The most valuable part of any company is its people. Global leaders depend on human capital to drive the vision and mission of their businesses. Toastmasters’ corporate clubs provide an in-house opportunity for employees to develop their leadership and communication skills. As a result of sponsoring a club, companies benefit from better leaders, more effective managers, closer-knit teams and higher productivity.
Toastmasters helps employees learn to:
- Conduct effective meetings
- Practice time management
- Enhance their listening skills
- Sharpen their presentation skills
- Boost team collaboration
- Guide successful teams
Nearly one-third of all Fortune 500 companies now offer in-house Toastmasters clubs to help employees become better communicators and leaders. Industry giants such as Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, The Coca-Cola Company, Exxon Mobil, Google, Microsoft and The Walt Disney Company have used Toastmasters as a staff development tool to benefit their organizations in a meaningful way. However, due to the unique nature of this strategic partnership, corporate Toastmasters clubs can have specific challenges.
Recruiting New Members
The recruitment of new members can be a challenge in any Toastmasters club. Since the total membership pool in a corporate club may be limited to company employees, after initial recruitment it can feel as though the membership well has run dry.
Here are some tips on promoting club awareness throughout the company:
- Take advantage of company communication channels by providing weekly club updates via company emails and message boards.
- Include club information in the new employee welcome packets.
- Hold membership drives with special meeting themes. Invite interesting speakers who can create “buzz.”
- Host meetings with themes that are relevant to employees’ jobs—for example, technology-themed meetings in an internet company or financial literacy topics in a bank or investment firm.
- Give the experts within reach incentive to share their experiences and shine! Give special mini-meetings or presentations to different departments within the company to increase exposure. Club awareness will spread organically if leadership is aware of the benefits to members.
- Invite a company executive to speak about the value of communication skills for the company.
One tactic for recruiting new members could include existing members sharing their success stories. Mohammed Qahtani, the 2015 World Champion of Public Speaking, is a member of Northpark Toastmasters and JHAH Toastmasters clubs in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He credits his recent job promotion to Toastmasters. “My supervisor didn’t need to guess whether or not I had leadership skills—he was able to see it firsthand from my work in our club,” Qahtani says. “Since I belong to a corporate club, I was able to tailor my leadership experience to suit the needs of my organization while surrounded by the support of colleagues.”
Another key part of driving membership is ensuring the club meetings are not only productive but also function as “breaks” from the employees’ workday.
“We’ve found that adding personal touches to meetings, loosening formalities to make a relaxing and fun atmosphere, and mixing up Table Topics styles keeps members returning for the ‘vacation’ from their workday,” Qahtani says. Meetings that are equally entertaining and productive are important for any club’s success but even more vital for corporate clubs. Since meetings often take place during the workday and among colleagues, establishing “fun” as a pillar of each meeting allows members to feel engaged and forget about their workload for a while.
Balancing Personal and Professional
Juggling a full plate of professional and personal responsibilities can be a difficult task. For many, attending a corporate club meeting during their lunch break is a good way to optimize opportunities for self-improvement. However, some fear the additional responsibility of club participation eliminates the only opportunity for downtime and food during work hours.
Yahya Al-Semaiyen, a sergeant at arms for the Eagles Toastmasters club in Saudi Arabia, has participated in numerous corporate club executive committees and has encountered potential members who felt balancing their work responsibilities with those of a corporate club was not possible. He emphasizes the inherent benefits to both potential and current members, as well as to the company.
“Within the club, bosses are members like everyone else, and people who aren’t leaders within the company can be leaders at Toastmasters.”
“Some cite a full schedule or too many pending work tasks as a reason for not joining Toastmasters, or not being able to keep up with responsibilities in a corporate club,” says Al-Semaiyen. “Members need to draw a line between fulfilling work duties and self-development. You need the latter for your mind and life, just like you need food to refuel your body.”
When corporate clubs have the buy-in of company leadership and human resources, members needn’t worry about devoting time to an activity that isn’t “work-related” during work hours. Judson Stone, a former member of First Rate Toastmasters in Arlington, Texas, is no longer part of the corporate club due to his recent retirement from First Rate Inc., but he is well-aware of the benefits and challenges of meeting in a corporate club environment.
“Although sometimes company events required the relocation of club meetings, my workplace fully supported Toastmasters because they recognized the value from public speaking and evaluation skills,” says Stone.
Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
In work and in life, it’s easy to get into a routine. In a well-established company hierarchy, challenging the status quo of leadership can be difficult and uncomfortable. Toastmasters clubs can shake that up.
Within the club, bosses are members like everyone else, and people who aren’t leaders within the company can be leaders in Toastmasters—it can be an effective equalizer. Within the safe and fun space of a meeting, employees can develop the skills and confidence they need to become tomorrow’s leaders, all under the direct support of company leadership.
In the normal confines of a daily schedule, it can be difficult to find opportunities to venture into the unknown. If members can step aside from their established job roles and responsibilities, they can find a perfect place to prepare and present speeches and presentations, as well as to think on their feet in front of an audience. Although this can force people outside of their comfort zones, which can be slightly more awkward in front of an audience full of colleagues, it can provide a great foundation for team-building activities and letting your light shine.
The challenges found within corporate clubs only strengthen their ability to provide members with a valuable and enriching experience. Stephen Austin, a member of the Hong Kong Achievers, a community club, can attest to the value of corporate clubs from an outside perspective.
“I’ve been very happy to take part in a number of meetings run by other corporate-sponsored clubs, affiliated to various banks around the city,” says Austin. “The energy level seems higher, and members invest a lot of time into their work performance. Participating in a corporate club is another form of that investment. They are a perfect example of a win-win situation. Both the company and staff benefit in equal measure, and in addition it is an ideal vehicle to promote the Toastmasters brand and philosophy.”