2016/2017 was a rough year for Oshawa’s Lunchtime Talkers Toastmasters Club. Its Board was under stress as both its President and Treasurer were unexpectedly absent to deal with serious health issues experienced by their aging parents. Long time member and Board officer Bob Weese had also just taken four months off as he concentrated on work obligations.
Upon Bob’s return in January, he tried to log onto his club’s profile on the TI website, but was denied access. Bob immediately contacted Toastmasters International. That’s when he found out that because the Club only had four paid, active members, it was in suspension and on the brink of forced closure.
Over the course of a few months the club had lost much of its executive team and its membership dwindled. If the club was forced to close and there was a desire to restart it — the process of re-opening and chartering it would be expensive and time consuming. But the Club only had a limited time to turn itself around. Once a club drops below eight paid members, it is suspended. Should that club miss the eight paid members mark for next period as well, it is closed permanently by TI.
The Sergeant At Arms Eugene, VP Membership Ann , VP PR Gaye, the remaining active Club Board members, determined to turn things around and save their treasured noon-time club. Bob, a marketing professional, dug into his bag of tricks to create a plan, increase guest visits and membership. The June 30th deadline loomed.
Bob started by meeting with previous members about the Club’s predicament. Four of twelve rejoined and paid their dues. On June 30, Bob received a call from Colorado (TI headquarters) from Alaska (where he was on a work trip) to confirm — the Club was in good standing again! They made it.
Now for the second part of the plan – making the club sustainable. They initiated sharing a Meetup account with another club, updated and maintained their website, improved how they respond to queries and guests. Plus, they reached into the community by offering communication workshops to local businesses.
The Club determined to respond to all queries on the same day and to ask questions first and talking up Toastmasters second. The club members don’t jump immediately to the benefits of Toastmasters, instead they ask questions to find out why they came to the meeting and what specially they’re looking to accomplish. People join the club because of what they’re told to like, but because of what they personally want.
To manage queries, The Club also created template responses and follow ups. For initial queries, they send a “Thank you for contacting us, we meet at ….” note, to be followed up with a personal note a day or two later. If a guest didn’t make it to a meeting as planned, they send a “Sorry we missed you.” For guests who profess to already having great speaking skills, they position Toastmasters as a master class which provides individual feedback. Other benefits, geared to the individual’s needs, include the opportunity to practice, curriculum geared towards specific communication and leadership goals, it’s self-paced and provides critical feedback.
Lunchtime Talkers doesn’t have a package for guests since no package can answer the question of ‘why each individual is interested enough to come out. Instead, they talk to guests about the guests’ goals and how TM can help get them there. They also have on hand a variety of TM success stories they can share to match the guests professed interest.
The Club also offered workshops focused on Networking and Improving Presentation Skills to Improve Your Career and Presenting Your Ideas With Confidence. Generally, they consisted of a Welcome, 15-20 minute presentation, 10 minutes business focused table topics (club members and guests), a 5-7 minute speech involving TM impact on a person’s subsequent success with a 2-3 minute evaluation, plus 20 minute Q&A and social time. Members circulate with guests, ask what they’re looking for, why they came.
Often the Club gets 30- 40 guests for these workshops. They maintain an email list of past guests who they invite, members talk about it at work, post posters at their work, approach local businesses, ask members to share it with their network. They also maintain a sign in guest book to collect the name, phone number, email address and tick a box authorizing contact.
After the third guest meeting, the Club asks guests to join. ‘If you want to get ahead, you need to commit. Committing means joining – which works out to less than $3/week. The Club’s PR focus is: Respond promptly to queries. Inspire guests to attend meetings. Find out what guests are looking for. Sign them up.
Lunchtime Talkers must be doing something right. Currently they have 15 paid, active meters from a height of 21 and a low of 4.