Over the last 13 years, I have been a member of 11 clubs. They are all different. And one of the most prominent differences is in the area of meeting themes. Some clubs have them. Some do not. And those that do, employ them in different ways.
Themes can add fun to your meetings. They can revolve around holidays, end-of-the-year celebrations, cultural events or universal experiences (favorite vacations, for example). How do clubs decide their meeting-theme policy? I asked some founding members of my primary club what went into their decision. They all gave me a blank stare and said, “Well, our club mentors said we had to have them.” In other words, they followed the advice of more experienced members who helped start the club. There is nothing wrong, of course, with listening to your mentors. But it’s also good to periodically examine and evaluate if something is beneficial, including how a concept like meeting themes works for your club. Here are a few options to consider.
In some clubs, the meeting Toastmaster sets the theme. In others, the vice president education handles the task. When the Toastmaster selects the topic, he or she typically presents short, educational segments related to the theme throughout the meeting. For example, let’s say the theme is “the Academy Awards.” The segments might include some history about the event or some tidbits about Oscar-winning films over the years.
Whoever picks the theme needs to make the topic interesting and entertaining for members. Making material engaging is always a good skill to learn.
Recently, my club’s meeting theme was “Nevada.” That is not too surprising for a club located in Las Vegas. Our meeting Toastmaster was about to embark on a vacation to some of the most unknown tourist destinations around our state. We all found his travelogue fascinating.
“The Toastmaster accepts the challenge to make the topic interesting and entertaining for members.”
Two months ago, another meeting Toastmaster selected “weird bugs” as the theme. Weird bugs? Believe it or not, it turned out to be an interesting topic. She showed us a picture of each bug and then told us which club member it reminded her of and why. It was all in fun, and we were driven to listen for the humor and for what she would say about each one of us.
Besides making such segments interesting and entertaining, it’s also important to keep them brief or the meeting will run overtime.
Some clubs employ themes only in Table Topics. In this case, the topic is often selected by the vice president education or the Topicsmaster.
One of my former Southern California clubs uses this approach but adds a twist. As the club president opens the meeting, he or she announces the theme and then has everyone stand up, say their name and briefly answer a question related to the theme. That way no one leaves the meeting without having spoken at least once, even the guests. In one meeting, the theme was “radio stations” and the question was “What is your favorite station?” In a meeting with a Mother’s Day theme, the question was “When you think of your mother, what immediately comes to mind?”
As the club’s membership grew, it became trickier to do this activity because of the amount of time it took. But I like this as a way to start a meeting. It adds energy right from the start.
Personally, I don’t like to incorporate themes when I am the meeting Toastmaster. I see my role as giving speaking opportunities to as many people as I can, and not presenting a theme allows for one or two more Table Topics speakers. Others, however, like the practice. A member in one of my clubs told me she likes the continuity themes bring to the meetings.
Themes can be fun, but they aren’t for every club. It all depends on what you—and the members—want. Either way, it is good to know why you do what you do. If themes help your club have fun and accomplish its objectives, great! If not, don’t be afraid to try something different. After all, the ultimate goal is individual member growth.
Bill Brown, DTM is a speech delivery coach from Las Vegas and a member of Pro Toastmasters and Ahead of the Curve Toastmasters. Learn more by visiting his website.