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October, 2000
Visitor's Pass

"By Putting Ourselves "in the shoes" of new members and guests,
we help them walk our talk!

Much of the secret of success comes from seeing the world through eyes other than our own.

One of the best ways to make your Toastmasters club more inviting to visitors is to try to put yourself in their shoes. For some of us, we've long since forgotten the fear and uncertainty we carried into our first meeting. Let's transport ourselves back to the feelings we as strangers experienced as we mustered the fortitude to attend our first meeting of this group known as Toastmasters.

Fear of the unknown looms large. I had read an article in the paper about a local Toastmasters club and knew I needed help when I called a phone number listed in the article. After a brief conversation I hung up. Wow, the Toastmaster on the other end of the line was extremely nice. That was a good omen. She gave me the address and suggested meeting on the street corner before the meeting so we could go in together. Already I was feeling better about the commitment I made to attend later that very week. Never underestimate the power of a friendly disposition and inviting nature in your contacts with strangers.

Despite this woman's friendliness, ample fear remained. How should I dress? Will I be the only one my age or from my profession? Will people know how afraid I am to be there? Will I have to speak? Will they laugh when I do?

As the day approached I started to have second thoughts. Still, knowing I promised to meet Julie I knew if I didn't show up it would only be harder the next time. So off I went to the address she had given me. The power of my commitment kept me on track.

As if I wasn't afraid enough it turns out the address took me to a hospital. Oh great! Who would go to a hospital if they didn't have to? Probably the thing I fear more than public speaking is going to hospitals. Then again, I was beginning to feel sick! Luckily, just then Julie spotted me.

The first thing I noticed was her smile. What a pleasant sight at 6:45AM! She extended her hand and acted genuinely happy to see me. I breathed my first sigh of relief. Non verbal cues speak volumes.  A smile is the quickest way to help put a stranger at ease.

We took the elevator up to the fifth floor and entered the hospital's board room. Wow, what a formal setting. The intimidation factor began to rise again.  Suddenly it seemed everyone in the room turned toward me as we arrived. I felt each eye upon me, sizing me up. Then they came right for me.  Help!

Yet each was as friendly as Julie.  They sincerely welcomed me, asked me to sign their guest register. (I checked for fine print but found none.)  They found me a seat and one for Julie to sit next to me. Some had already heard of my call to Julie. All seemed genuinely thrilled I chose their club to visit. Such nice people. Again I breathed a sigh of relief. People can be supportive or indifferent to a visitor. Showing they cared made me feel welcome.

Soon the meeting started and my, was there a lot going on.  People were constantly standing up, shaking hands, sitting down, and clapping almost incessantly.  They introduced me and, before I even said a word, they clapped for me.  Not bad! I couldn't help but wonder whether I had earned the applause, whether I deserved it, and whether their expectations would be dashed when I mumbled a good morning and mentioned being glad to be among them. They treated me like one of their own! Their applause suggested I did belong although I felt outclassed by all the expert communicators in the room.

The meeting flew by.  I was oh so impressed with the acumen of the various speakers.
I thought each spoke so much better than I'd ever speak.  Then, they turned to me and asked me what I thought of the meeting.  How thoughtful!  I shared my impressions and sang their praises. Yet I felt a league apart. They valued my opinion.

Then the meeting ended.  Informally several of the members made a point of speaking to me on their way out.  They expressed delight in my courage in coming, interest in my coming back, and one specifically encouraged me to join. They handed me a sheet with the letters FAQ across the top of the page: Frequently Asked Questions about their club. One member in particular mentioned they were missing a Jokemaster for the following week and asked if I'd return and tell an appropriate joke from memory.  How could I resist? They found a place for me and a role to help me fit in.

And that was my first visit to the club I've been a member of for the past eight years. Now they don't even have to ask for me to break out the jokes!  Interestingly, Julie has moved on but I often find myself in the role she and other members play of ushering in the guests and helping them enjoy the hospitality of our club.  By keeping in touch with my initial fears, doubts and skepticism I am better able to relate to our newcomers.  When they hear how I was once a stumbling, bumbling, mumbling and fumbling speaker who was transformed by Toastmasters, they see that success is just a word away...Toastmasters. Play the role of goodwill ambassador for your club's guests.

Many corporations known for their customer service, whether airlines, hotels, restaurants or software companies, regularly put themselves in their customers' shoes to experience the relationship from their point of view.  As members of Toastmasters clubs seeking new members we should constantly do the same. Issue yourselves a visitor's pass.  By putting yourself in their shoes as visitors you can then help them walk our talk as Toastmasters!

Craig Harrison DTM, now a professional speaker, is a member of Lakeview Toastmasters #2767-57 in Oakland California, and regularly visits other clubs around the world to re-experience the visitor's perspective.

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contact Craig by email: Craig@ExpressionsOfExcellence.com
or by phone: (510) 547-0664.

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