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Turn Your Guests' Fear into Fun
And Watch them Flourish as Club Members

Do you remember your first visit to a Toastmasters club and the nervousness you felt? Did it begin at the door — or even earlier, when you parked your car? Or did it start the week before when you told someone you would visit her club? My, we've all come a long way!

Karina Lawrence, is a native of Russia, who lives in Oakland, California. When one of her business school friends at San Francisco's Golden Gate University raved about Toastmasters. Karina decided to visit a local club, She felt nervous and apprehensive.

Then she arrived at the meeting and her anxieties were put to rest. “People were so nice —to me, to each other — before, during and after the meeting.” Lawrence recalls. "They cared and made it fun. People were professional, yet warm." Naturally, she joined the club!

Going From Fear to Fun

Guests visiting your club may feel the nervousness you long ago vanquished. The secret to allaying their anxieties? turn their fear into fun! Your attentiveness toward guests comforts and nourishes them. When you prepare for their arrival, welcome them on entry, take the time to understand their needs and fears, you show them that you care. This thoughtful approach helps guests want to join your club.

Once the meeting starts and people are are laughing, applauding and succeeding, your club sells itself. It's a wonderful example of the law of attraction. Did you realize the guests who come through your club’s doors represent your club's future? Aim to meet their needs and they’ll serve your club well. Together you’ll succeed.

Did you realize the guests who come through your club's doors represent your club’s future? Aim to meet their needs and they’ll serve your club well. Together you'll succeed.

Make Your Club Easy To Find

For some people, finding your club, or even information about its location and meeting time and location, poses an obstacle. Is your club listed accurately on the Toastmasters International website  — with a current contact name and number, meeting day and time, and address? How about your own district’s website? Are you listed with online community calendars of local newspapers? Are you using MeetUp.com, Craigslist.org or other websites and services to promote your club? Current information signals to guests that yours is a well-functioning club.

Literally as well as virtually, can your club be found? Is your banner displayed prominently? Do you display any signs? Some community clubs can be more difficult to find because they meet within companies, within business parks or in meeting rooms at banks, churches or shopping malls. Don’t frustrate visitors and provide reasons for them to give up.

Enlist the help of security personnel, receptionists and concierges help you route wayward guests to your meeting. Purchase signage from Toastmasters' online store to help direct guests to the right place.

Helpful Hints

Each club can designate a phone number for guests to call to get more information.

  • Is yours a recording?
  • If you record an outgoing message on behalf of your club, is your voice pleasant? Do you sound upbeat and friendly? Do you identify yourself clearly so strangers know they’ve reached a club representative?
  • Do you clearly enunciate when and where your club meets?
  • Do you encourage callers to record their name and phone number, slowly, so someone can call them back?
  • Do you share your club's website clearly so people can find more information about when and where you meet?

Reassuring callers is as important as imparting the who, what, where, when, why and how of your club’s meetings. Remember, people are nervous, afraid and likely uncertain of what Toastmasters is. Your ability to paint a rosy picture makes visiting your club more inviting.

On Arrival...Badges, Banter and Buddies

When guests arrive it's important to welcome them with open arms. Officers in particular should be on the lookout for guests.  As you approach them, wearing your badge, and demonstrating interest in them, guests relax and open up. Their doubts about Toastmasters start to disappear. It's a good idea to brief club members in advance about visitors you know are coming; that will make for a warmer welcome when they arrive

Don’t underestimate the importance of casual banter with guests before the meeting starts. Ask them how they heard about the club, whether they’ve attended a meeting before, and what they are looking for. Congratulate them on the courage to visit.

Gently invite them to sign your guest register and request they include a phone number or e-mail for follow-up.

Introducing guests to others is both hospitable and helpful, since they might be nervous among people they don’t know. Remember, they’re in your house! You are the host; it's your duty to help guests feel welcome.

Accord visitors a seat of honor, and make sure a veteran sits next to them who can help them make sense of the parade of participants, titles and roles. If you are a "buddy" seated next to a guest, help them sift through the various sheets of paper in front of them: the agenda, evaluation forms, voting slips and other items.

Alert guests they will be asked to introduce themselves toward the beginning, though they will be under no obligation to speak otherwise. Most clubs will offer guest two other opportunities to speak: during Table Topics, and toward the end of the meeting, when they are asked to share impressions of what they have seen.

If the guest has been invited by a club member, allow that person to introduce them. Praise both the guest and member — and offer some applause.

Sensitivity to Guests

When guests visit your club you should be mindful they don’t know how a club meeting works,. Each member, upon being introduced for a meeting role, should describe to guests how that role works and how it fits into the meeting. For instance, the Topic Master and Timekeeper should each explain their roles during the impromptu portion of the meeting, before initiating that meeting’s Table Topics session. In addition,  don’t call on guests to participate in Table Topics until they’ve seen several responses. That way, guests will be more familiar with, and thus confident in, responding to a topic when asked.

Mind Your Manners

One of the quickest ways guests are scared away is when members tell off-color or inappropriate jokes or use offensive language. I’ve visited clubs where I got the impression everyone in the club shared certain political beliefs; this made me feel less than welcome. No club should be so politicized that people of any political leaning or religious beliefs (including non-believers) might feel self-conscious or out-of-place. Toastmasters should be open to all who are respectful, polite and supportive. The only loyalty oath required is the Toastmasters Promise!

I've also visited a club that felt like a private men's club with language more befitting a locker room than a board room. Be a uniter, not a divider. Make your club inviting to all.

Request Feedback

Before the meeting ends, it's important to ask guests for feedback. Giving them the option to respond. the club president can let visitors know how important feedback is for all Toastmasters. You can learn a lot about the guest’s experience by their responses. Some are dazzled by meetings, others just dizzy. For some, it can be dull or drab; others experience meetings as dynamic. If they have questions, you can answer them during the meeting or thereafter. Invite them to return to the next meeting, or — if they seem ready — invite them to join.

Toward the end of the meeting, as your club confirms next week's assignments, you can ask guests if they’d like to return to the next meeting and fulfill a modest role such as delivering a closing or opening thought of joke, or serving as a timer.  Either way, you are subtly setting an expectation that they will return.

Both publicly and privately, thank your guests for coming. Encourage other officers and members to chat with them, thank them for coming, invite them to return. And of course, invite them to join!

A follow-up phone call from a club leader after the meeting is often a nice touch and vital to making guests feel welcome. During this call you can allay any new or lingering fears they may be harboring. Some members even meet for coffee or tea with a guest after their first meeting to seal the deal!

Realistically, not every guest will or should join your club. Through no fault of your own, some guests aren’t ready, prefer a club meeting in a different location, at a different time of day or with a different feel, culture, or blend of members. Sometimes timing, cost or other issues are at play. Don’t force it. It's all about fit! As the saying goes: it takes two (plus or minus twenty) to tango!

The good news: when you are inviting and hospitable, put on a good show, listen and share, chances are good that a significant number of guests will want to join your club! Simply put, these guests represent the future of your club. So remove the guessing from guest visits — welcome these people graciously and soon you'll be voting them into your club!

Craig Harrison DTM, a member of Lakeview Toastmasters (2767-57) in Oakland, CA, is a professional speaker. In July, 1992 he was a guest of Lakeview Toastmasters and has returned weekly, ever since! Visit www.ExpressionsOfExcellence.com for free speaking resources from Craig.

By Craig Harrison DTM, PDG

Your club can benefit greatly by designating an experienced member, whose phone number and e-mail address are stable, to be the “first contact” guests call or e-mail for inquires.

I recently interviewed ATM-S Bill Young, a sixteen-year member of Lakeview Toastmasters, for his insights into the role he’s played as “first contact” for strangers.

CH:    Bill, as your club's VP-Membership and the contact for club visitors, what are your goals when a stranger calls to inquire about Toastmasters?

BY:    I call, introduce myself, and ask a few initial questions:

    What do you know about Toastmaster?
    What would you like to know about Toastmasters?
    What are your objectives for calling? What is motivating your interest in us?
    Have you ever been to  meeting before? If so, what were your impressions?

CH: What about your style?

BY: I chat with them conversationally. Sometimes callers are nervous calling a stranger. I try to relax them.

CH:    What else do you ascertain during this initial call?

BY:    After giving them our meeting address, time and meeting frequency, I will ask if I can send them  directions to our meeting room. If so, I collect their e-mail address. Otherwise, I will ask for their phone so we can follow up and stay in touch.

            I also make sure I have their full name and can pronounce it.  In turn, I share with them particular information on our club — not just where and when it meets, but also the dress code, parking information and a bit about its members — men and women of various ages and professions.

CH:    Do callers have pre-conceived notions of what will occur?

BY:    Some do, some don't. I let them know they’re under no pressure to speak. They can simply observe. They will be asked to introduce themselves at the beginning, can participate in our impromptu segment Table Topics, and will be asked their impressions at meeting’s end.

CH:    Is your focus on the club or the guest?

BY:    Our club, or any club, isn't right for everyone. I encourage guests to consider many factors before joining ours or any club — time, location, chemistry with other members, style of meeting. Sometimes visiting other clubs or the same club a second time will help them make the right choice for themselves. Forcing the issue hurts both parties. My focus is on helping guests make an informed decision.

CH:    Then what do you do?

BY: Once a guest has attended a meeting or two, or even joined, I'll suggest we meet over coffee to orient them to the club, its members, and what’s available to them. It means more once they’ve attended one or more meetings. I'll provide them with some materials such as A Toastmaster Wears Many Hats (item 1167D), to familiarize them with roles and responsibilities. I also encourage them to reach out to other members, and ask our members to reciprocate. Other useful items include a DVD Welcome to Toastmasters! (item 244DVD).

CH:    You've played this role successfully for many years. I gather you enjoy it?

BY: It is gratifying. You never know when they call if they'll even show up or not. Those who attend and join benefit greatly by the experience. It's fun to see them grow.

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