A few months ago, I sent out an email at work inviting colleagues to take part in a Speechcraft course during lunch breaks over 8 weeks. Speechcraft is an 8 week introduction to public speaking from Toastmasters. I knew there would be a few people who would be interested, but I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would get because it’s not a huge organisation – it has about 300 people who are office based.
Well, I didn’t need to wonder for long. Within an hour the course was full. By the end of the day I had a waiting list big enough for 4 groups.
So I ran a introductory session for everyone, and said I would make sure that either we would run enough groups to cover everyone who was interested, or after the first group was done, if they were really committed, we would set up a club. But that whatever happened I would find a way for everyone. I allowed a bigger group than I thought I could manage into the first cohort on the basis that I thought some would give up along the way.
Fast forward 7 weeks. The first group have really valued the course and what they have learned together. All of them went all the way through, supporting, encouraging and challenging each other to keep going, especially when it got challenging. We adapted the agenda and the pace to cope with there being too many in the group.
A number of them have bounded up to me at some point to tell me of a situation where they had to speak in front of others, and those others have remarked on the fantastic progress they have made. One of them said that of all the work based courses she had attended over the recent years, this was the only one that she had found useful, and even enjoyable!
They valued it so much, they don’t want to stop when the course is done. So seven of them have stepped up to take on officer roles to run a brand new club. They are preparing to roll it out to all those people on that waiting list, as well as the others who have heard how good it all is, and want to get involved too.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Well firstly because I was so surprised at the level of interest there was with my colleagues. People knew I was involved in Toastmasters and they had had seen me speak and lead using the skills I had learned here. They wanted to learn to do it too. Who is there in your life who would benefit from Toastmasters? What are you doing to let them know that we are here for them?
Now I know I have now made some people very uncomfortable here. I have met people in Toastmasters worry about being seen to be pushy or “salesey” when they try to encourage others to get involved. Well this situation has reminded me that it is not like selling some unnecessary luxury thing. We are doing people a huge service when we tell them all about what we have gained from being involved in our clubs. We are doing them a favour when we let them that it can work for them too, that they are welcome.
Secondly, I mention it because I was a bit overwhelmed by the demand and I wondered what to do. I realised that every single person who expresses an interest in getting involved in our organisation deserves a way to get involved. I might not be able to provide that way instantaneously for all of them but I feel a responsibility to keep trying to find a way until everyone who could benefit from what we offer can find a club to be part of.
I have seen some clubs grow too big and spawn other clubs in other locations – look at Cheltenham, Malvern and Gloucester for example. I have seen clubs grow too big and spawn other clubs in the same location – look at Early Birds and Covent Garden. I have seen clubs meet more frequently to handle the volume – look at Victorians and 1st London Toastmasters.
And I see clubs with waiting lists just like I have had and it breaks my heart. I would like to encourage all of us to keep trying to find ways to create the opportunities to welcome new members in, or find other places for them to go to. For us not to settle until we reach the point where there is no more unfulfilled demand, where every person can be involved.
And thirdly because I was inspired by how supportive the group was to each other. I would encourage everyone to ask themselves what they are doing to ensure that everyone who comes through the doors of our clubs stays involved until they have received the benefit of Toastmasters. Encourage each of us to we help each other out and check in on each other to help each of us through, especially during the hard times. If people haven’t renewed their membership, lets not judge their commitment, lets help them find a way through. When their confidence falters, when work and family life take away their energy and we lose the confidence to keep going – that is when we need to help each other stay on the path.
Its amazing that one little Speechcraft group can provide so much insight into how we can achieve more for our prospective and current members. I look forward to introducing you to the “Stand and Deliver” club very soon!
District 91 2016-17