Keep Guests Coming Back
A club visitor’s guide to making a good first impression.
By Karen Hobson
I recently joined the wonderful world of Toastmasters. After visiting five clubs repeatedly over two months, I finally made my choice, signed the check and gave my first speech. I have rolled up my sleeves and am ready to learn all I can from many of the brilliant minds I’ve found within this amazing organization. I can’t wait!
In my travels from group to group however, I noted a few things that made me hesitate to sign on the dotted line. The brilliance of many members didn’t always shine through as well as it could have. But being the type of person to always give people a second, third and even a fourth chance, I kept going back to see if things would improve over time.
Sometimes, I was glad to see that while certain groups didn’t make a great first impression, they did in fact come across better on the second and third visits. Unfortunately, not everyone is like me and willing to return time and again to allow for off nights. Often, visitors will come once and never return – or worse, they will slip out during the break before they can be given any sort of real sales pitch or proper greeting.
Since I’m still new to Toastmasters, I thought you might benefit from my “new eyes” to help you see what kinds of things impressed me and made me want to come back to several of the Toastmasters clubs I visited.
• Greet Guests At The Door. Have someone stand at the door to greet people with a friendly smile and this simple statement: “Welcome to Toastmasters!” The greeter should hand out the agenda personally to everyone who enters. Let me explain why. When the papers are placed on seats or at spots around the tables, it can look to a visitor like all the seats are taken and this can cause a guest to stand awkwardly, not knowing where to sit. By introducing yourself and guiding visitors to a seat, guests can immediately begin to feel part of the group.
• Start On Time. Do not wait for Oscar, Sara and Cornelius to come. Oscar, Sara and Cornelius are no more important than the guests. If guests made the effort to be on time, the rest of the group should acknowledge that effort by not making them wait.
• Honor Thy Banner. Between meetings, it might not be the best idea to place your banner in the bottom of your cupboard with boxes of crackers and the coffee machine jammed on top of it. You will want to display it wrinkle-free and proudly, so store it accordingly. Your banner and ribbons should say: “We are Toastmasters! Look at all our accomplishments! You too can be part of this amazing group of people!”
• Keep Things Moving. Do not allow the business section to drag on for too long. Guests want to dive into the regular meeting as soon as possible. Do not wander off-schedule at the beginning of the meeting. Remember, there is a whole new generation of people out there who hold remote controls, cell phones or computer mouses for most of their day. They are used to multitasking and often have the attention span of a fly on a sugar high. Most club visitors aren’t used to sitting through long sermons or speeches. So, you don’t want to bore these sparkplugs into a semi-coma or have them planning their escape. If you keep up the pace, you will keep them interested.
• Post Location Changes. When a group has changed locations for the night because of a pot-luck party or because the room is being painted, make sure to put a sign on the door with a phone number or directions to your new location – yes, even if it is for just one meeting. That way, people who read you club’s meeting notice on the Web or in the paper will be able to find you. After all, you don’t know how much of an effort they have made to get there and you don’t want them to feel like they’ve come all that way for nothing!
• Double Check Ads. On Web sites or in ads in community papers, make sure to double check that the phone number is printed properly. Wrongly printed numbers can lead to potential visitors giving up if they don’t know the right contact information. Whoever is the designated contact person should have an answering machine with a cheerful greeting: “You have reached Suzy’s place as well as the number for your local Toastmasters club. We’d love to invite you to a meeting. So please, leave a message and we will call you back as soon as we can!” Do not use outgoing messages left by kids and their dog. This is a little too friendly…
• Give Guests Presents. “For me?! And it isn’t even my birthday!” Everyone loves a present. Have a folder ready with various pamphlets and other information for guests. Make sure to include the phone numbers and e-mails of your club’s officers, in case guests want to follow up with questions. In the folder, it’s a good idea to have small descriptions of meeting roles such as what defines a Toastmaster, a sergeant at arms, and grammarian.
It is also nice to have a small description as to how the gavel is to be passed from one member to another. This helps guests feel included into the Toastmasters family.
• Update Your Web Site. It isn’t hard to find someone with a digital camera these days. Ask people in your group to pose in front of a large sign that says “Come Join Us!’ (You can use three large poster boards with one word neatly printed on each.) Also, with their permission, get committee members to pose for the site with their title under their names. (Let them pick the photo of themselves that they want on the site – don’t put one on without their permission.) This way, when guests visit, they can already be familiar with some of the faces.
Alternatively, if some members don’t want their names published, you could have a “fun page” with photos of members with a silly caption underneath, such as “Likes to talk about Mars” or “Calls himself ‘too serious’ but managed to win the Humorous Speech Contest last year!” Or, “She goes to yoga on Mondays and Toastmasters on Tuesdays!” These little blurbs can help intrigue readers and make them want to meet club members in person.
• Use Modern Equipment. If your club has a video camera or PowerPoint presentation equipment, show it off! New gizmos are cool and make you look hip. If your group has a video camera, encourage people to use it as a learning tool. Offer to videotape one another and then organize a “popcorn and movie” night. This encourages camaraderie and shows guests that you are willing to try new ideas.
• End On Time! Last, but not least, when you see that the meeting is going on too long, press the “fast forward” button. Keep the general evaluation and grammarian sections short if you are running late. Time belonging to others is not yours to spend. You must be aware that there may be a taxi waiting outside, a babysitter at home who is fed up, or even a cute guy in a candlelit bubble bath with a bottle of wine waiting for a certain guest to return from a meeting.
If you always portray your organization as competent, open-minded and caring, people like me will not only come back but will sign up and jump right in!
Karen Hobson is a member of Beaconsfield Toastmasters Club in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Canada. She is a registered nurse, freelance writer and songwriter with 173 compositions under her guitar strap. Her music can be heard at www.musicbykaren.ca.