How Do I Get More Members to Sign Up for Speeches?

May 19

Some fortunate clubs are packed full of eager speakers competing for limited speaking slots. However, others find themselves challenged to get multiple speakers on the agenda for each week. What can you do when you regularly face the prospect of meetings without any speeches?

Be warned; it’s possible to go too far with these tips! In one club where I was VPE, I was proud of turning around the way we scheduled speeches. We never had a shortage of assigned speaking slots. Unfortunately, we also had a two month waiting list. I definitely do not recommend that! New speakers and those eager to make rapid progress through their speaking progress were quite frustrated. Many speakers would “forget” or just not show up to speech dates assigned so far in the future. A shocking number of speakers managed to schedule their annual vacations on their speech dates, far more than mere chance would suggest.

How much is enough? That’s for your club to decide, but usually having speakers scheduled for 2-4 weeks works well. That’s enough lead time to let speakers prepare, but not so far out as to run into the problems I mentioned above.

Many clubs swear by the principle of assigning roles, rather than volunteering. Some members don’t like this, and want to decide when they will attend and when they will do what role. Others love it, saying that take on more roles, more speeches and have to make fewer decisions. It’s an approach worth considering—although you still may have speakers that cancel on short notice or just don’t show up.

What if you do need more volunteers?

One simple and powerful technique, if your club regularly gets new members, is to schedule their first speech project as soon as they join. That doesn’t mean they need to give that first speech anytime soon. I would welcome them to the club, explain the first speech project, and would ask when they felt ready to give their first speech. Often the conversation would go like this:
“We have an opening two weeks from now. Would you like to give your icebreaker then”?
“Oh no! That’s too soon, I won’t feel ready then.”
“How about four weeks from now?”
“Hmm… I don’t know… I don’t think so.”
“Six weeks from now?”
“I think I could do that, sure.”
If they were ready quickly, they could give a speech quickly. However, I didn’t care if they didn’t feel ready for months. The important thing is to set an official date on the calendar. Two or three months may sound like a long time to wait, but that same member may otherwise wait six months to give their first speech. A more common occurrence is that the new member gives their speech in a couple weeks, instead of several months.

In the same vein, another very effective tool is to talk to members after they give a speech. “Great speech! When would you like to give the next one?” Again, it might not be for some time. The important thing is to get it scheduled. I like this because it forces speakers to always be focused on continuing their progress.

Of course, we don’t want to leave out those members that have been in the club for some time, but rarely give speeches. How can they be included? I believe tools like easy-speak may provide features to help with this; I had created a spreadsheet where I recorded the completion date for each of every speaker’s current ten speech projects. I used conditional cell formatting and a special cell with a formula for the current date so that each cell would be color-coded green, yellow or red based on how long it had been since the last speech for that speaker. Speakers whose projects were all red would get emails or calls from me! “Bob, I notice it’s been several months since you’ve given a speech. We need another speaker next week, would you mind filling in?” Often they would agree. This also helped to make sure members didn’t go six months or longer between speeches!

Don’t forget that you can also reach outside the club for speakers. It can be useful to bring in experienced speakers that can teach the club something about Toastmasters or some public speaking skill. You can even bring in members from nearby Toastmasters clubs; some enjoy visiting other clubs, some may have expertise to share, some may find it hard to get a speaking slot in their own club, some may want to practice a speech in front of different audiences.

Getting people signed up for speeches is one thing; getting people to actually give those speeches is quite another.

Sometimes speakers will cancel or postpone their speeches due to nervousness. They might lie awake at night in the final days before their speech, sweating and feeling anxious and fearful about speech day, only to cancel hours before… or not show up at all. This is just one of many reasons why a strong mentoring program is valuable; a good mentor makes the new member feel welcome and that their feelings are natural and ordinary. A good mentor comforts the new speaker and helps them prepare. A good mentor gives the new speaker tips to succeed and encourages them to step outside their comfort zone. For the club as a whole, workshops on public speaking confidence can also be immensely useful, even for speakers who have given several speeches.

I mentioned that speakers will sometimes forget about their upcoming speeches. Encourage them, when you sign them up for speeches more than two weeks in advance, to add it to their own calendar or reminder system. That isn’t always enough, however. It can be useful for a VPE or mentor to remind a speaker once their speech is several weeks out to avoid surprises and cancellations.

Sometimes speakers cancel because they don’t feel ready. I can sympathize. I’ve given well over 100 speeches and I never felt ready for any of them. Encourage speakers to spend five minutes a day (using whatever reminder or todo system they prefer) working on their next speech, no matter how far out it is. Run training sessions for the club on creating speeches, or even crafting impromptu speeches. Encourage speakers to have one or two things that are trying to do better in their next speech—and encourage them not to worry about anything else if they are short on time. And of course, suggest they just do it. It’s tempting to delay until the speech is ready; it’s much better to give the speech now and give it again when it’s better (or give a new speech, with improved skills).

The cancellation isn’t always the speaker’s fault. It’s far too common for companies to schedule last-minute lunch meetings, resulting in speakers having to cancel on 24 hours notice. Or 2 hours. Or no notice at all. It can be helpful to have a backup plan for how to fill the time when you have fewer speakers (educational content, more table topics), but it’s even better to be able to have a full slate of speakers. If this happens often in your club, teach members to be prepared to give their scheduled speech a week early, just in case. Consider keeping a reserve list of speakers that are eager to give speeches, or simply have the ability to give speeches on short notice (again, training your club in quickly preparing speeches can pay off here). Another option? Do table topics—but evaluate each table topic, driving each speaker to give a well-organized response, with an opening, body and conclusion. That fills the time, is excellent training typical meetings don’t have time for, and is a sneaky way of training speakers to give impromptu “prepared” speeches.

It can be tempting, when you don’t have enough speakers, to simply give in and settle for less. To go from three speakers each meeting to two, or to go from meeting every week to meeting every other week. Try to avoid this whenever possible. Most clubs have enough members to fill the speaking slots; they just need to get them to actually give speeches. Those that do have too few members can get burnt out if the same members are speaking over and over… but bringing in guest speakers can breathe new life in the club and attract members.

Remember, the core purpose of Toastmasters is to improve public speaking skills. It’s essential to get as many people to give as many speeches as possible. Fill your club’s agenda with speeches and your members’ minds with experience.

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