I never went into my first Toastmasters meeting. I was late trying to find the right room and once I arrived, the meeting had already started. I couldn’t muster up the courage to barge in and interrupt. Later, I found a different club to try instead of going back to the first, since I was too embarrassed.
Once you are in Toastmasters, you know it is the most welcoming and supportive environment, but those first steps can be scary, and some will find any excuse to run away or not go at all. It takes a lot of courage to go to your first club meeting, and it can be even more intimidating and overwhelming if members are using jargon and acronyms you don’t understand.
Finding the right words to convince a prospective member to take those first steps or to create effective marketing materials can be tricky. It is easy to slip into the same verbiage we use internally and feel like we are connecting with those who may be interested in learning more. Transforming your marketing efforts starts at the core of communication and understanding what brings people in and makes them feel comfortable instead of unintentionally pushing them away.
Careful Language Selection
There is not a secret message that converts people instantly. There is a lot of nuance that goes into why someone decides to join Toastmasters. It’s important to keep that in mind as you craft your message or pitch.
Think back to the very first meeting you went to. How did you learn about it? Did you know anyone there? How did you feel walking into the meeting? Was it a bit scary?
Reflecting on our first experience gives good insight on how we can be more welcoming and mindful of a first timer’s potential feelings.
What does this mean for our marketing efforts? Use language that not only speaks to prospects, but clearly communicates the benefits of Toastmasters. Be cognizant to avoid jargon when marketing or speaking to a prospect. Jargon is the internal language and acronyms a group uses that don’t translate clearly to someone outside of the group, like DTM or District Director.
“Jargon creates a barrier,” says Nitay-Yair Levi of City Tattersalls Toastmasters Club in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and 2021 runner-up in the World Championship of Public Speaking®. He explains that jargon isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it’s great for communication between fellow Toastmasters, and it creates a sense of belonging to a group. However, if someone is not part of the group, it creates isolation.
“Not only does it create isolation, it’s actually emphasized to you that you don’t belong. It also puts someone in a position of power over someone else,” Levi says. “That’s terrible if you want to invite someone to a club.”
Use language that not only speaks to prospects, but clearly communicates the benefits of Toastmasters.
Using internal terms like “Division E” on an open house flier or “our VPM” when chatting with a prospect about who will get their contact info, puts up those barriers. If I don’t know what you’re saying, or if I feel inferior, I’m just going to turn away and say no.
Instead of leaning on familiar jargon, try going more general. For example, if you are making a flier for an open house for an Area, Division, or District, try using physical location terms like the county name or metropolitan area. What do people in your geographical area already relate to?
If the District Director is speaking at your open house, use their work title or company instead of their Toastmasters role. Or when explaining the education program, instead of using the term “Pathways” right away, keep it broad with “training programs.”
Levi explains, “You want to create a sense of security that I might have with the group. I want to sell it to you instead of using all these Toastmasters words.”
He suggests introducing Toastmasters as a volunteer organization. Explain that we help each other become better speakers and leaders. Then say something like, “We all volunteer here. Amanda is a volunteer this year. She’s actually helping to run the club and navigate it to the next year.”
If you were to say, “Amanda is the Club President,” that may put up a barrier, but phrasing it as a “volunteer role” puts the guest at ease. It’s inclusive language, and Levi says it helps show “we’re selling a relationship, not a number.”
Promote the Practical Benefits
How can you find ways to be more general while still communicating the amazing benefits to someone new? Consider how your time in Toastmasters directly impacted your work or career.
Many members feel Toastmasters has benefited them at work, including Pankaja Kulabkar of Pune Advanced Toastmaster Club in Pune, Maharashtra, India, and a project lead at a publications company. She learned the sandwich method for evaluations (positive feedback–suggestions for improvement–positive feedback) very helpful when doing appraisals of her work team.
“Toastmasters [is] where we experiment with ideas and then the confidence comes from that to implement [the idea] when working,” says Kulabkar.
Think of the ways you’ve used Toastmasters skills on the job. Ask fellow club members what they now use in work that has come from their Toastmasters experience and create a club-specific approach when talking or marketing to potential members. For example, if your club has a lot of entrepreneurs, they could provide great selling points for networking. If Bob works in finance and has learned skills in Toastmasters to speak at his work-recruiting functions to gain more clients, mention that directly. By highlighting specific member achievements or skills people have gained as a result of being in your club, you create a personal approach that new people can connect with.
This is a way to celebrate your current members and give new prospects a way to connect to feel like they can do it, too.
It’s important to follow up with your prospects and stay connected with them. Sending a quick email or text the following day is a great way to see if they have any questions while things are fresh on their mind. Keep it short and sweet! Try something like:
It was great meeting you yesterday! Wanted to see if you had any questions. Hope to see you again at our next meeting [insert time and date]. Feel free to reach out any time.
People tend to forget with their busy lives exactly when they should be coming back. It is key to remind them of the specific time and date. Sending a message 24 hours before the next meeting also helps to give people the time to free up their calendar while not being so far out they forget. This could be a task for the Vice President Membership but be sure to change the email from meeting to meeting to maintain engagement—include information about special events or the theme or word of the day.
To bring people in, start thinking outside the box for meeting ideas. Hold a meeting where everyone gets to practice and receive some feedback on their elevator pitch. Try a mock interview round-robin. Or have a toast meeting where each person gets 30–60 seconds to give a toast at a work or personal event. Advertise these types of meetings where the traditional format can be loosened to get lots of people practicing with real world applicable skills.
When you open up the doors to invite people to join in a way that makes them feel comfortable, confident, and included, they are much more likely to come back again and again!
Amanda Mae Gray is the founder of blueplate.io, a media company that specializes in branding and video production. She also speaks professionally on digital marketing and is a member of Toast of Cobb Toastmasters and Speakers Round-table Advanced Club, both in Georgia.