Spa Speakers is a thriving Toastmasters club that meets every other Wednesday night in Leamington Spa, a market town nestled in the heart of England. When I became president in 2016, I considered how I wanted to build on the strengths of this fantastic club and looked for areas of improvement.
The venue for our meetings—which end at 9:30 p.m.—requires us to leave by 9:45. However, many members are still engaged in conversation at that time. I felt we needed some time and space outside of meetings to get to know each other better, where conversations could flourish uninterrupted and friendships could blossom.
I first organized a picnic in our local park. Naturally, it rained, but 12 brave souls turned up bearing food of all varieties. We couldn’t help but have fun while huddled under a gazebo until the sun, eventually, decided to join us. Spurred on by the success of that first event, along with requests for more, I organized a bowling night in the autumn, a Christmas meal in winter and wine tasting in the spring.
In 2017, I passed the baton of leadership to a wonderful new president, Jas Kandula. Jas had attended all the previous social events and felt the club benefited greatly from them. They had helped build camaraderie and support for newer members so they could quickly integrate. Jas asked me to take on a new “social secretary” role. So I organized a social program that included one event per month. Not a meeting went by where I wasn’t announcing a future activity or reminding members to sign up for the next get-together. Having something in the works helped the social program stay top-of-mind.
The secret to maintaining such a full calendar, I found, was having some events that were easy to organize, such as tea and cake on a Saturday morning, and others that took additional coordination but felt a bit special, such as a trivia night at a local restaurant. Club funds can’t be used for social activities, so it was also important to consider cost; we didn’t want anyone to feel excluded. With this in mind, we made some events free and charged a small fee for others. But I always kept the latter to a minimum.
“This social program draws us together, no matter what our background, to share, relax and laugh.”
Over time, members also presented educational workshops on a range of subjects, such as evaluation, vocal variety, rhetoric and challenging negative beliefs. The workshops helped us learn more about each other and the wealth of skills that exist within the club. These activities created a domino effect, with more members starting to organize their own events, including a winter walk, an open mic night and a visit to a literature festival.
Where have these efforts led us? The social program is now an integral element of Spa Speakers, as is the role of social secretary on the executive committee. But even more important, these additional events helped build connection and community. As with many clubs, our membership is diverse in nationality and background; some members are in partnerships, some live alone and some are newly arrived in the country and live here for the long or short term. The social program draws us together, no matter what our background, to share, relax and laugh. It is an additional bit of mortar on what was an already firm foundation.
Spa Speakers is a successful club for many reasons, but the social program indicates to guests that here is a bunch of people who enjoy spending time together and have a lot of fun along the way. Maybe this is one reason our membership has grown to such an extent that a new club has opened in our neighboring town, and there are now two social secretaries on the Executive Committee of Spa Speakers. In a few weeks’ time, members from both clubs will gather in the local park for our now-annual summer picnic, and perhaps for the first time we won’t have rain!
is a member of Spa Speakers in Leamington Spa, England. For more information about the club, visit www.spaspeakers.co.uk.