Talking Up Toastmasters on the Radio

 “Good morning. It’s eleven o’clock and you’re tuned to ‘Our Town Today,’ the program that keeps you informed of events and goings-on in your community. I’m your host, Angelina. Do you fear public speaking? With me in the studio are my guests for this segment, some folks from Toastmasters…”

What has radio done for your club’s membership campaign lately? Let me guess. You go down to the radio station every few months and hand the receptionist a written notice or public service announcement – maybe something like this:

Springfield Toastmasters will hold their club speech competition on April 12, at 7 p.m. The public is invited.

You thank her and off you go, happy in the belief that you’ve done your duty. Am I right?

This is the passive approach to radio. The catch is that after dropping off the notice, you have no control over what happens to it. If the station has no regular community events bulletin board, your notice might not hit the airwaves until midnight. Maybe it won’t be read at all.

Radio can be a terrific tool for building membership and spreading the word about Toastmasters, but the medium works its wonders best if you use it actively. The way to make radio work for you is the hands-on approach: an appearance on a live talk show. On the air, you can take your message to people when you’ve got their ears. Instead of letting a dispassionate disc jockey float a brief, mechanical announcement over the air at a time of his choosing, you can deliver your message firsthand during radio prime time. By doing so, you can cover far more ground than with an ordinary notice.

Getting an Appearance
So, how do you get on the radio? First, do a little reconnaissance. Identify radio stations in your area that have local talk formats or live interview programs. Listen to several of them. Take some notes and look for patterns. What kinds of guests do they interview? How do the hosts handle the interviews? Do they ask a lot of questions or do they let the guests do most of the talking? Do they take phone calls from listeners? What are the characteristics of successful interviews on these programs? From the guests, callers and advertisements, you can also get some idea of the audience’s makeup. Does it sound like a representative cross-section of the public? Could it be a sample in which you might find prospective members for your club? 

                    "In exchange for the free air time, you need to bring
                    an idea that will grab the audience and pique their interest."

When you find a suitable program, introduce yourself to the host (I send a letter; it gives them something to look at and “chew” on) and make your pitch. For this, you need a hook – something to catch the host’s attention. Simply saying, “We want to encourage people to join our club,” might not get you on the show. In exchange for the free air time, you need to bring an idea that will grab the audience and pique their interest. Radio stations sell advertising to stay in business. If they can’t maintain their listener base, they lose accounts. Nobody wants to advertise on a station with no listeners.

I like to craft my pitch around a universal problem: performance anxiety. My introductory letter might read:

Dear Ms. Smith,
Did you know that as many as 40% of people surveyed cite public speaking as their number one fear? As a guest on your show, I would be glad to discuss what Toastmasters can do to help…

Or you might tie your proposal to a recent news bulletin or a remark you’ve heard on the air:

Dear Ms. Smith,
Regarding your station manager’s editorial comment on declining communication skills among job applicants (March 20): I would be delighted to go on the air with you to explain how skills honed in Toastmasters can benefit job applicants…

Speaking and leadership are rich, diverse subjects. You can easily find a dozen different approaches for your hook. Just make sure it’s relevant and attention-getting. Keep in mind that while your long-term goal for going on the radio is to attract new people to your club, your immediate goal is to help the station keep its audience. The two are perfectly compatible.

Along with your proposal letter to the host, include a brief outline of what you’d like to discuss on the air. Talk show hosts appreciate this and will tell you so. They are busy people. Having an outline means less work and research for them in preparing for your appearance. During the program, the host may either use your outline extensively or only a little of it. Regardless, he or she will still be glad to have it.

Talking Points
Keep a copy of the outline for yourself. You’ll need it for your talking points, for which you’ll make a beefed-up version. Under the headings and subheadings, flesh out your ideas in detail: 

  • Do your research. Get facts to back up your assertions, and use a statistic or two to emphasize your key points. But be prudent. Don’t drown the audience with numbers.
  • Be on the lookout for a humorous anecdote (keep it brief) or a morsel of ageless wisdom pertinent to your subject. They will enliven your interview.
  • Arm yourself with a little history and background knowledge of Toastmasters. Check out the Web site at and brush up on the origin and scope of the organization. I like to point out that Toastmasters has helped more than 4 million people improve their speaking and leadership skills.
  • Be able to articulate the mission and vision of Toastmasters in your own words. For quick reference, you can find them on the Contents page of the Toastmaster magazine.

If you plan to take other club members on the air with you (some talk show hosts prefer two or three people because it widens the conversation), share your outline with them well beforehand. Make sure you are all equipped to discuss the talking points, but each from his or her individual point of view.

Practice the Q&A Format
Envision your radio appearance not as a speech or presentation, but as a question-and-answer session, because it will be mainly that. Rehearse until you master your material with this template in mind. The Q and A format is a considerable change from an uninterrupted speech, but a little practice will quickly acquaint you with it. One great way to prepare is by substituting a practice interview for a speech at a club meeting. Have someone in the club act as host or moderator and let them interview you. Take questions from other club members pretending to be callers.

Every extra bit of preparation helps lay the groundwork for a successful radio appearance. Try to anticipate questions the host might ask. If you’ve scouted the show well, you might know a little about his or her tactics.

Yet no matter how thoroughly you’ve rehearsed and prepared, some surprise question is guaranteed to pop up and catch you off-guard.

“Are there any Toastmasters clubs in Greenland?”

If you don’t know the answer, say so. Never try to equivocate and blather your way through and around a question that should be answered with a simple, “I don’t know.” You don’t have to be an expert on everything. Just be honest.

One thing that will almost certainly come up on the air is your own inspiration or reason for joining Toastmasters. Mine was panic attacks. Every time I spoke in public, my rib muscles would tighten so severely I couldn’t exhale – Ungh! Gasp! Ungh! Thirty seconds into each talk, I would be a quivering blob, fighting for air and white-knuckling the lectern so I wouldn’t collapse. My audiences suffered too – their faces typically registered everything from alarm to outright horror. I have always insisted that I joined Toastmasters as much for their sake as my own.

Be ready with the account of your own personal struggle to become a better communicator. People enjoy true-life stories. And you never know when your trials and journeys will resonate with the personal experience of a prospective member listening in – “Hey, his ribs lock up on him so he can’t breathe? That’s my problem too!”

On the Air
Arrive at the station 10 to 15 minutes early in case they have special instructions for you. Be polite, prepared (exercise and relax your voice beforehand so it carries well) and passionate. You can take along a note sheet for quick reference – just don’t rattle the paper near the microphone. But strive for a natural and spontaneous quality in your responses. On the air, the last thing you want is to sound like you’re reading from a script or reciting memorized answers.

The host and the radio station will be especially pleased if you generate some calls from listeners during your spot. Be patient and courteous with the callers. Let the host intervene to limit the length of each call. Calls are clear evidence that you’ve done your job and triggered interest. They enhance your chances of getting an encore performance in the future. So will a thank-you note; don’t forget to send one afterward.

Live radio is an excellent way to reach a large number of people, including prospective members for your club. You can deliver much more information in a live interview than you can with the standard, impersonal public notice. And you can use your personality to sell your ideas about speaking and leadership in Toastmasters. So, be radio-active. Get on the air live with your message. It will make a difference.

David Rippe, ATMB, CL, is a freelance writer and member of Cheyenne Toastmasters club in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Reach him at