What makes for a strong club?
That is a question that is asked regularly and one we all ask ourselves as club leaders. We have a successful club and when asked what makes it so I point out that the club follows the guidelines set out according to the TMI club constitution along with following the principles of good Toastmastering.
I was told the other day that this reason even though true was too clinical and there was something else that has not been written down something that needs to be identified and talked about. This paper hopefully goes someway to identifying the magic ingredient in the formula of success.
When you walk into a club there is a feel. For the first time visitor it is whether the members are warm and welcoming for the recurring visitor it is whether there is an energy, a buzz between the members not just toward the visitor, that is expected and whether the club meetings are the mechanical same old same old or fun and vibrant.
I am a terrible member. The first thing I ask for is a copy of a clubs constitution from committee members. Some of the reactions I received are from “What’s that or get that off the net from TMI or there you go”. The “there you go” is what you hope for. That question sounds like an unimportant and totally irrelevant to public speaking but it goes a long way to tell you if the committee understands the basics of conducting the business of a successful club. A TMI Club constitution represents nearly 100 years of Toastmastering. It is the main operational document- I suggest, that it is the blue print for a clubs success.
All this is written – In this I am looking for the unwritten. Those things that cause the Buzz between members, that makes the member want to attend meetings, want the member to complete their current project, achieve their next level and when a social event is called for – attend to simply enjoy each other’s company.
How to find it? Let us define an average struggling club and consider what steps it would take to shape it into a club worthy of Charter and carry the Toastmasters name in our search for the non- written words.
Our theoretical club has 14 members. The executive are long serving members. Meeting numbers hover around 10. The members are aged from middle to senior. Meetings are fortnightly and generally the same with a low guest conversion.
What needs to happen is a no brainer. The club needs to get to charter strength.
The use of the term “charter” is interesting and in my opinion the above answer is worded incorrectly. The answer should be that the club needs to get to charter. A chartered club has 20 minimum members and the club’s founding executive on behalf of all 20 members have signed an agreement with Toastmasters International that it will abide by the TMI Club constitution. The constitution is a formula of Toastmasters success from which our theoretical club has strayed.
So our first step is to get our theoretical Club to look at compliance and how that impacts on present and future members.
Let us assume that our executive re-discover the constitution and do the following:
I hear a call why not concentrate on getting in new members – the short answer is that the club could go that way but if you want to achieve both getting new members and retaining them, then our theoretical club will wait a little longer. But it is encouraged to spend the time to get the club web site as slick and up to date as possible before considering the next two important issues.
Firstly the club needs to look at the current agenda. The club agrees on a meeting of 4 speaking opportunities without a business session and one with 3 speaking opportunities and a business session. To achieve this the members have elected to extend club meeting time by 15 minutes. The opportunity to conduct varying styles of meeting is still available with the executive focus on creating more speaking opportunities for members.
The interesting thing that our theoretical club executive will notice is that the club has a different feel. Members are starting to feel more empowered. The banter has picked up, the roles are easier to fill and there is a faint buzz. The other thing that becomes obvious is that conversion of guests has gone up.
The second consideration the executive have is to attract younger members. Old heads have old ideas young heads have new ideas and with only old heads a club has a limited future. The challenge with our theoretical club is that we only have middle and older aged members which will attract middle and older type guests to convert to members even though there are younger guests they do not stick around. The reason we cannot convert the younger guest is simple, because we do not have young members. The solution, is more difficult. The club needs to come up with an answer to attract young members. What to do? If the club is relatively close to another club and they have younger members arrange for 3 consecutive demo meetings inviting the younger members from the other club as speakers and role players. Promote the demo meetings at learning institutes, and larger organisations hoping to attract the 20-40 year olds.
If the theoretical club is too far away to obtain help to use the demo meeting tactic then the club could consider an in-house speechcraft course. Do whatever works to convert your first young guest to a member.
Converting a guest. Every club or VPM has a different approach:
The conventional. Sit the guest with a member who can explain the process of a meeting and then ask them what they thought, present them with a guest kit. Send them a follow up email thanking them for attending and reminding them of the clubs next meeting.
The Inclusive technique. Ask the guest if they would read the toastmasters pledge or offer them the opportunity to answer a table topic. Even get them to pick a table topic from the list. A great technique is for a guest to be interviewed. Just keep in mind a guest has come to the club because of their fear of public speaking, their inability to stand at the feared lectern. If you can coax them up at the lectern for a minor role, they will go home moon walking. I would be more certain on this type of guest returning next meeting than when a conventional approach is taken. To me this is qualifying a guest quickly and would encourage to complete a membership form the next meeting. Of course you still sit them with a member and provide them a guest kit then follow up email but those things are not the reason their chests are out-they have achieved, they have stepped out of their comfort zone – all done in front of strangers, friendly, but still strangers-WOW.
Maybe in our hunt for the hidden word is the “WOW I did that” factor or perhaps it simply resonates the “INCLUSION” word, they felt they were part of the meeting and they should be part of the club.
The new member. They have very special needs that in our busy world we tend to overlook. They are eager to progress through their projects. Hold on! In our theoretical club the question was raised why isn’t every member eager to progress. Shouldn’t every member be treated in a way that fosters their advancement?
Through their record keeping the President and the VPE have the opportunity to light the flames of the older members and maintain the flame of the new members. They know the status of each member goal. Through informed programing, challenging members, cajoling members, subtly pushing members they will see members advance to their first achievements, followed by the next and so on. The club executive pushing a little lights member’s fires and then watch as the flames spread throughout all members. A leader will always carry matches to ensure the fire never dies. The hidden word here is setting a “FIRE”. Rekindling the learning/achieving passion that resides within. The reason for joining.
To retain members especially those where the fire has been lit the executive need to create more speaking opportunities. Why? The more members your club has the longer for your members to attain their speaking goals as there are only 3-4 speaking opportunities every fortnight. The more younger members the club has the more competition over the limited speaking slots. So the executive have to think outside the box. The theoretical club meets every second week so there is a gap week. It was decided to use this to commence a special meeting called fast track. Instead of a maximum of 4 speakers this was increased to 8 speakers, 8 evaluators, 1 toastmaster, 1 GE and a timer. It was also decided that this would be recognised as a special 6 week event with a co-ordinator appointed. With Fast Track the theoretical club has the best of 2 speaking worlds. The disciplines of a formal Toastmasters meeting and the alternate special meeting in a social setting where guests are also encouraged to attend and given the opportunity to be inclusive in our now successful Toastmasters club.
The DCP is a great way for TMI and District to monitor the performance of a club and a club to rate itself against all other clubs via the Dash Board (when it catches up). For some of our older heads in our theoretical club the DCP is the be all and end all whilst chasing a goal. For example when 4 CC’s were met it was suggested that it was not necessary to promote those other members hoping to finish their CC’s as we had already met the maximum points for the DCP. Wiser heads prevailed and pointed out that by balking any member from achieving their goal it was pouring water on flames and it would be hard to rekindle something that wet. Let a fire burn – where possible throw extra fuel on it and watch the club bask in the glow.
So what makes a successful Club? In summary a successful club is one that:
To all those that suffered this text please remember– wishing never made anything happen – doing it did.