open house meeting

How to run an effective Open House event online

In the City of London Toastmasters club we ran an Open House event online mid January 2021. It was a splendid night with virtually a hundred attendees! The meeting was exceptionally energetic and effervescent, and 6 new members signed up during the first month after the event. As a club President and a mastermind behind this event, I would like to share some tips and tricks that we as a club learned together creating this event.

Key ingredient No 1 – Team

As any big event, the Open House is a team effort. The org team was well trained, we all attended Club Officers Training, as well as several district webinars. Also, we had some experience of a similar event held 2 years ago in our beautiful venue, but many of us never did anything like this before. My team did exceptionally well, but there is nothing that cannot be replicated or adapted elsewhere.

Set a vision

As a leader of the org team, I had to set the vision and explain why we do it. I wanted to leave behind something remarkable, something that my committee, members and myself can look back at and be proud of. My ambition was for the club to receive a President Distinguished Award. Then, I wanted to attract a completely new audience who would be comfortable both online and in our beautiful church when we are back and motivated for self-growth in a supportive environment.

An ideal picture was to have 100 attendees, then 20 people to come to our next meeting, and finally 5 to sign up as members. So, we’ve got the vision, understood our why’s and defined realistic goals.

Plan and prepare

Second, as a team, we had to plan and prepareThe Open House event was on our roadmap since Day 1 the committee started our tenure. In a way, the planning began a very long time ago, and was later enhanced with 2 dedicated committee meetings, 1 hour each, brainstorming ideas and defining, changing, and refining the details. So, start planning and preparation early and allow enough time for this.

Initially the event was scheduled for 5 January, but then it became clear it might be too early after the Christmas holidays. So, we changed that date to 19 January. From our experience last year, we had the biggest number of visitors on the second meeting of the year. I suppose it is when people come back from holidays and start fulfilling their New Year Resolutions, set goals and start doing something tangible to achieve them. So, it is important to select a good date for this sort of event. It is so much easier just to be there and then when people are already in the need of public speaking courses / workshops or any other related self-improvement activities.

Define your offer

We spent enough time constructing exactly what would be our offer to fulfil the needs of our guests and how we were going to help them achieve their goals. All discussions about how the meeting would look like, who would be the speakers, what would be the topics ended up being the agenda packed with useful content. Finally, we asked ourselves how we were going to convert guests to members:

  • What is our call to action – Join by the end of the month? Come back in the next meeting?
  • Do we offer an incentive, say – sign up by the end of the month and receive this or that?
  • Should we ask a member who joined online to share their story and prompt to follow their example?

However, it would not be the end of the world for us if the guests did not join right then, or if they did not join our club specifically. Events like Open House help raise awareness about Toastmasters as an organisation, and it is already a good achievement for the initiative. So, we agreed to let the guests take their time and find a club with the dynamics they like. We decided to show how good Toastmasters is (and our club specifically!) and what value the guests would receive.

So, it is a key to start early, have a good date and a detailed plan in place.

Execute

Having done that, as a team, we finally had to execute what we planned.

A lot of hard work is being done well before the actual day.

  • Find speakers. Speakers had to prepare and rehearse their speeches.
  • Fill in the roles. Meeting functionaries had to prioritise this meeting over work and house chores.
  • Everyone should be in good health. The night before the event several people dropped because of covid, so the lesson learned is to have backups at least in mind if not lined up.

A significant part of preparation is to tell the whole world about your event. This is when the second element for success comes to the stage.

Key ingredient No 2 – Active Promotion

We already have a well-developed online presence, not because of lockdown, but because it was always important to us. All our previous VP PR have been doing a great job for years, raising awareness about Toastmasters, praising our members’ accomplishments, and spreading the word about club events in Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, in the blog on our website. Thanks to this we always have guests in our meetings.

For the Open House, we had to go above and beyond to tell everyone and everywhere about a sensational opportunity.

  • We spoke about Open House in every club meeting since the beginning of December and encouraged members to bring their friends.
  • We used the old-school world-of-mouth and told our friends and family, colleagues, and clients. We sent email invites to those who contacted us earlier in 2020 but didn’t join. Our members reposted in their social media, too.
  • We leveraged internal channels – like The Official Toastmasters International Members Group in Facebook, General Evaluator and Speaker exchange and our Area groups in WhatsApp. Our Area Director herself did a fantastic job telling District 91 that we were going to have an impressive event.

But the main source of participants was social media promotion, managed by our skilled VP PR Jack Rowson.

PR in social media

We created an engaging page in Eventbrite about 1,5 months before the actual event. Over this time the page was viewed almost 1300 times. Eventbrite is a convenient platform that generates calendar invites and sends automatic reminders, which you can configure yourself. It also allows to contact attendees by email when needed. Today it shows a nice stat that as much as 40% tickets were distributed thanks to their channels.

But honestly, registrations started raising when our Facebook ad started running about 3,5 weeks before the actual event. Our District was giving away £100 for Open House advertising, and we decided to spend the same amount of the club’s own money. Overall, we spent £114 on 1 ad running for men and women 18+ in London, including people who match public speaking, career development, training and development, communication, personal development. That gave >18000 Reach, 400 link clicks, almost 300 landing page views and 118 registrations.

We also tested some paid ads in Instagram and LinkedIn, but there was a similar number of views from the ads and from our members’ free reposts.

Initially we had 100 participants limitation in our Zoom account but allowed more registrations on purpose as we knew not everyone who signed up was going to actually come. When we had 120 places filled, we stopped the Facebook ad. This was a mistake. Looking back now, it was a correct thing to increase Zoom capacity to 500 attendees with Large Meetings add-on (£40) and get additional 75 registrations. Lesson learned – if you see the goals achieved, raise the bar.

Bottom line, a little bit more than £150 spent, almost 200 registered in Eventbrite.

Key ingredient No 3 – Content

But all promotion would be wasted efforts if we did not have great content on the night itself. By the day itself many things should be ready – agenda, speakers, meeting functionaries, ads have run, guests lined up. And the moment comes, the virtual floor opens and the club shines! To allow that light out in its full power, a high-quality agenda and bouncy atmosphere are vital.

Strong agenda

We expected the guests to be new to Toastmasters, and about 80% were non-members. So, we had to show them what Toastmasters is, what people do here and what they get out of it. We kept our usual meeting structure – this way it was easier to plan, and guests would know what to expect in the “normal” meeting. We wanted to show our club is a friendly space and it is okay to make mistakes here, because of the supportive and friendly atmosphere. Hence, we decided to vary speakers’ levels and to avoid being too perfect and too polished.

It is extremely important the Open House guests receive something useful for the time spent with us. Hence we scheduled high quality speeches with helpful content to develop timeless and platform independent skills:

  • professional keynote speech by Ga Lok Chung about effective communication – Owning Gravitas – How you increase influence and respect.
  • Pathways presentation
  • a story about Toastmasters mentoring

All that spiced up with personal examples, funny and engaging elements.

High energy

Even the best speech can be delivered in a boring way, so from the virtual entrance people were welcomed in a positive and energetic way.

  • We asked ‘small talk’ questions like where they were from and why they joined.
  • We shared the screen with the main meeting highlights and sent the agenda in the chat later so the guests knew what to expect further.
  • We ran zoom polls asking participants about their goals and their level of familiarity with Toastmasters.

It kept the visitors entertained and provided us with useful insights.

Our Zoom master Cristelle Delaporte did an amazing job as a dedicated chat manager responding to messages in the chat and sending comments explaining events on the virtual stage.

We have got an energetic Toastmaster Jonty Rooke to lead the meeting and keep the energy up and beaming. So, select someone who is experienced and enjoys entertaining the audience.

As a result, the meeting was – from the guests’ words – excellent, useful, informative, fun, inspiring, professional, friendly, welcoming.

Checklist for an effective online Open House

Your club situation might be different, and some things might work differently. Do not take this as a guaranteed success guide. But I hope my report can help you to run a successful event. Feel free to borrow ideas and adapt them to your club’s situation! To summarise, here is a short checklist about how to run an effective Open House event online

  1. Set the vision and understand your why’s.
  2. Set reasonable goals and raise the bar when they are achieved.
  3. Mobilize enthusiastic team.
  4. Plan early, clarify details.
  5. Define your offer.
  6. Select a good date, be there and then when people are looking for you.
  7. Invite passionate speakers.
  8. Anticipate what the guests might need.
  9. Invest efforts and maybe some money in promotion.
  10. Welcome new members.

And finally – just do it! It is worth every effort, every pound and every minute spent!

——— Olga Galaiko, President of City of London Toastmasters Club