We’re deep into membership renewals season and with online meetings looking like they’ll be our only option for a little while yet, many club committees are wondering how they can use the platform and harness the technology to find new members and continue to grow their clubs.
The good news is that many of our District 91 clubs are growing.
Since online meetings began, Society Speakers Club in London has increased their membership by 50%. Seven new members have joined since the start of the new Toastmaster year and the club have bagged themselves The Smedley Award, which is given to all clubs who sign-up at least 5 new members between August 01 and September 30.
We caught up with Society Speakers’ Club President, Dan Magill to get some hints and tips around what we can be doing to grow our club membership during these challenging times.
Dan, congratulations to Society Speakers for winning The Smedley Award. What’s the secret to your success?
Thanks. I think first and foremost, for us as a club committee, it has been about not chasing membership goals and recognition to the point where it maybe starts to become a self-defeating policy. It can be tempting in these strange times for clubs to become a little obsessive over attracting and signing up new members, but when that over-eagerness starts to come across in club meetings and engagements with potential new members, it can become a little off-putting.
Some clubs say they are having trouble attracting new guests into the online environment. How has that worked out for Society Speakers?
We have been very lucky with regard to first-time guests coming along to online meetings. Although, in truth, it has probably been less about luck and more about the outstanding work both the current club committee and the previous committees have done in promoting the club.
Since I’ve been a member, we’ve always had a fantastic Meetup page and club website, which emphasises how Society Speakers is more than just a place to develop public speaking and leadership skills.
We have a really fun, friendly atmosphere at the club and we use pre-lockdown phots of us enjoying club meetings and having club socials together.
I think, especially at the moment when people can’t socialise as much as they may like, it makes a real difference for new visitors to our Meetup and website pages to see what a friendly bunch we are. Toastmasters is all about having a friendly, supportive and safe space in which to learn and grow. Nothing can convey that to your prospective new members as much as pictures of existing members thriving in the club environment.
Have you done anything new to attract new visitors since we moved online?
Yes, as a club we held a summer series of workshops, which were aimed at new and existing Toastmasters. We had three workshop presenters on each evening, and they covered a range of really useful topics from, building rapport and adding humour, to the art of storytelling and improving your table topics.
By covering so many different topics in each session, it meant there was something for everyone and we really did see an increase in first-time guests.
I think that by occasionally positioning our clubs as outlets for public speaking education, we can attract a certain demographic that maybe we don’t quite attract when we only talk about practicing our public speaking skills. Obviously, Toastmasters is all about the practice and the experience, but from time to time, let’s step forward and promote ourselves as the experts in our field.
Would you say it’s the speaking skills of your experienced members that attract new members to your club?
Strangely, no. I think new members are most attracted by other new members. It’s always great to see an experienced speaker with lots of outstanding speaking skills on display and think that maybe one day you’ll be able to speak as well as they can. But, in truth, new members take most encouragement from those who are also just starting their journey.
If a nervous guest turns up to your club and sees three DTMs strutting their stuff, I wouldn’t expect they’d go away thinking, “Yes, I can do that too.” They’re far more likely to find the courage to come back and give it a go themselves if they see other ‘newbies’ nervously finding their way through their first speeches.
In that respect, I think it’s always more important to have as many new speakers on your meeting agenda as you can. I don’t subscribe to a club deciding that somebody isn’t ready to be Toastmaster or couldn’t possibly evaluate yet, or anything like that. I think we should encourage (not pressure) new members to take on as many of the roles as possible, as early as possible.
So, let’s say you’ve got the interested first-time guests into your meeting and you’ve got a nice mix of experience and inexperience on the agenda; what tips can you give us for converting those guests into new club members?
Every member is different and will join for their own personal reasons, so the best you can do is simply your best.
Make club meetings fun and try to involve everyone. We try to make the warmup session at the start of each meeting more of a game than a simple speaking exercise. We acknowledge and speak to guests at the start of the meeting and try to involve as many of them as possible in the Table Topics session. We’ve tweaked the way we run Table Topics since moving online. We now have ‘on the spot’ evaluations directly after each speech, which gives so many more people that chance to be involved and keeps things fresh and engaging at a point in the meeting where people can be starting to become a little less focussed.
Most importantly of all though, is to respond to your prospective member’s questions and enquiries as soon as possible.
If you see a new club contact request, respond to it right away. If a guest at your meeting says they’d be interested in finding out more, take their details and send them more information that day. It’s so easy for prospective new members to visit lots and lots of online clubs before they make their final decision and if your club is taking too long to respond to them, they’ll more than likely move on and try somewhere else.
Thanks, Dan! There are lots there for our clubs to think about.
Do you have any tips and tricks you could pass on to our clubs?