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April 2024
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Win Them Back!

Re-engaging members in your Toastmasters club.

By Diane Windingland, DTM

Man talking to another man and woman near Toastmasters banner

You’ve seen the signs: empty seats at club meetings and decreased participation. When renewal time comes around, some members don’t renew. As club leaders watch membership numbers drop, they plan ways to recruit new ones. It can feel a little like trying to fill a continually leaking bucket. But there are ways to fix the leak. Or at least reduce the outflow.

While some attrition is inevitable due to members moving or having schedule conflicts, there can be other reasons that members leave. Do you know why they leave? Do you try to win them back?

Reach Out

Does your club reach out to members who don’t attend meetings, letting them know they were missed?

If your club doesn’t already have a member communication plan, create one that includes contacting members who miss a meeting (without communicating their absence ahead of time) or if their participation wanes (most obviously, if they stop giving speeches). The Vice President Membership often follows up with these members, but mentors or other members can also do so.

Phone calls, video meetings, or in-person communication can be most effective, as tone of voice and facial expressions convey empathy and care more than text-based, asynchronous communication.

When reaching out, tread lightly. Open a dialogue with empathy. Ask about their initial goals in joining Toastmasters and if those have changed. Inquire about their current needs and how the club can support them. Remember, the key is to listen, not to pressure.

Some phrases you can use:

  • “[Name], we missed you at the meeting yesterday.”
  • “I always enjoy [something you enjoy about the member or their participation].”
  • “I hope to see you at the next meeting.”
  • “Do you have challenges with attending or a change in your schedule?” (Gently probe for reasons why they didn’t attend; if they don’t offer a reason, try to determine if there are any ongoing issues.)

If they indicate that the meetings aren’t a fit for them anymore, try some of these phrases:

  • “What were your goals when you joined?”
  • “Have your goals changed? Are there new goals we can help you achieve?”
  • “Is there anything we’re missing?”
  • “How can we help you get the most out of your membership?”
  • “What would need to change [for you to
    stay/participate more]?”

Rekindle Interest

Rekindle interest by reminding members of what drew them to Toastmasters. John Barrett, of Toastmasters On A STick (TOAST) in Saint Paul, Minnesota, suggests keeping former members on the weekly email list to regularly remind them of the club and inviting them to share their Toastmasters testimonials in the newsletter.

“Keep in touch with members who’ve dropped out,” adds Harry Wolfe, a member of Audible Talkers Toastmasters in Phoenix, Arizona. “Welcome them to attend as guests.”

Re-engaging members is a continual process of adaptation, communication, and recognition.

For many former members, timing is an issue. Priorities change and can lead people to seek out Toastmasters again.

“My professional career was the reason I left and the reason I came back,” says Accredited Speaker Stephanie Angelo. “I left in 2004 because I was starting out as a professional speaker, and the time it took me to create Toastmasters speeches conflicted with what I was doing as a professional speaker. I didn’t have time to do them both. I came back in 2017 because I could use Toastmasters speeches as opportunities to practice short segments of my speeches for clients.”

10 Strategies for Engagement (and Re-Engagement)

In addition to checking in with members, you can be proactive in keeping them engaged by taking the following actions:

1Vary meeting elements.

Consider adding roles, such as Quiz Master (asking questions about the speeches or other aspects of the meeting) or Joke Master, to engage more members in roles and inject fun in the meeting. Also, consider implementing a few unique meeting themes or other engaging ­formats, like a backward meeting.

2Address member needs.

“Giving them something today that they can use tomorrow is very helpful,” says Barrett, the Minnesota member. “Most people look at things from a ‘what’s in it for me?’ mentality, so you have to provide things that are ‘in it for them.’”

3Promote Toastmasters resources.

Include quick tips about Toastmasters resources in meetings. Show how members can get even more value from their membership. For example, demonstrate Yoodli or how to submit a level completion in Pathways.

4Conduct a Member Interest Survey annually.

A survey can reveal members’ goals and get their input on club quality characteristics.

5Give them a mentor.

Match mentors with new members, as well as members who may need extra guidance to get the most out of their membership or to meet a specific goal. A mentor can be a significant catalyst for re-engagement. And being a mentor can make a longtime member feel valued. “I enjoy using my skills to help others,” says Sharon Abrahamson, DTM, who lives in Sweden. Abrahamson left Toastmasters but returned to the organization during the pandemic and participated in several online clubs based in Israel, ultimately joining Jerusalem Toastmasters. “I felt I was useful. I felt I was needed.”

6Provide meaningful engagement.

Make everyone feel valued and needed. “No matter how small the task (e.g., distributing name badges, assembling banner stand), everyone has ‘skin in the game’ and feels important,” says Tammy Revesz, DTM, of Glass City Toastmasters in Toledo, Ohio.

7Keep online attendees engaged in hybrid meetings.

Experiment with your hybrid setup to ensure online attendees don’t feel less important than in-person attendees. Make sure microphones and cameras are set up so that they can hear and see all participants and be heard and seen as well.

8Create opportunities to foster friendships.

It’s hard to leave a club when you have built friendships. Consider having time before or after a meeting to allow people to chit-chat. Hold social events regularly, in person or online. For virtual meetings, try having discussion-style Table Topics® in which breakout rooms are created for two or three people to discuss a topic for about 10 minutes, with one person from each group reporting on their topic to the larger group. This method allows people to get to know each other better while still practicing interpersonal and impromptu communication skills.

9Encourage participation by all members at every meeting.

Speaking of Table Topics, ensure that the Topicsmaster knows to first call on people who do not have speaking roles in the meeting. Try to have this goal: Everyone speaks at every meeting. “Make sure Table Topics is suitable for both online and in-person attendees,” says Abrahamson. “Make everyone feel included in meetings.”

10Recognize accomplishments inside and outside of Toastmasters.

Encourage members to tell stories about how Toastmasters has helped them achieve professional or personal goals. Your club could highlight a member at a meeting, on your website, on social media, or in a club newsletter.

Know When to Let Go

Sometimes, despite best efforts, members may choose to leave. Respecting this decision is crucial, as forcing engagement can be counterproductive.

“If your club can’t be what they need, encourage them to visit other clubs,” says Andrea Tantillo, DTM, of Timmons Talkers in Houston, Texas. “Even though we are all structured similarly, club culture can vary from club to club, and what may be a good fit for some may not be the best fit for others.”

Ultimately, re-engaging members in Toastmasters is about creating a community where each member feels valued and fulfilled. It’s a continual process of adaptation, communication, and recognition. By focusing on these areas, clubs can retain members and inspire them to grow and contribute actively to their club and the Toastmasters community.


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