Public Speaking originally started with the Ancient Greek Orators, and while society, culture and technology have evolved the process tremendously, the foundations of public speaking as a form of communication to a group of people remains intact. A good speaker can deliver a bad message well, while an average speaker can manage to remain unnoticed with a great message. The advantages of being a good public speaker are so generously vast that it would be a great loss not to pursue the rewards. While a CEO would generate an entirely different response and reward from his audience than a teacher or a priest or a housewife or an employee, every individual from every walk of life without exception can benefit from the series of skills which build a polished, prodigious public speaker.
I went to my first Toastmasters meeting in late 2003. The group of people I met welcomed me warmly and I felt at ease being there. But the experience was frightening when I was asked to speak on Table Topics. Guests can be invited to come up and speak in a Toastmasters meeting. Even though I am not shy, and have no problems striking up conversations with anyone and everyone, getting up to speak impromptu put me at a great unease. Table Topics, which is extemporaneous speaking for minimum of one minute, brought up so many layers of emotion for me: First, I refused to look or sound like a fool, no matter what. Second, I did not have the confidence to make things up if I did not know anything about the topic at hand – and making things up in Table Topics is fine, so long as you do so eloquently. Third, I did not want anyone in the room to know that I was hyperventilating. The rush of anxiety to speak at Table Topics did not leave me for a long time, but nonetheless, I went back to Toastmasters again and again. I joined very soon after my first meeting, and started to give speeches from the Competent Communications Manual, and took a slow year to complete my Certified Toastmaster, known better today as Competent Communicator (CC).
Even if it was entirely possible for me not to speak or take on a role at some meetings, never did I leave a meeting feeling as though nothing was accomplished. Listening to other speakers give a speech that they have worked on for days or weeks, and being there to support one another as we shed the irrational fear of public speaking, has been giving me a sense of accomplishment since my first Toastmaster meeting over 5 years ago.
My home club at the company I worked served me extremely well. They met inside the corporate walls and were only open to employees. After a few years of consistent attendance, my travels begged me for a break and my focus shifted away from Toastmasters for a couple of years. During this time, I did not retain my skills as sharply as I would have liked. Even though I had many presentation opportunities to various audiences across the organizations, for all of which I drew tremendously from my Toastmasters skills, I still became rusty without the regular practice and rigor of a Toastmasters setting. Funny enough, my skills were satisfactory enough for the purposes of my job; I was never asked to improve upon them. It seems I was enjoying the benefits of my Toastmasters experience in a practical sense!! It was me that was bothered for knowing that I could be a better, more polished, far more effective and advanced speaker. It was a personal quest to sharpen those skills again and be the best speaker I can be. That was the drive that brought me back to Toastmasters.
Things had changed in my absence though. My club had grown its membership with beginner speakers from an internal hiring program while some of the more experienced had left. Even though the club enjoyed the new membership, the spirit and culture I used to know was starting to disappear. In this environment, our time would have been focused on mentoring the new speakers, which we happily did, and focusing on creating ways for them to advance. With the new shift of focus in the meetings, there was little room for intermediate or advanced speakers to pursue higher levels of speaking skills. I needed a new plan. I remember a tenacious thought that came to me at 5am on a Tuesday morning in March of 2008. Why not create a new Advanced Open club?
In half an hour, I had written a long inspirational email to all my old Toastmaster buddies who were seldom in attendance or dropped membership. My vision was to create an environment where we can thrive as intermediate and advanced speakers and pursue other activities that our home club could not afford for us to do. Here is the summary of some of the benefits we have enjoyed and continue to foster in our Open and Advanced Toastmasters Club:
- Strong Evaluations: You can focus on tough and thorough Evaluations, with the knowledge that the speaker needs the small details to take their speaking skills to the higher level. Check out the post on Delivering Strong Evaluations.
- Specialty Speeches: You can plan for longer and various types of speeches such as Panel Discussions, Brainstorming sessions, Oratory speeches, and Roasting speeches. You are able to deliver these types of speeches within an advanced club and receive the right type of evaluation in return.
- Diversity of Members: With an open club, you extend the membership portfolio well beyond the employee pool, and the dynamics brought about by the diverse group of Toastmasters is fun, rewarding, and necessary to a thriving advanced club.
- Self-Driven sense of Purpose: In a setting where there is no pressure from employer’s boss to join and participate in, where every member is choosing to attend, to participate, and to pursue goals within Toastmasters tracks, you experience the rare community of self-driven highly motivated individuals with common goals, and in that place, anything is possible.
- Higher, tougher standards: Welcoming people to Toastmasters and showing them the ropes is rewarding and fun. In an advanced club, you experience a different kind of fun. While you may bend the guidelines for benefit of new comers, you can exercise a lot more discipline. You can hold yourselves to a higher standard with the Roles and the Timing of speeches, and many other aspects of running a smooth operation.
All of this and more, you can achieve from an Advanced Toastmasters setting. In the rest of this post, I’d like to outline our experience in creating and chartering an Advanced Toastmasters Club. May you have as much success and reap as many rewards as we have, and continue to do, with our Speech Acrobats. I recommend all the steps below and in the order that they are listed, although your journey may not deem all of them necessary. If some of the steps in becoming a charter are optional, I point them out.
The 20 critical and sequential steps outlining our Lessons Learned and Best Practices in getting a club off its feet and on the way to charter with Toastmasters International (TI).
- Creating A Vision: Creating a club vision may seem trivial with everything else that you need to accomplish. You can certainly survive without one. We did not have one until well into the charter process and that is exactly why I am putting it as the number 1 item to accomplish. A vision is short, clear, concise and speaks to the future desired state of the ideal that you envision for you and your members. Without a vision, you will lose focus on the reason for establishing your setting. The obvious reasons aside, there needs to be a unique character to existence of each club, and yours needs one. A vision helps to set and define that.
- Finding a Partner for the Road: It is entirely possible to establish and charter a club in a one man (or one woman, in my case) team. Entirely so. Nonetheless, having a partner and especially someone that you know from the past, and one with whom you share the Toastmaster passion, will make the journey incredibly worthwhile and fun and manageable as you divide the tasks to support one another on the journey. With a partner, you can each bring your strengths to the table, and divide the tasks according to that strength. After doing so, be sure to hold each other accountable and consult with one another, without doing each other’s tasks. Creating a club from start to finish can take a good few weeks, if not months. Depending on your level of dedication and availability, this time frame may vary more. In truth, creating an advanced one can be a rather lonely and frustrating process until you learn the ropes and get past the initial to-do stages. Partnership and collaboration on creation and chartering is key to your success. You and your partner are the Founders and can and should assume Officer roles if possible.
- Setting the Minimum Criteria for Membership: This is one of the seemingly easy decisions you will make and one that will most likely be revisited and challenged. It is common to set achievement of Competent Communicator as minimum requirement. You may be ruling out the pool of accomplished speakers that would be interested in an advanced speaking environment but if they are not familiar with Toastmasters (hence do not meet the CC requirement), they would be new to the ways of your operation. You would then need to invest time and effort bringing them up to speed, and that would not serve in the best interest of everyone else. Sticking to your minimum requirement will eventually serve you best. It will show that you are committed to those who are members, while willing to help and support other interested Toastmasters to reach CC or encourage non-Toastmasters to join a local club to work towards their CC. You can then welcome a new pool of members and build up your membership further.
- Creating your Communication Message: As you start to make contacts, renew old relationships, and delve into your social networks, old and new both, you will be writing and sending a similar message many times. The best way to approach this is to work with your partner to create a template of your message. You can then simply send out this template or choose to further customize it for particular persons. Here is a list of items to which your communication template should speak:
(i) Your goal and purpose
(ii) Your club vision statement
(iii) A value proposition – why they should join your club, what is unique about yours, what can you offer?
(iv) Information about key contacts and dates
(v) A clear call to action – what do you need from them, what steps do they need to take to support you?
- Identifying a Club Sponsor: Sponsors are a necessary part of charter. You can have more than one but at minimum one sponsor. The sponsor can be in the form of corporate or individual. The responsibilities of the sponsor are to support your club and help sell the idea to prospective members. A sponsor works with the founders for a period of 3 months. After that period, the sponsor responsibilities end and the mentor takes over. As you look for a club sponsor, you can sell the idea to prospective Toastmasters by telling them that acting as Sponsor counts as credit towards their Competent Leader certificate
- Securing a Club Mentor: Having a club mentor is not mandated for starting one but I highly recommend it. You would want an experienced Toastmaster as your mentor. A mentor can provide guidelines as you find your way to charter, and be a sounding board to the officers. A mentor can be a member as well. The role of a mentor is recognized by TI so mentors can receive credit towards their Competent Leader, similar to being a sponsor. Mentors can resolve conflict within officers, and ease some of the frustrations on the way to becoming fully chartered. Mentors usually stay on for the term of Toastmaster year, and I have found the mentor to be an invaluable resource.
- Working with Toastmasters International (TI) directly: TI is an old and established organization. Started first as a single club in 1924 and serving over 230,000 members worldwide, it is a mature organization. I have enjoyed my rapport with the TI staff and recommend that you establish one as soon as you get the club underway. Talking on the phone seems to be the best way to reach them. Even though TI is well-established, there are areas that have not grown and one of them is the area of establishing and thriving at an Advanced Club. One of the main frustrations is the
Distinguished Club Program (DCP) which serves as a universal “report card” for all clubs. In an Advanced Club, you decide on the minimum criteria for members to join, and a common measure is the completion of Competent Communicator. With that criteria, your club can not easily complete the 9-points required to become a President’s Distinguished Club because your members do not need to get a CC, even as they may choose to do a second or multiple CC. I realize that recognition from TI should not be the driving factor in creating the advanced club; nonetheless, the lack of programs geared towards Advanced Club is still an area of large improvement within TI. Be aware of this as you work with them, and by all means, voice your thoughts to the organization, as we have, in areas of additional consideration.
- Taking care of Paper work for Charter:You must stay on top of the paperwork. It is the smartest way to achieve charter and keep you and your partner’s sanity. The Application for the club first needs to be submitted, and this can be submitted without the profile of all the 20 members that are required for charter. The 20 members must pay a $10 fee (this may vary in the future) towards charter to what sums to $120. This does not include the membership fee for the 20 members. The cost to charter may slowly become prohibitive, and some clubs do exist without charter. We highly discourage you against this. You should take your time and identify the right people, without pressuring anyone, but you should not give up on charter if you want to reap the benefits of a club within TI. The rest of the application with member profile and the money can be sent to TI at a later time. You should work hard to divvy up the tasks with your partner when it comes to paperwork.
- Reaching out to local Toastmasters peers: After you decide on minimum criteria to join, you will be able to roughly estimate the local pool of potential members. With our club, if we had held it as a Closed club, our pool of membership would have been dismal. Opening the club up forced us to look outside and to bring in diversity, new ideas and fresh perspective. It is important to identify a rough number of people that you can count on to join, and then you can fill in the gap to reach minimum 20. If you have only 3 people after a month, you will have a realistically long way to go before charter and an option may be to find and join a nearby Advanced Club. If you have about 12 people, as we did, finding the other 8 should be highly motivating and it is entirely possible to find and recruit those 8 (or more) with the right vision and messaging combined with sincerity and passion for improving public speaking skills.
- Locating a venue for Regular Club Meeting: Where to meet is a critical question to answer for your club. You should establish this at the right time and not too early as you may need a general idea from your pool of members on where it may be more convenient for majority. Once you establish the venue, you should try not to change it. For this reason, it is important to think of everything you may need. Clubs are known to meet anywhere from a conference room, restaurant, cafe or a personal residence. You should ask yourself and your members questions such as what type of equipment may be needed and how much use of technology you will be doing. That may set a limitation on venue. Also, what type of place would suit the goals of your members best? Would a crowded cafe foster that atmosphere, or do you need quiet conference rooms in an office building. Do you need a projector, ability to video, record, or use speakers. After you make the decision on venue, you should secure or reserve the place for the rest of Toastmaster year which runs from July 1st to June 30th.
- Recruiting the 20 initial members for Charter:Now that you have your bases covered, you can put serious effort into finding the initial membership. By now, you have most likely communicated the idea and its progress to your closest Toastmasters peers and have a base of small members. Charter requires 20 members, period. No exceptions. After charter, your membership can drop below 20 and you will continue to operate fine as a chartered club. You should contact your old club buddies, area Toastmasters, and leverage the wonderful social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. You should leverage the communication template for consistent messaging. In the spirit of Toastmasters and in the kindness of their hearts, the last charters members for our club were honorary members. They believed in the club’s mission but were not in a situation to commit to attending, so we have dubbed them as our Founding Members, and remain very grateful.They sponsored and funded the club, making it possible to charter. Be creative and sincere in your search.
- Securing the Club Funds with a Trusted Toastmaster: As your membership and the charter fees roll in, you need to keep track and secure the funds. One of the founders can be responsible for tracking the money. At the beginning, you may need to use a personal banking account and transfer later to a club account. Opening a club account early in the process may be premature, as the club may not reach charter soon or in the future, so it is best to wait until you are closer to the 20 initial members. Keeping track of all financial details on a spreadsheet is highly recommended.
- Deciding on the perfect Club Name: With this you can have heaps of fun. Everyone has an opinion about what the club name should be and what tone it should set, what message it should deliver. Do you choose a serious or playful name? Does the name include attributes of club’s locale or more the club’s personality or vision. You should include the base membership in this naming process, and then as the founders, you should make the final call. Otherwise the debate can go on indefinitely! Once you have the name, best not change or modify it.
- Agreeing on the Frequency and Time of Meeting:The time of meeting is said to be the most difficult decision a club makes: When is the best time to meet? It is very unlikely to please everyone on this decision, so you must exercise some discipline. It should be a time that is convenient to most, and one that does not change in regard to that convenience with different seasons or changes in schedules or other responsibilities. At the beginning, you can play with the time and frequency of meetings, but soon this should be set and followed. Our club meets on 2nd and 4th Fridays for 90minutes. I highly encourage you to commit to a longer, if need be less frequent, meeting than a one hour meeting. The nature of the club will require that longer speeches be given and the 90-min to two hour meeting is almost necessary. Meeting frequency for clubs varies. I think once a month is too infrequent and weekly may be too frequent. Again, it depends on your membership’s drive and availability. We have found the ideal time and frequency to be at two times per month and at 90-minute meetings on Fridays.
- Having the First Club Meeting: The first meeting should happen well in advance of charter, and it most likely will be prior to securing the 20 charter members unless you have a great stroke of luck. You should aim to hold regular meetings early on to get into a schedule, regardless of the sparse attendance at the beginning. You may not have speakers for the first meeting, and as founders or officers, you can tend to club business and hold a long Table Topics to get back into the groove of things. It’s important to keep having the meetings and not canceling for any reason until you charter. After that, you should still cancel only on rare occasions. Having meetings regularly keeps the heartbeat of the club alive and sends a message that you are serious about the club.
- Elect the Club Officers: The most important roles that need to be filled are President, VP of Membership and Secretary. You need the first two for leadership and membership, and the latter for administrative paperwork back to TI. Next in line is your VP of Education. If you can secure a Sergeant at Arms and VP of Public Relations as well as someone to maintain the website, you will be golden. As founders, you should definitely take on a high responsibility role for the club’s first year.
- Establish a Club Website: For the website, you may be disappointed with the options out there. Unless you have a professional website designer, you may want to explore existing options for Toastmasters websites. The most popular ones are Free Toast Host and Sandy East. We have explored both in detail and each lacks a great deal in flexibility. We decided to go with Free Toast Host but compliment it with Google Docs for our agenda management. These are decisions you need to think through carefully as you think about the process for running meetings. In any case, be sure to have a website that has your basic club information, contacts, officers, members, and meeting logistics. Assign the maintenance of the club to a tech savvy member.
- Setting up TI Web page for Club: In addition to your local club web page, you will need to get fully set-up on TI Member site, after you get your club number. Here on TI website, you can login as a Member or an officer. You will fill in all necessary information around club logistics, officers, meeting information, and contact information. This is also where TI holds and maintains your member roster. The TI website is very easy to use, and it takes less than 15 minutes a month to keep it up-to-date. It is very important from TI perspective that the club information be as such, so do not overlook this task.
- Create your Email Alias Groups: You have a lot of options here, with so many programs out there. We used our internal corporate mailer program which allowed external users. Recently, we have moved to my favorite: Google Groups. This will work out very nicely if you also use Google Docs (Excel) for your meeting agenda. The only two aliases you need are an Officers alias and a complete Member alias (including all officers). Communications to your membership should be polished and of highest quality in grammar, spelling and proper use of the English language, so that you can set an example for the masses today who seem to no longer know how to spell or use correct grammar.
- Celebrating the Club Charter with the Banner from TI: A few months after you submit your charter information to TI, you will receive a beautiful banner with your club name and number. Reaching this step is a tremendous accomplishment and you must celebrate the occasion with all who made it possible, the founding and charter members as well as any other sponsors and mentors. We had a wonderful celebration using the funds to give back a little to our members and to mark the occasion.Now you are a Chartered Advanced Toastmasters Club. Many Congratulations! Enjoy the achievement and keep pushing the bar higher on your speaking skills.