deliver her messages.
Goldberg, a writer, speaker and coach, recalls one particular member who thrived under the guidance of a mentor. Goldberg had competed against him in a Humorous Speech Contest. “He was compelling, quite witty and did a great job; he appeared to be a natural.” What Goldberg later learned is that this member had a strong, caring mentor who took him under his wing and encouraged him to attend meetings when he wasn’t so self-confident. “Seeing him at the lectern now,” Goldberg says, “it’s hard to believe that was the case.”
Now that same member is a mentor himself, helping other individuals and clubs thrive.
To ensure that new members have a good club experience, it’s important to create “a mentoring mindset where it’s expected that new members will be assigned a mentor shortly after joining, and then mentor others as they get up to speed,” Goldberg says.
The Club Mentor Program Kit has materials to help your club start a mentoring program. As part of the Successful Club Series, the Toastmasters Mentoring module offers tips for training members to become mentors.
3. Fellowship, Variety and Communication
Goldberg says the most important component of club quality is open-mindedness. He says clubs should be open in a variety of ways: to new members, different points of view and innovative approaches that make meetings fresh and vibrant.
“Toastmasters provides a lot of great resources for clubs to use and also add to. That same open attitude facilitates member growth,” he says. “Members learn and grow when they are open to new experiences, new ideas, and to being inspired as well as providing inspiration.”
Strong bonds are forged within a club when members share a range of experiences. Members of the Toastmasters of La Jolla club are tightly connected through social events, themed meetings and achieving success together. The bonding started when a few members gave speeches that were highly personal.
When speeches reveal personal information that resonates with the audience, connections are built that help lay the foundation for acceptance and belonging, as well as for forging strong friendships. Members who speak authentically and reveal vulnerability motivate, inspire and excite guests and other members.
La Jolla club members enjoy Halloween costume meetings, improv workshops, line-dancing socials and pot-lucks. They make Table Topics fun, like the time they practiced around a bonfire at the beach.
Think of ways you can add fun into the mix. The words of our founder, Ralph C. Smedley, ring true to this day: “We learn in moments of enjoyment.” It’s important to focus on education, and to help members meet their goals, but be adventurous—there’s room to explore new ways of learning while having fun in a supportive environment.
4. Program Planning and Meeting Organization
Everyone wins when meetings are organized and skillfully conducted. Club officers show respect for members’ time when meetings start and end on schedule.
Goldberg says, “Accountability leads to learning, growth and success in various ways. Staying on schedule with respect to meeting agendas allows more members to participate. It also helps members stay on target with reaching their own goals.” Smart planning makes it happen.
Sites, of the ARBOR club in Texas, says, “It makes growth possible for each person within the club, ranging from beginners to professional speakers.”
In your club, ensure that members know their responsibilities and are prepared to follow through with their assigned roles. Distribute sign-up sheets to keep everyone on track. Help members plan by publicizing programs and agendas in advance, or send all-member emails announcing the next meeting theme, and a complete list of filled roles and speaking spots. Include open roles and speaker spots to encourage volunteers.
To ensure that members with all levels of experience get the chance to participate, the La Jolla club schedules a novice, an intermediate and an advanced member to deliver manual speeches at each meeting.
If your role is evaluator, offer praise along with constructive criticism to help others grow. Past District Governor Walter A. Wolfe, DTM, a member of the Toastmasters Club of Fishers in Fishers, Indiana, says, “A club with a strong evaluation program is a club that is successful in its growth and membership retention.” He says the evaluation process is “the most productive learning tool our members can use to reach a desired level of competency within Toastmasters. The feedback received launches each of us on a journey of speaking and communication we never thought possible.”
5. Membership Strength
Maintaining a minimum of 20 or more members ensures a better learning environment, as it gives the club enough members to provide leadership and fill meeting and committee assignments.
For the last three program years, the Toastmasters of La Jolla club set and achieved its membership goals. The club attributes its success to ramping up the club’s public relations efforts with “open houses” and community-related events. During the renewals period, members received email reminders six weeks before the deadline. Two weeks before the renewals deadline, the club president sent emails to those who had not yet renewed, asking how they felt about the club and what could be done to turn their experience around. In March, the club had achieved an 84 percent renewal rate, with 48 out of 57 members paying on time.
Goldberg believes that 20 or more active, motivated members is a good starting point. “My club fluctuates between 30 and 40 members,” he says, “and the more who participate enthusiastically at meetings, the more effective and dynamic the learning environment.”
Recognize those who sponsor new members and work toward member retention by keeping the club experience lively and varied.
6. Achievement Recognition
A common trait among successful clubs is that their officers tune in to the members’ goals, help them achieve those goals and celebrate their successes formally. Club officers and mentors at the La Jolla club not only help members build their communication and leadership skills, but also help them leverage their skills to achieve success outside the club.
For example, the club celebrated when past Vice President Membership Josh Rutherford’s first book was published. Rutherford, CC, the current club president, practiced reading from his book before his club, and when a local art gallery hosted his first reading, many of Rutherford’s fellow club members went to support him.
Meeting with each member or distributing a Member Interest Survey will help you, as a club officer or men-tor, gain an understanding of members’ support and encouragement, and point out members’ progress as they achieve their goals. This is why evaluations and awards are such an important part of the Toastmasters program. Goldberg says, “There have to be many challenging opportunities for members to learn and grow, and all of us value being recognized in some way for our efforts.”
If your club doesn’t maintain and display a member progress chart, make it a goal to do so. You’ll find the Toastmasters Wall Chart helpful in showing members’ progress.
Make it your club’s priority to always acknowledge and applaud member and club accomplishments. Remember to submit award applications immediately to World Headquarters. Members of Toastmasters of La Jolla say they feel special when they receive emails from the club president acknowledging their successes as well as their contributions. Continue to spread the word of success through social media and press releases.
Clubs that embrace and follow the Moments of Truth achieve their goals. Set, evaluate and review goals to stay on track. The Distinguished Club Program will help you with planning and recognition.
In addition to recognizing members’ goals, remember to reward yourself and all club members when your club becomes Distinguished. Make it a celebration! Cheer, clap and make it exciting.