Toastmasters know, or ought to know, that first impressions are important: how confident you look walking to the front of the room, what words you choose to open your speech with, and how well you deliver them makes a huge difference in how your speech is perceived and how forgiving people will be of a small stumble later on. You need to think about recruiting the same way.
The first impression guests and prospective new members have of your club is probably what they see when they visit your website. This will be particularly true of new people who comes to your club on their own, rather than being invited in by an existing member. If someone is proactive enough to find the toastmasters.org website, search through area clubs and their schedules, and click through to your website — that is a good prospect, one you don’t want to let slip away. You want what they see online to convince them that yours is definitely the club to come to, not the one down the street.
Yes, we’re all friends in Toastmasters, not cut-throat competitors. In a larger sense, what we want to do is recruit people into the Toastmasters experience because we believe so much in its value. That’s something your website should be trying to do, too, because the club down the street is not your biggest competitor. Your biggest competitor is everything else this guest — so far, only a potential guest — has going on in his or her life. Your biggest competitor is inertia and the likelihood that this person will not visit your club, or any club. With words, photos, and maybe some video (recommended), you can show that Toastmasters is interesting, professionally valuable, and fun. You can get that person off the couch and into a Toastmasters meeting, even if it’s not your meeting.
All other things being equal, though, wouldn’t you rather they came to your club? The more visitors you get, the more chances you have of converting visitors into members.
Look at it this way: I argue that one of the things your website should do is show some personality. That personality will not be right for everyone. My home club, Club Awesome, meets Fridays at 7 a.m. Our website celebrates the opportunity to get the day off to a great start with a Toastmasters meeting before work. We know some people prefer a lunch meeting or an evening meeting, but this is who we are.
When you present a clear, complete, and vivid picture of your club online, you help people decide whether your club is right for them — or not. If you present a strong enough case, you ought to win more than you lose. Not everyone who joins Club Awesome is a natural early bird; some make the effort to get up early one day a week because they like other aspects of what we offer.
Of course, when people come to your website, the basics have to be there:
- When you meet
- Where you meet
- Directions, particularly any tricky parts like where to park and how to get into the building
- Contact info for the president or membership chair and/or an online contact form
Get the basics right, but don’t stop there. Don’t settle for a cookie-cutter website that looks the same and says all the same things as every other Toastmasters Club website. Your club website should be an asset that you’re proud of, one you drive people to through social media outreach and by including the address in your promotions in other media, like flyers and newspaper blurbs.
Here is an example of a Club Awesome member who takes pictures of Toastmasters having fun and publishes them on Facebook, generating a flurry of likes and comments every time. I then make sure to follow up with a link to the website, so non-members who see this activity see our invitation: You Can Be An Awesome Toastmaster, Too!
As someone who gave up on Free Toast Host in frustration and created my own WordPress-based solution for meeting signups and club management, I believe WordPress for Toastmasters makes some of this easier. But you still have to make the effort to craft a unique, inviting message, take the photos, and create the videos. The message about your club is ultimately more important than the software you use to publish it.
Developing the Message
This is rumored to be an organization for communicators. You or someone from your club ought to be able to approach writing the home page message the way you would approach writing a concise but powerful speech. Have your best grammarian proofread it. Add some good photos. A group photo of smiling members is fine; photos of members in action are better.
Video takes a little more work, but can really pay off. Club Awesome has guests show up for the first time who talk about having watched videos on the website. Typically, we upload the video itself to YouTube and embed it in a blog post, and share the YouTube link through Facebook and other social media. Another tactic is to upload video directly into Facebook, and then include a link to your website as a comment underneath.
Keep web content up to date. Outdated info, like a promotion for an event that ended months ago, will undercut your credibility, so don’t publish information and forget about it. That’s one of the things a blog is good for: posting timely information in a format that puts the most recent items on top.
A few other search and social optimization tips:
- Headlines are important. The same goes for subject lines on email and the text of tweets — you have to catch people’s attention with just a few words. Otherwise, they will never read the rest of your post, click the link in your tweet, or open your email.
- Think about keywords that people are likely to be searching for, but don’t get too caught up in writing for search engines. Good keywords in your headlines and the title of your website will help your site get indexed, but you still have to appeal to people first and foremost. Search engines increasingly pay attention to what content gets engagement (shares and “likes”) in social media as a clue to its relevance and quality.
- In social media, people engage with other people more than they engage with brands. There may be value in having an institutional social brand (a Facebook page or a Twitter profile in the name of your club), but posts from individual members are more likely to get likes and shares. For the best of both worlds, encourage members to share content from the brand page or profile.
Where The Web Leaves Off
Despite everything I have said above, the web will not recruit members into your club. What it may do is get them to a first meeting. All you have to do then is get everything else right.
Make sure people you can find your meeting. Particularly if you don’t always meet in the exact same place, make sure you have signs or maybe an official greeter to point people in the right direction.
Give each guest a warm welcome and a quick orientation about what to expect: a little about how your meetings or structured and how guests are invited to participate. Maybe the primary responsibility for that welcome falls on one person in particular, such as the Sgt. at Arms or the VP of Membership, but it’s really everyone’s responsibility. Whoever makes the first contact should also introduce the visitor to other key people in the club, either before the meeting starts (if there is time) or whenever there is a break.
The best way to make a great impression is to run a great club that holds great meetings, with great speakers and evaluators, and a lot of laughter and applause. For that matter, a great club makes for a great website. Then, all you have to do online when you’re telling people why they should come to your club is tell the truth.