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Published Article
by Patricia Fry

The Toastmaster – 2000

Building Clubs
One Toastmaster at a Time

New Toastmasters Clubs are started at a rate of approximately two per day worldwide. What does it take to successfully charter a new club or to breathe life into an old one? Five top Toastmasters share their secrets for successful club building.

The Company Club Charter

More and more large corporations are sponsoring clubs for their employees. In Santa Ana, California, for example, Cindy Ragland led the effort to start a Toastmasters Club at Ingram Micro, where she is employed in the public relations department. Having already earned her CTM as a member of a community club, she was anxious to bring toastmasters to her coworkers because, “This is where people can learn to be effective communicators, get leadership opportunities and Toastmasters is a good networking arena,” says Ragland.

As a first step in starting a company club, Ragland suggests, “Gain the support of top level executives in the company to kind of champion the drive to become a Toastmaster.” At Ingram Micro, for example, they had the blessings of their CEO. According to Ragland, “It turns out that our chief executive officer is a world renowned speaker. He places a very high value on public speaking and communicating effectively. He was extremely supportive of our chartering attempts and even gave the keynote speech at our chartering ceremony.”

Ragland believes that having full weekly meetings even before obtaining the charter also helped in their recruiting efforts. She says, “People weren’t quite sure what Toastmasters was and they could come and see how it works. We were able to demystify it for them.”

Ingram Micro ultimately chartered with 63 members. To give everyone scheduling choices, they formed three clubs, the Breakfast Club, Ingram Microphones (which meets at noon) and MicroMasters (an evening club).

Sherri Wood, DTM is the former governor for District 64 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Wood remembers a time when the district averaged only one or two new clubs a year. But things have changed. She says, “Our district chartered seven new clubs last year and it looks like we’re headed for six this year.”

Wood talks about the second vital step to forming a new club: getting the word out. “Have posters made up and put them in prominent locations throughout the building. Use in-house email with little ‘ticklers.’” She gives an example, “Do you want to be able to think on your feet? Then join us for a Toastmaster demonstration meeting.” She suggests sending these “ticklers” every few days prior to the meeting. And she adds, “Have a ‘spark’ on the inside who will go around and promote Toastmasters.”

Ragland agrees that enthusiastic spokespersons are effective recruiters. “Most of the Toastmasters at Ingram Micro are really evangelist in the departments where they work and through their business interactions. For example, someone may give a presentation and a coworker comes up to them and comments, ‘Gosh you’re really a great speaker.’ And they might say, ‘why don’t you come with me to Toastmasters?’”

Members also go out and give presentations to attract new prospects. According to Ragland, “A member of one of our clubs went to a managers’ meeting recently and suggested that they encourage their associates to look at Toastmasters.”

Another excellent promotional tool is the company newsletter.

The last piece to the Toastmaster chartering puzzle is well-operated, lively meetings in an environment where guests feel welcome and members can excel.

The Community Club Charter

While company clubs are usually for employees only, community clubs are open to the public. To start a community club, solicit the help of your district representative. They will guide you in setting up a demonstration meeting and give you some publicity ideas.

Basically, you will plan the meetings about six weeks in advance. Publicize it through press releases to local newspapers, radio and TV spots, postings on community bulletin boards at libraries and colleges and at community events.

Tie the founding of your club into something newsworthy for local media—the fact that you stopped stuttering after joining Toastmasters, for example, or point up a community figure who credits Toastmasters with his or her personal or business success.

Target membership clusters or groups of people through large corporations churches, the military and so forth. Request a list of organizations from your local chamber of commerce and send club officers an invitation to attend your demonstration meeting.

Choose an appropriate location for your meetings. This might be a corporate conference room, school cafeteria, chapel or restaurant. Some clubs even meet in bookstores.

John Latin is Past International President of Toastmasters and currently the Division Marketing Specialist for Founder’s District in San Dimas, California. He tells this story about his first Toastmasters meeting held in very a public place, “A young lady came to me and said, ‘I want to put a Toastmasters club in Borders Books and Music Store.’ I said, ‘Borders? Do they have room for us off to the side?’ She said, ‘No. We’ll be right smack in the middle of Borders.’ I said, ‘How’s that going to work with all of the noise and people buying books and drinking coffee?’ She assured me that it would work and I said, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’”

Latin continues, “They set up twenty chairs and a microphone system and all the people in the coffee shop were listening to our speeches. We had people standing around the outer parameter of the coffee shop and they were listening to our speakers. We could hear the speakers clearly. It worked, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it.”

Latin finds it relatively easy to promote a club that meets in a public place—a restaurant, for example. He says, “We have a little plaque that goes at the entrance of the restaurant that says, ‘Toastmasters meets here Wednesday nights at 5:30.’”

Latin appreciates technology, too. He says, “We’re on the Internet. You can pull up Toastmasters International and find every club in the world. We get a lot of people coming in and saying, ‘I saw you on the Internet.’”

The best way to promote a club, according to Latin, is through show and tell. “Have members bring guests and show them a good Toastmasters program,” he says.

Wood couldn’t agree more. She suggests to club leaders in her district, “If a guest has come on their own, assign a member to sit with them and explain the program as it goes along. Our club makes up a sheet outlining each of the various roles on the program and their purpose.”

She also recommends that every member know how to fill out an application for membership and that they know how much dues are. She says, “There’s nothing worse than having a good prospect turned off by, ‘I don’t know how much it is. You’ll need to wait until our treasurer comes back and he/she can let you know.’”

A Formula for Building New Clubs

Mary McKee was the 1998-99 president of the Goodbye Jitters Club in Winnipeg. When she started her term in September, there were four members. By the end of June they had 21 on the roster. As a successful recruiter, McKee recommends:

  • Keep your meetings professional. Whether there are five or fifty people, always maintain the high standards of the Toastmasters program.
  • Choose a slogan that implies building or rebuilding. For McKee’s club it was “The Little Club That Can.”
  • Use the slogan on agendas, flyers, brochures and everything else that you produce.
  • Stay positive and stay motivated.
  • Ask the district to assign you a club specialist to help you revitalize your meetings.
  • Display posters in your meeting place and advertise wherever and whenever you can afford to.
  • Drop informational brochures in mailboxes and deliver them to businesses in the area.
  • Build a break into your meetings so members have an opportunity to get to know one another. Plan social events outside the meetings.
  • Follow up on potential members with a phone call, newsletter or personal note.
  • Always ask a guest to join. Help him fill out the membership application.
  • Assign the new member a mentor.
  • Go for variety in your meetings to keep them fresh. If it’s a small club, bring in a guest speaker from time to time.
  • Support and encourage all members in their educational and leadership goals.

Wood adds another component that she feels is vitally important. Recognition. “This is one of the world’s greatest motivators,” she says. Wood is quick to admit, “I didn’t think it applied to me until I received a District Governor’s Citation.

“Recognizing members’ accomplishments is a critical tool in Toastmasters. Make a big deal out of each educational/leadership accomplishment. Not only does it make the recipient feel good, it motivates other member to work toward receiving recognition as well.”

Reviving a Struggling Club

It happens in the best of clubs—attendance dwindles, meetings become dull and enthusiasm wanes. If this describes your club, don’t throw in the towel. Where there’s life, there’s hope.

Ernie Limkakeng took over the faltering Sinulog Toastmaster Club #2395-75 in the Philippines in 1997. Attendance in that once flourishing club was down to just five or ten participants when Limkakeng was elected president.

“Soon after the election,” says Limkakeng, “the officers held a meeting to look into the situation. We received the membership roster, discussed attendance problems and examined our programming and the financial situation. In the process, we learned our strengths and our weaknesses. For instance, we found that we were left with past presidents and past officers of the club—seasoned Toastmasters who are very capable but, perhaps, slowly losing interest. We got them involved in our membership drive, mentoring new members and delivering instructional speeches.”

According Limkakeng, the poor attendance problem was solved temporarily by inviting members from other clubs to handle parts of our program. “This enabled us to come up with a good crowd while we were still building up our membership,” he says. “We also discovered that the meeting days were not convenient for most of our members and we immediately corrected that.”

The officers met often, even when there was little business to discuss. Says Limkakeng, “I figured this could serve as a bonding process for officers to work as a team.”

According to Limkakeng, “Sinulog Toastmaster Club was once a great club. We used to have lively crowded meetings. We were producing national champions in speech contests. Our members were called upon to hold district positions. Reminiscing on past glories and a call for revival may have rekindled the fire to excel in all of us.”

Another tactic that helped reconnect the membership was the diligence of the officers in making personal calls to members to remind them of meetings. Once they started that courtesy, “members were not likely to be absent,” says Limkakeng.

And there were additional strategies. Limkakeng explains, “We stayed focused on our targets and considered disappointing moments only temporary setbacks. We gave importance to recognition for individual achievements by holding special recognition awards nights. We tried our best to lead by example, conscious of the fact that any lack of enthusiasm would considerably dampen the interest of members.”

Limkakeng reflects on his achievement by saying, “I believe that what moved most of us was the sense of pride in our club. An organization is as strong as the number of people who take pride in what it’s doing.”

In Latins district, they use Speechcraft programs to revive struggling clubs. He says, “When we see a club that’s kind of going down in membership, we immediately recommend to them that they do a Speechcraft,” he explains. “This is an eight-week mini class where participants pay anywhere from $10 to $25 for the class and materials and they have Toastmaster members as their teachers. They practice giving speeches—they give at least four speeches in that period, they can practice introducing their fellow Speechcrafters, they get to evaluate their Speechcrafters and they also get to experience impromptu speeches.”

Whether you’re starting a new community or company club or working to save one that is faltering, Toastmaster International has the resource material to help you do it. From membership flyers to a club troubleshooting guide to membership-building contest ideas to Speechcraft promotional kits and even a Meeting Excellence Video Tape. Contact Toastmasters International at 800-9WE-SPEAK. Web site

Remember it’s to your benefit to maintain a successful club environment where you, along with other members, can excel.

Patricia Fry is the author of A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press, 2000).

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