By Sam Warner, J11 Area Director
“It’s a bit rural down there!” they said.
“You’ll have a job chartering in the middle of nowhere!” they said.
“I’m not interested in anything corporate or business related” they said.
Well, I do love a challenge and Jill Ming ACS, ALB does too. Having started and chartered a club in District 71, Shropshire Speakers, I was looking to see where the next logical leap was for a second club in Shropshire as it’s a very large county. Telford (Shropshire Speakers location) has a population of approximately 170,000 people and it took us three years to charter – it’s a town that predominantly houses unskilled factory workers who aren’t really after that next promotion! (I’m generalising of course but it’s not full of go-getting city slickers eager to up their game and rake in the dosh!)
We settled on Ludlow after Jill got some great feedback on how she presented herself at networking meetings – everyone wanted to know her secret. Being self-employed Jill had to learn how to story-tell and inspire the audience, her prospective clients. In December 2015 we held our demonstration meeting which seemed to be well received. Well we managed to attract 3 new members at that point. Malvern Speakers, especially Steve Birch were very supportive and helpful at the start – but it’s really hard to keep the momentum going when everyone is driving over an hour each way to support the meeting. Jill and I soldiered on.
The road was hard and the slog was long – none of the materials offered by Toastmaster WHQ suited our potential audience so we had to be creative. No-one wanted to do high powered technical presentations, no-one wanted to get a promotion or go through an interview or even work in an office – the people of Ludlow are a mixture of self-employed, retired and the very well-off. The imagery used on the Toastmasters website did not resonate with people and they found it hard to find their story to relate to in the reasons to join or to carry on once they had begun. Fortunately, Jill and I have the gift of the gab and we were able to encourage a core of members to stay and develop their skills in the ways they wanted to using the formal Toastmasters training program but on subjects they were interested in exploring in a relaxed and friendly laid back environment..
And so we leafleted, got into the local rag, on to BBC Radio Shropshire, into pub newsletters, told the college, popped into the library and all the local businesses. We put on more demo meetings. Meetup didn’t work – just because no-one seems to use it in Ludlow. We used Social media aggressively since we began but I think our target member didn’t spend all day on Facebook or Twitter, alas. Our website has worked well, helping the rare people who do want help to hone their confidence and or public speaking skills to find us.
And so through patience, diligence and allowing the slow-grow to happen we chartered this month (March 2019) a healthy club with layers of advanced, middle range and new speakers which supports our mentoring program beautifully.
My takeaway from this experience? Don’t be afraid of the small rural town (Ludlow has a population of roughly 10,000) it can still bear fruit if you are willing to be committed to the whole journey and you are persistent. District 91 has a lot of rural areas that are hitherto untapped – they are just ripe for a Toastmasters Club, don’t you think?
I’ve been looking at where I’m going to start my next club. It’s probably going to be in the countryside…… wish me luck!