Successful clubs have a blend of both experienced and new members. If your club needs a boost of fresh folks, one of the most popular ways to do that is to hold an open house—a Toastmasters meeting where prospective members are invited to attend. While all Toastmasters meetings are open to visitors, the open house emphasizes the benefits of Toastmasters to prospective members, and may include food or a special program.
The goal is to attract a large number of guests, with a portion of them joining as members. What are the key elements to having a successful open house? Several Toastmasters shared their insights.
Rose Kirland, DTM, a member of 10 clubs, including Hawaii Speakers Bureau in Honolulu, Hawaii, has hosted several open houses. An open house is a larger event than a standard meeting, so Kirland recommends assembling a team to ensure the event runs smoothly. Team members can work on a variety of functions, including event promotion, meeting planning, food preparation, and guest relations, according to their interest.
“Planning is essential,” says Kirland. “You and your team should brainstorm answers to what are the goals of the event. Who is the target audience and what are the roles of the team members? Of course, you also need to decide the time and venue.”
That said, be sure not to get too caught up in the planning stage. “Others have successfully run open houses before you, so reproduce what works best and learn from the mistakes of others,” says Florian Bay, DTM, of the London Victorians in the United Kingdom. Contact leaders in your club, Area, or District who have hosted an open house and get their best advice.
Bob Hooey, DTM, AS, of the Wild Rose Club in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, emphasizes that the meeting itself should be well planned. “It needs to be well run, tight,” he says. Prospective members are more impressed with a well-run meeting.” Timing is important both in person and online. Be sure to create an agenda and stick to it!
Finally, don’t forget the need for communication and coordination within the team. “I scheduled biweekly meetings on a group channel on Slack,” says Yi Zhang, a former member of Virtual Speak Toastmasters Club in Palo Alto, California. “We talked about opportunities, concerns. Direct communication builds trust, and it made our communication smoother.”
Zhang also says a theme for the open house can draw in visitors. Themes may revolve around an upcoming holiday or sporting event, a television show, or favorite hobbies. A theme gives the added benefit of a relatable way to market the event, garner excitement, and add pizazz to the open house itself.
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If you don’t adequately promote your event, potential guests won’t know to attend. “There are 101-plus ways to tell the world—fliers, press releases, social media, digital marketing, word of mouth,” Kirland says. Toastmasters has some resources to help, such as a press release template and pre-made fliers that you can use digitally or traditionally.
Bay suggests that clubs aim for quantity of guests. “If you want to have 50 people in the room, do enough marketing to attract 100 people,” he says. “The plan is to attract as many guests as possible and to convert as many as possible into members. Use this as a guiding light throughout.”
Take advantage of social media. Many clubs have Facebook and LinkedIn pages, which can be used to promote meetings and members’ achievements. Encourage club members to share these posts on their personal pages as well or send them directly to friends. Don’t forget about the tried-and-true method of putting up fliers and submitting a notice to the local newspaper. Members of corporate clubs can see if the company will post a notice about the meeting on its internal employee communication channels.
Your best bet, however, is word of mouth. “Ask members to personally invite people to come,” says Hooey. “It makes a huge impact by having a personal touch.” It’s an even more effective method if members offer to bring the guest or meet them at the door.
Finally, you’ll want to consider your speakers. Some clubs have one or two members speak (perhaps an experienced and a newer member), but a special guest speaker is also an option.
Zhang opted for a guest speaker and reached out to his District Director for recommendations. Kirland has done that as well, but she prefers to look within the club first. “We’ve found that it builds camaraderie and strong internal relationships, and helps morale, which adds to why members stay. Open houses give members the opportunity to show their pride,” she says.
“If you want to have 50 people in the room, do enough marketing to attract 100 people.”—Florian Bay, DTM
Some clubs, such as Hooey’s, have both member and guest speakers. “We make sure our members are there to build rapport with the guests,” he says. “The guest speaker is used to promote the event. Both work very well.”
Of course, whether you have a guest speaker or a club speaker, you’ll want to make the meeting interactive and fun for guests. “Talk to the guests,” Bay says. “Be sure they get a chance to speak during Table Topics. Get them involved right away.”
Online and Hybrid Open Houses
If you’re conducting an open house online, take advantage of the chat box and think of it as a lobby. “We usually ask two or three Zoom monitors to assist about 30 minutes before start time,” she says. “The monitors welcome guests and members.” Before the meeting starts, they have a short break to get water. Once the meeting begins, they put the agenda in the chat box and share a screen about virtual etiquette.
It’s also helpful to encourage members to make small talk before and after the meeting, as well as during any breaks, so guests stay engaged. “We noticed that [guests] were often shy to speak up, so interacting with the group was important,” says Zhang. “It was a new environment, but people became more confident once they started to interact with the group,” he says.
When it comes to a hybrid open house, be sure to have your technology set up so that online attendees feel they are getting the full experience, just as an in-person guest would. Camera and microphone setups play a big role in this. Ensure in-person speakers can be seen and heard clearly by all participants.
The benefit for online attendees is a bit more personalization. Encourage them to pick a virtual background that matches the theme of the event or provide one to be downloaded. It’s helpful to have a club member attend online so they can help online guests feel engaged and included.
Don’t Forget the Ask
Hooey reminds members that a call to action is needed at the end of the open house just as in the end of a speech. “You need to ask the guests to join,” he says.
Have the application forms printed out and pass them around the room or share the document in the online chat. After a few days, club officers should follow up with guests to see if they’d like to apply for membership. You can include a link to Member Testimonials, a Club Experience Video, and the Toastmaster magazine. Don’t let your hard work go to waste!
While an open house highlights the benefits of Toastmasters for potential new members, it also allows current members to grow new skill sets.
“In addition to becoming more confident in public speaking, I learned soft skills by planning the open house,” says Zhang. “All the feedback I got from my club members is so valuable to me. I have the most amazing club!”
Peggy Beach, DTM is a freelance writer and communications instructor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a Past District 37 Governor. A member of the Hi Rise Toastmasters in Raleigh and the Top Triangle Toastmasters in Morrisville, she is available at email@example.com.