July 10th, 2009: It was the 2nd Friday of the month again and our Toastmasters meeting was in full session just before noon. On this particular occasion, our new President had a special theme in mind to kick off the new Toastmaster year: Roasting of the Past President, me! In the 1-minute video below, I am opening the meeting.
I enjoyed the Roast tremendously, even as it was on the 5th day of my Juice Fast. The day marked the completion of a successful year and the onset of a brand new year for our Toastmasters Club, Speech Acrobats. In this post, I’d like to share with you the highlights of that success. What we learned from the process and from each other. How we grew. What we will keep and what we will toss. Here are the secrets of our year together as Advanced Toastmasters, always learning, always aspiring for higher goals, and documenting our lessons learned for our own reference and for posterity!
Here are my Top Ten Tips for running efficient, dynamic, successful and fun Toastmaster Meetings all year long:
1. Commit to Meet: Meet often, meet for the full session, and do not cancel meetings for any reason, especially for lack of attendance. Clubs that meet less than once a month seriously lose momentum, and while it’s very challenging to hold a full meeting with less than 6 attendees, I encourage you to commit to regular meetings of at least twice a month.
2. Watch the Clock: Start and end meetings on time. I have a regular yoga practice on Sunday mornings, and people are always late. The instructor starts her class when the hand of that clock strikes 10:30am, be there one of us or all of us. I admire her courage to be punctual in the age of tardy. We have been guilty of that, and we have suffered bad habits as a result. Start your meetings on the hour sharp, and never go over. Respecting people’s time, those who are already in attendance, and sending a kind message to those who are late, will set a high bar for your club.
3. Capture it on Video: We finally established a routine for capturing every single meeting on video. The labor and commitment takes coordination between 3 people, with the heavy lifting falling on our fabulous videographer. The hard work pays off in high-quality video segments from every portion of our meeting, where the speakers can view the video for the best evaluation of their own speech, that of watching themselves in action. Living in today’s technological advancement, setting up the process can consist of an affordable video camera with a tripod, two members who know basics of video etiquette, help set up the room for best lighting, and can offer to segment the video appropriately after the shoot. Since most Toastmasters websites have storage limits, we have chosen Amazon S3 for easy upload onto cyberspace with links off our website.
4. Follow the Agenda: Planning makes everything go smoother. In the case of Toastmasters meeting, you must have an agenda to follow. Changes to it are inevitable at the very last minute. The agenda sets the tone for the meeting, and far from making it strict or too structured, it only serves as a way to set clear expectations with your audience. If you are Toastmaster for the day and have open roles in your agenda, arrive 15 minutes earlier and ask the first arriving members to volunteer. If you do not have enough speakers to fill the time, conduct a long and creative Table Topics. Always follow the agenda to run a clean, efficient, and professional meeting.
5. Spice things Up: Having a regular meeting all the time is fine but you should aim for great. Recently we had a Contest, a Panel Discussion and a Roast of the Past President (excerpt posted above), after which we welcomed 3 new members to our small club. Having fun in Toastmasters is one of my mantras. I refuse to believe that we cannot have the time of our life as we are improving our speaking and listening skills. So spice up a regular meeting with a contest, a debate, an interview of imaginary roles, a creative table topics, or many other types of meetings imaginable. You can even move things around in the agenda, have speakers first or table topics first, or introduce a short break for socializing.
6. Balancing Truth and Kindness: Giving a thorough, valuable and well-received evaluation takes skill and practice. Knowing that the evaluation needs to help the speaker improve their skills as well as encourage them is important. Encouragement can be achieved through kindness but improvement is more dependent on the truth. Having high-quality evaluations in a club sets the tone and level of speaking skills, and encourages a sense of friendly competition yet camaraderie among the members. Everyone knows they need to improve, but if no one tells them how…..
7. Learn to Improvise: As a Toastmaster of the meeting, you are bound to run into last minute changes. Your speaker drops out, your evaluator does not show, your attendance does not warrant a good table topics, and the energy may just be too low to make it through the hour. A good Toastmaster needs to prepare for the variations and fill in the gaps. Always have a theme to the meetings, and research the theme to share enough of the subject with the audience. Be ready to volunteer others for roles, be ready to fulfill a mandatory role in absence of original candidate, and do not forget that people look to the Toastmaster for the direction of the meeting, so have a plan and act, if not know, what you are going to do during the meeting.
8. Meet and Greet your Guests: The interest of club members is the highest priority of the club, and generally in most meetings, you will not have guests. Our first Toastmaster year happened to have frequent guests, on average 1-2 every other meeting. It became apparent very soon that we needed to have a clear guest policy to maximize the benefits of the occasion for the guests and the club. It is important to be coordinated here, especially if you meet in a place where guests need to enter through a secure corporate building and be escorted inside by a club member. This is one of the major issues for not being able to start club meetings on time. Coordination on informing guests in advance of meeting, receiving guests, warmly welcoming and engaging them appropriately at the club meeting are key to success for both your members and the guests.
9. Taking care of Business: Club meetings are a great time to take care of club business. The business of running a club should be of interest and relevance to your members, and the best way to get their attention is in the meeting, either at the beginning or end of the meeting. I prefer the end so as not to take away momentum from a great flow, and to wrap up with reminders on what needs to be done. Are membership fees due? Do you have a Toastmaster for next meeting? Do officers have an update to make? Are there any concerns to voice? Share the club business at every single meeting.
10. Inviting outside Speakers: Having exposure to speakers outside of your club’s membership is motivational and brings in a nice fresh air of diversity and perspective. Too many of us are committed beyond our max so bringing these opportunities into a club meeting that most members are already dedicated to goes a long way. This is a nice way to integrate those different types of meetings and trying a new format. If other speakers are Toastmasters, they are always more than willing to speak to other clubs; it helps promote their network and exposure as well. If the speaker you seek is outside Toastmasters, and especially if they are in any demand, you can use your network to connect with them and ask if they would do a pro-bono speech to support the mission of Toastmasters.
In the end, remember running great club meetings is about common sense and highest delivery of ordinary skills. It is beautifully said in a quote by John D Rockefeller:
“The secret of success is to do the common things, uncommonly well.”