How to run Toastmasters Open Houses
Why do we have Toastmasters Open Houses? Do you know what kind of turnover you can expect in a Toastmasters club in one year?
I actually did the math and you know what? Toastmasters International is probably right.
Welcome to Toastmasters – where in about an hour a week, we can teach you public speaking and leadership skills. You will change your life as you improve your communication skills and discover the leader inside you. I’m your host, Kim Krajci.
Recruiting New Members in the DCP
Toastmasters clubs have a metric to determine how well they’re serving their members. The Distinguished Club program has a list of goals that a club should be aiming for. Most of those goals are education awards earned by the members. some of the goals are administrative – reporting the new officers, getting them trained, and paying dues on time in both September and March.
But there are two more goals – building membership.
As I produce this podcast in January, 2020, there are two membership goals. The first is to bring in 4 new members. The second is to bring in 4 more new members.
Math Trigger Warning
Ok, math warning here. In other words, a total of eight new members per year. Why eight? Because Toastmasters predicts a 40% loss of members per year. The ideal number of members is 20 and 40% of that is… carry the six, add the… 8. Eight new members.
Math is hard – and maybe finding new members is harder. I don’t know. They both seem to be hard to me.
The usual procedure is to host a Toastmasters open houses. If you go on Google, you’ll find dozens, maybe hundreds of images of people’s marketing for Toastmasters open houses. It’s considered to be the best way to bring guests in.
The standard format for an Open House includes a good Why I Joined Toastmasters and Why You Should Too speech, fun Table Topics, an insightful but cozy evaluation of the speech, and a closing sales pitch. Then applications are explained and the guests are invited back.
I have no problem with this. I’ve actually seen that happen. Once. Maybe twice. Things don’t always go so smoothly. Sometimes there are no guests. Sometimes speakers don’t do a very good presentation. Something goes sideways in the meeting and you’re confident you won’t see those people ever again and you wonder what they’re going to say about Toastmasters the next day at work.
Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do one.
Even Toastmasters Open Houses that look bad have some virtues.
1. Remember – Toastmasters is a place where you learn the skills. It’s not the end of the world when it goes wrong. We call that a learning experience.
2. We’re demonstrating to our guests that we can handle the weird stuff. We’re learning how to cope with the times when things go wrong.
3. We can totally laugh at ourselves.
4. We can do better next time.
I think that last one is pretty important.
This month, my advanced club hosted an open house.
Presidents Open House
I thought it might be useful to encourage our district’s club presidents to know more about our advanced Toastmasters club. So I suggested a President’s Open House. We would market directly to club presidents and invite them to a themed meeting about leadership.
With that in mind, the club president was able to get a list of the clubs from Club Central and then we managed to get contact information for them. The list was divided between several members, who were asked to go to the meetings and ask the club presidents personally to attend the open house.
Next, we created a Facebook post campaign with regular announcements that were posted on the district Facebook page from our club’s page. Some were funny – I used Mount Rushmore several times with quotations from the US presidents about leadership. Older ads were recycled into the mix about what the advanced club offered. We had a Facebook event post.
The vice president of public relations developed a handout about our newly re-branded evaluation process. We don’t call it a round robin any more. It’s now the 360 Degree Evaluation.
This club has two regularly scheduled presentations this year. The first is called Promote You. It’s a series of presentations by our members to focus on building a personal platform – for small business owners or people just getting started, we have a variety of experienced members who are sharing their expertise. We also have TMx – a series of workshops on public speaking skills. Both of these speakers were asked to focus on leadership topics.
We were prepared.
How did we do?
The club meeting was one of the more successful we’ve had. We had all of the speech slots filled but we still had empty evaluator slots. We went long – I take part of the blame for that. My presentation on persuasion techniques took longer than I expected.
We had one guest. He was a club president who had driven at least a half hour to get to the meeting and it wasn’t his first visit.
But he had something unexpected to say. After his first visit, he said he simply couldn’t understand how we handled evaluations. He thought we were attacking the speaker! This time, with the handout our VP PR had created, he understood what we are doing and why. He says he’ll come back.
But only one guest.
What are the takeaways from this?
First: you have to sell the open house. Not to the guests – to the current members. Our club has multiple dual members – we might have concentrated on those members to be sure to ask their other club presidents to get a commitment to come. I think I needed to make the club officers aware of how important it is for them to be more proactive in reaching out to potential members. Our club president went above and beyond to help promote this event – but we needed all of the officers to step up.
Getting the club officers on board and excited is the first step to a good open house.
Relationships v. Marketing
Second: Relationships are everything. Marketing is next to nothing compared to relationships.
This comes directly out of the first point. Our lone guest came not because of all the ads I posted but because someone personally came and asked. This is not to say that we don’t advertise our open houses. For community clubs, many people come because of what they’ve seen online – either on the Toastmasters website or a Facebook posting or Google. But getting a verbal commitment to come as the result of a personal contact is better.
I have a friend who is a Toastmasters magnet. She loves people – and people are drawn to her like glitter to carpeting. She’s always talking about how Toastmasters makes a difference. She told a man she met on their first date about Toastmasters – and they got married. It’s not that she’s selling Toastmasters. Not at all. She’s living out her communication skills and her leadership style in a way that brings people to ask – what’s different about her and how can I learn it?
Third: Plan all you want – but something will go wrong.
A good open house will show your club at its best. That means a full agenda, a lively meeting and a good sales pitch about the benefits of joining this club.
We didn’t have a full agenda – in fact, our guest took on an evaluator role. We knew that this gentleman was indeed a Toastmaster of long-standing and could handle the task. Would I do that again? I hope not! But it did convince me I want him as a member – he was a fantastic evaluator!
We ran long. I think all club members need to take responsibility for the timing of the meeting. That means staying in time and, in the case of our 360 Degree evaluations, to pass if you don’t have anything to say or are simply repeating what others have already said. We generally try to keep each evaluator to 20-30 seconds with a reminder that our purpose isn’t praise, it’s improvement, but we forgot to say that so the evaluations went on – and on.
If you are planning an open house – be flexible. Be creative. Be welcoming and spend time listening to your guests and what they want. When it’s done, take some time to examine what worked and what didn’t.
The Next Toastmasters Open Houses
In March, we’re having another open house. This one will feature our workshop exercises on presentation skills. We’ve already had one speaker drop out, but we’ll find another – we’ve got some time. And we’ll certainly do as much advertising – but we need to engage our members to take the news to other clubs.
What’s your advanced club doing to recruit members? We want to know! Leave a note on the Toastmasters 101 FB page with your ideas.
In the meantime – Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere in a few months and that may be the time to have an open house. Start planning now to get your club officers motivated and invested in the event. Prepare advertising that will support a personal invitation as much as it will present the event information. And get ready for the unexpected.
Our music is from http://incompetech.filmmusic.io.
Toastmasters 101 podcast is produced by Toastmasters District 10.