Creativity Goes a Long Way
How to help your club solve those thorny problems.
By Eleanor Guderian, ACG
Have you tried to help your Toastmasters club be successful, carefully using the tools and following the advice provided by Toastmasters International, only to feel your group isn’t quite measuring up? Is your club small, like mine? Does it meet at a time when most of the locals, including the birds, prefer to sleep?
Cheer up – your fellow Toastmasters can come up with the innovative solutions you need. Let me share how our resourceful club – the Stamano Toastmasters in Stan wood, Washington – has responded to some of the challenges we faced.
Challenge 1: Officers meetings weren’t happening.
We tried to schedule officers meetings but just couldn’t find a time that worked. The hour before club meetings was too early; the hour after the meetings interfered with the work day.
Evenings were out of the question – after all, we are early risers.
Solution: One of our members – John – suggested that we hold a special business meeting every time there was a fifth Wednesday in a month. All members would be included. We approved the idea and for several years we have made the best possible use of these special meetings.
For one thing, it’s always a party – coffee’s on and every member brings food to share.
Sometimes we have an officers meeting, where business is conducted and plans are made. Other times we induct new members, share special reports or tell humorous stories. At a recent such meeting, we had three visitors to the club; while enjoying snacks, we got to know them, hear what they thought about our club and answer their questions about how Toastmasters works. Officers talked about their responsibilities and explained club roles. Before the hour was over, all three had completed applications for membership.
Results: Not only are the officers meeting regularly, but there’s a bonus – we’re having regular parties!
Challenge 2: There was always a huge rush to be ready by the start of the meeting.
Yes, we’re early to arrive, but not that early. We always had some last-minute scrambling: Maybe someone had to cover for a fellow member’s unexpected absence, a speaker was late because of traffic – and someone else was looking for the guy with the door key.
Solution: Janina suggested that we schedule a three- to five-minute break after initial club exercises for any member or speaker who needed it. After experimenting for a few weeks, we made it a standard part of our agenda.
This “housekeeping minute,” “pause for identification” or “speaker prep time” has become a life-saver for club members. Those who are covering for an absent member can prepare adequately, and speakers with tasks to finalize can use that last bit of time.
A few weeks ago, I was presenting the fourth speech in the Success Leadership Series – “Parliamentary Procedure in Action.” It was the only speech scheduled at the meeting and I had written a role-play script that would involve all members of the club. When several guests showed up, I was concerned that my complex presentation would frighten them away. The short break allowed me to figure out a way to include roles for them in my audience participation piece, and it gave them time to practice. Afterward, they thanked me for providing such an easy way for them to participate. All of them have since joined our club.
Results: Club meetings start on time even if key people are unavoidably late or absent, and last-minute confusion is gone. Bonus: There is an opportunity to adjust the program for special guests or unusual circumstances.
Challenge 3: Our club had too few members.
Many of our club members travel from significant distances and so some of them can’t make all the meetings. When regulars are absent, we have to scramble to fill meeting jobs, some members inevitably have to take on extra duties, and it makes it harder on everyone.
Solution: Do more in the community to recruit new members. Here’s what we’ve tried:
- Submitting regular press releases to the local newspaper. The Toastmasters press releases we give to reporters earn full articles in the newspaper’s community interest sections – far better than a blurb alongside the various meetings listed in the calendar section.
- Serving as judges for the local high school’s speech contest. We get to act like we are the pros.
Results: An influx of new, local members. Bonus: a greater community presence for our club.
Challenge 4: Visitors who wouldn’t return to meetings and over-extended members who quit the club.
There was one man who joined our club on the first day he visited, borrowed a member’s manual – and never came back. Meanwhile, we had placed him on our schedule and given him weekly assignments. We left messages and wrote notes that he didn’t answer. Maybe he just wanted to put Toastmasters on his résumé. We never found out.
Solution: Know what members and guests want to do and provide it for them; know what they don’t want and give that to someone else. It’s our Golden Rule.
We began to communicate better with visitors and with members – to know why they attend meetings and how much responsibility they want.
A visitor named Bill recently recalled his experience visiting a Toastmasters meeting on a military base 25 years ago – and the rather unique strategy employed by the club’s Ah-Counter. “Every ‘ah’ and ‘um’ was punctuated with a BB [a lead pellet] dropped in a Folgers coffee can,” said Bill. “I never went back!” We assured him that all of us are learning to control our ‘filler’ words by counting them, but we never subject each other to humiliation.
Ginger told us how she attended one Toastmasters club for months before she was permitted to give any speeches. She wished she could have participated much earlier in the process. Our officers now interview new members to discover when they would feel most comfortable beginning to give speeches. Peggy, a member for many years, thought she would leave our club: Her year-end business responsibilities allowed her no time to prepare speeches or even to handle the treasurer duties. The club members took over for her, encouraging her to take a sabbatical or just visit when she could.
Results: Bill has joined our club. Ginger is one of our long-term, very active members. Peggy is back as club treasurer, confident that her speeches will only be scheduled when she is ready. Bonus: enthusiastic, self-assured, committed club members.
So what are your club’s challenges? Put your heads together and brainstorm to come up with new ideas to tackle those tricky problems. You’ll be amazed at the creativity that is just waiting to surface.
Eleanor Guderian, Ph.D., ACG, is a business consultant and writer with Professional DynaMetric Programs. She is vice president education for Stamano Toastmasters in Stanwood, Washington. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.