If Jason can survive, so can your club.
Last Saturday morning, from 8 am til 1 pm, District 26 held its "Denver" TLI (Toastmasters Leadership Institute) training for officers and members of the organization. This is my third TLI here in Denver, and I'm always impressed with what they put together - essentially a mini-conference. Over 300 Toastmasters showed up, and they still have training coming up in at least two other population centers in our District.
They brought back local golden boy and 2000 World Champion of Public Speaking Ed Tate to keynote the event, as well as offer a general session workshop. He did his traditional great job, not that I can tell you about any of it because he threatened us that we couldn't share any information or he'd have to kill us. Or something like that...just have him come out to your own TLI if you really want to know.
The morning offered the officer training, including separate training for each position (two for VP of Education, because of space constraints), and even a 'combined training' if you held more than one office in your club. After the workshop, they held another round of educational sessions, on everything from Leadership opportunities with TM to livening up your Competent Communicator manual to connecting with your audience.
I attended the Public Relations training, lead by our District PR Officer Carol Harris and Luc Moens. I should have gone to the combined training, technically, since I'm also VP of Ed, but having done all the trainings over the years, both as a student and a trainer, I thought I'd attend the one that held the potential for the most new information. With the recent rebranding, the PR session was an obvious choice.
Carol and Luc handled the session well, only mentioning the new tagline briefly, acknowledging the controversy (even mentioning that there were some blogs out there that fanned the flames of said controversy - imagine that!), but not opening it up for discussion. It was essentially described as an umbrella idea, with speaking falling under the umbrella of leadership, a concept I'd heard before. Luc explained the branding shift as a way to make TM appear more exclusive and desirable, and essentially upgrade the world's perception of our organization.
Even with this explanation, the rebranding theory was only a small part of the training, and the controversy deftly dismissed with a 'it doesn't matter anyway' attitude, coupled with a tacit, tow the line agreement with the change (my perception), and focus quickly shifted back to how we can use the new colors, logo, fonts, and promo material as PR Officers to create a unified image to potential Toastmasters.
I think they approached it exactly as they should have. They acknowledged the elephant in the room, but didn't dwell on it. The training was how to work with what we have, not whether we should have what we have.
Since it's Friday the 13th, I thought I'd honor the spirit of Jason, the iconic 'can't be killed' anti-hero of the film series of the same name. Below are 13 ideas from this and other PR training I've had throughout the 13 years I've been a TM. Some are old stand-by's others are more up to date. Some are great, some are not so great. Some work better in certain areas than others - you'll have to decide for yourself.
All, at least, have the intent to either keep your club from dying, or, at worst, bring it back from what appears to be a watery grave.
1. Announce your meetings in your local paper, particularly you small, community paper. Most papers offer this service for free, and you often end up in their online edition as well. Try getting into the newsletter of your company and/or professional association, as well.
2. Take your Toastmaster Magazine everywhere. Read it in public and strike up conversations. Put labels with your club info on it and hand it to interested parties or leave it at your doctor's office or on the rack at your hairdresser.
3. Put flyers up at local grocery stores, your work bulletin board, the local Workforce Services - anywhere people gather.
4. Put your ribbons, certificates of achievement, and trophies in your office space. Wear your Toastmasters Pin - if you can find it. I lose mine faster than socks in the dryer... Still, great conversation starters.
5. Get Toastmaster business cards to give to anyone who might be interested. Templates are here: http://www.toastmasters.org/stationery
6. Use/Update FreeToastHost - the official website service of Toastmasters International. I consistently hear that new members come from the web, though my feeling isn't that they come from FreeToastHost as much as the clubfinder tool on the main site. Still, linking your club's updated and well-manicured FTH site to that listing will help as people make decisions as to which club to visit.
7. Create Guest Information Kits, filled with promo material, a TM Magazine, an application, and whatever other material might be helpful to someone looking into the organization and your club. Put something in it, an article, a club history, or even a sample agenda, to help your club stand out.
8. Send handwritten follow-ups to guests, and invitations to those you get into discussions with. In a world of email, a hand-written card stands out. Make sure you have a guest book out, so you can harvest those addresses and make this happen. Phone calls and email follow-ups also help you keep in touch with prospective members.
9. Use Meetup.com to create an online community. There is cost involved, but it offers some great tools and a non-threatening, "I don't have to join TM to join the Meetup", atmosphere. Meetup also cross-markets, so someone in a different meetup will have a chance to see your club without directly looking.
10. Put up your Toastmasters banner outside your meeting space as a sign announcing where the meeting is - simple as it sounds, it's amazing how many clubs just put it in their meeting space instead of the hallways of the building they meet in. You can also purchase plaques that restaurants will often hang in their entryway letting folks know you meet there. TI recommends buying a newly branded edition of your banner, but it's not required.
11. Send out a Mini-Newsletter. It's easy to get bogged down in thinking we must come up with some extensive, graphic-filled newsletter for the club, and if there's someone who wants to do that, more power to them - they have their place. But a mini-newsletter is easy and quick. Just take some notes about your meeting, and send it out to the entire club and anyone on your list of potential members. Tell them how great the meeting was, and invite them to next weeks edition, when so-and-so will be speaking.
12. Send a press release when you have a significant event. What's significant? A guest speaker, a speech-a-thon, a contest, a demo meeting, a New Year's Resolution Meeting - whatever you decide is special. Not sure how to write a good press release? Head here: http://www.publicityinsider.com/release.asp - it works!
Make your club Social Media Savvy. Get that club Facebook Page up. Start a Twitter account. Start a club blog. Get involved in Linked In discussions related to business in your area. Let people know you're going to a meeting, and how much you enjoyed it. Even if you don't direct traffic directly to your club, you'll help TM in general, and other clubs will inevitably be sending folks your way through their efforts.
Speak & Deliver Bonus #14
Many Toastmasters want to speak outside the club, but don't know what to talk about, or haven't developed their message yet. Why not take the Toastmasters message out to the world? Put together a presentation using your own experiences, and head out to your local service club. Offer them some Public Speaking training and then promote TM as the place you learned what you are teaching, and promise them there's more to learn. A win-win for you and your club.
Toastmasters has their own guide to PR available online, as well. Click here for the free downloadable PDF.
There is plenty of opportunity for all the officers, and all members of Toastmasters, to be involved with PR. One person cannot do it all. But if you have a passion for sharing TM with others, you can do something. Because if we all decide it's somebody else's job, our clubs will surely die, with no hope for a Jason-like resurrection.
Enjoy your Friday the 13th!