One of the most important things for your Toastmasters website to accomplish is to show how your club is unique and to share some of its personality. Some club websites are too cookie-cutter similar, emphasizing the things that all Toastmasters clubs have in common.
When I travel to different clubs, one of the things that impresses me is how different one club is from the next — how they take the same basic elements and combine them in different ways. A simple choice like whether to do Table Topics at the beginning of every meeting or at the end can make a big difference. One of the clubs in my area is more formal, so there I am “Toastmaster Carr” where in other clubs I’m just “David.”
Your website should make a strong case for why someone ought to pick your club to join rather than another one in town. I certainly don’t mean that you should badmouth any other group, but you should articulate a strong positive message. We are talking friendly rivalry rather than cut-throat competition. The truth is that some of the things you play up as advantages will be disadvantages in the eyes of some potential members — and that’s okay.
Example: my home club, Club Awesome, meets at 7 a.m. That’s an ideal time for me, to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with my kids’ evening activities or my business obligations during the day. Yet a great many people (maybe the majority) say, “How can you do that at 7 in the morning? That’s crazy!” If I get that reaction from a prospective member, I am happy to make my pitch for why it’s worthwhile, of course, but I also tell them about the clubs in our area that meet at lunchtime or in the evening.
I use Club Awesome as an example a lot because I’m proud of my club and proud of its website, but that most definitely does not mean I think you should promote your club the same way. (Face it, you’ll never be quite that Awesome.) No, you need to emphasize what makes your club different. Show some personality!
Even peculiar facts can be used to your advantage. For example, after Club Awesome lost its longtime location in a business school classroom, it wandered for months (and watched membership decline) before discovering a new permanent location that was good but kind of weird: an upstairs conference room at the local ice rink where the Florida Panthers practice. Turned out that serious figure skaters and hockey players practice early in the morning, so the building was open at an hour where we could get in at 6:30 to set up for a 7 a.m. meeting.
While our meeting room isn’t refrigerated, getting to it requires walking past the rink and down some chilly hallways. So naturally we started promoting it as our “Cool New Location!” A few months in, I talked the building operator into letting us drag the lectern out on the ice so I could do a photo shoot with Club President Marilyn Brown standing behind it and the Zamboni cruising by in the background.
Of course, you want to accentuate the positive. Consider Club Awesome’s 7 a.m. meeting time:
- Start your day with laughter and applause
- Meeting wraps up at 8:30 am, leaving enough time for our members to get to work at 9 (assuming they work relatively close by)
- “But I’m not a morning person”
- 7 a.m. start means you probably have to leave your house by 6:30 at the latest, earlier if you are filling a responsible role like Toastmaster of the Day
- You might find you need to set your alarm clock for 5 or 5:30 in order to get showered and dress sharp
- If your work is more than a half hour away from our meeting place, and work starts at 9, an 8:30 end time may be too late for you, unless you can get your employer to cut you some slack on our meeting day
You can see I actually came up with a longer list of negatives; they’re just not the things I emphasize. Instead, our website proclaims, “You’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Club Awesome!” Well, it’s true.
What We All Have In Common
There has to be a balance between showcasing what’s unique about your club and what all Toastmasters Clubs have in common. If you are using the Free Toast Host / toastmastersclubs.org service, your home page includes a series of tabbed content modules that describe all the basics of the Toastmasters program. I would encourage you to make sure the make sure the material at the top of the page that describes your own club is as strong as possible. When Google and other search engines index your website, they are looking for unique content and tend to discount boilerplate content that is included on many different websites.
If you’re using WordPress for Toastmasters, I encourage you to reserve the whole front page just for material about your club (weaving in material about the Toastmasters educational program as you go). When a club sets up a new site here, I’ve started adding one standard page of background on Toastmasters International (see the example on the demo site) that says “We are part of Toastmasters International …” and includes some boilerplate taken from the toastmasters.org home page along with a link to that site for more information.
You definitely don’t want to try to explain everything about the international organization on your own site, particularly when details such as dues amounts or the details of the educational program may change. Provide just enough information to sketch the broad outlines and let people people know where to go to learn more.
What To Include On Your Website
Photos: A group photo of happy members is a great place to start. Also consider including some action shots from a meeting or a contest. Find out who the photographers are in your club and encourage them to take pictures at an upcoming meeting, or on a regular basis.
One caution: some members may not be comfortable having their photos posted on the web, so you should either ask permission or at least make sure they know how to opt out.
The Toastmasters International Brand Portal includes some stock photos you can use to illustrate concepts like table topics and contest participation. (You can download the low-res versions, which are fine for posting to a website.) These have the advantage of being high-quality professional photography.
Again, I tend to think you’re better off using photos of your members rather than a bunch of models. In the best case, potential members will recognize people they know in the pictures, giving them an extra incentive to come to your club.
Welcome message: Through Toastmasters, we learn to communicate a message. Some of the people in your club are probably good writers as well as good speakers. Even if you don’t feel comfortable writing your own home page copy, you ought to be able to recruit others to help.
As I’ve emphasized here, you want to say what’s unique about your club. It’s also important to include “You messages” as opposed to “I” or “we” messages — not just what “we” do in our wonderful club but what “you” can get out of the experience. In other words, help those potential members who have found their way to your website imagine themselves as part of the organization, learning professional skills and confidence while making new friends.
You might also consider delivering your welcome message in the form of a video: the club president or a senior member speaking directly into the camera. If you can upload it to YouTube, WordPress makes it easy to add YouTube video to a page or blog post. On other platforms, you can get the “embed code” from the “sharing” tab on YouTube and add that to the HTML of your website.
Video: Video of speeches, table topics, and contests are all a great way of showing your club and its members in action. You can share those same videos on social media, including a link back to your website in the description of the comments on the video.
Additional Posts and Pages: By creating multiple pages for your website, you give Google and other search engines more to index and more opportunities to focus on specific aspects of the educational program. There is also specific information you want to convey that deserves its own page.
- “Directions” Your home page should include basics like when and where you meet, but it’s also a good idea to have a meeting directions page that might include a map, parking tips, and a picture of the exterior of the building where you meet.
- “How to Join” info on your dues structure, maybe a downloadable version of the Toastmasters application.
- “Members” or “Membership Directory” on WordPress for Toastmasters, this can be auto-populated from member profiles. You might also want to highlight particularly prominent members.
- “Blog” or “Club News” Posting periodic news updates is a way of always having fresh content on your site, which is more for Google to index and more for members to share on Facebook and other social media sites. One of the virtues of WordPress is it was made for blogging, making it easy to post updates. Don’t get too hung up on the word “blog” — a blog is just a website that’s updated on a regular basis. Posts can be club news, such as new member inductions or names and photos of contest winners. Informational articles, perhaps tips from your VP of Education on specific aspects of public speaking, also make good blog posts.
- “Video Guide to a Meeting” or “A Toastmasters Meeting In Pictures” Illustrate the different parts of the program, such as Table Topics, Formal Speeches, and Evaluations. You might designate a specific meeting where you will be taking photos or recording video throughout the program. Or you can do it over the course of a few meetings and pick the best examples. See Club Awesome’s video guide as an example. Again, check with your members to make sure they are comfortable having photos or videos of themselves posted to the web.
You don’t have to take all these suggestions. Remember, I said you should be unique! So you shouldn’t take all of my advice. I just hope to spark some ideas.
Let me know what you come up with that’s different, and I’ll be happy to showcase your examples here.