You are nervous and tense, wondering how you will be received. You have no idea what will happen over the next hour or so. You have heard stories: some good, others not so good. Yes, you are a guest about to walk into your first Toastmasters meeting experience!
As guests, each of us formed a first impression—good, bad or ugly. If you are reading this message, you likely formed a good first impression, as I did during my first meeting 17 years ago. But what about those who did not? Did they give Toastmasters another chance? Or did they decide never to visit a club meeting again?
During my recent visit to Melaka, Malaysia, a veteran Toastmaster shared his first meeting experience with me. It was so bad it took him two years to attend another meeting, and that was only because someone he trusted made him come along. Fortunately, the second time was better; he joined. In fact, he flourished and years later, served as a district governor.
At my first meeting, people were friendly, the meeting was professional and I discovered things about myself that I wanted to improve and had been oblivious to until then. I joined before I left the meeting that evening!
What shapes that first impression? Have you considered what your guests think of you when they walk through that door? Have they started to form an impression even before then?
When someone decides to find out more about Toastmasters, they usually search the club listings on the Toastmasters website and then call or send you an email. An impression starts to form as soon as they receive, or do not receive, an answer. A welcoming conversation makes people want to visit your club. An email that goes unanswered due to outdated contact details on the website can turn someone away forever.
A positive first impression starts with an easy-to-find venue and signage for directions to the room, accompanied by a person with a welcoming, warm smile at the door. It continues when an experienced member sits with the guest and explains the meeting, demystifying the “strange” rituals we practice, such as applauding and “ah-counting”! A professionally conducted meeting that is relaxing and fun is also appealing. My home club invariably conducts a guest orientation and offers an invitation to join at the end of each meeting. Each guest leaves with information and a new-member form. Most of them return as members.
It is never too late to take stock of your guests’ experiences and find out if your offering leads to the best first impression. You can start making positive changes immediately to make sure every guest feels comfortable and welcomed. Make them eager to join your club right away. It’s the first step in having a robust and active club.
Deepak Menon, DTM