Whether it’s a goal, resolution or something in your life has made it you no longer able to procrastinate it away, you’ve decided to finally attend a Toastmasters meeting. If you keep in mind that the two biggest social fears are public speaking and meeting new people, you can probably see that going to a Toastmasters meeting for the first time is a double challenge. So here’s some of the advice that I give to those who attend my public speaking classes that are interested in Toastmasters. Much of this advice is applicable to attending any club meeting for the first time — I share most of this with those who attend my Networking classes.
Familiarize yourself with Toastmasters:
Check out the main Toastmasters website for some information about the organization. If you feel like you’re sipping from a fire hydrant, I’ve also created a Toastmasters Primer that gives you a detailed overview of what you need to know. But here are some of the basics that you need to understand:
- Toastmasters is a volunteer organization. Members help each other and officers help keep the club running smoothly.
- In addition to a club President, there are Vice Presidents (Education, Membership & Public Relations) and a Secretary, Treasurer and Sergeant at Arms.
- Members give speech projects based on projects in either the basic manual (the first 10 speeches) or one of several advanced manuals.
Familiarize yourself with the club:
Check to see if the club you’re going to visit has a web site. Some clubs have a very basic web site that just lists the meeting location and other basic information. Others have photos of events, the next meeting’s agenda and photos and bios of members. Obviously, the more information they have the better. But at the very least, confirm the meeting time and location. Sometimes, the main Toastmasters web site doesn’t have the most recent information and some clubs change their meeting times or locations seasonally. So contact the club’s President and/or VP of Membership via email and/or phone. Doing so will not only assure you have the correct time and place, but you might actually find a warm greeting waiting for you when you attend the meeting.
If you’re really struggling to walk in that door, seeing pictures and reading bios will help familiarize yourself with the group. If they don’t have this information on the web site, do a drive by of the meeting to see what it’s like. You might even feel the urge to walk in.
Get there early:
If you’re nervous about meeting people, it’s best to beat the crowd there. It’s much easier to walk into a room with two people rather than a room with 30 people. In the case of Toastmasters, there are typically two or three people that are there early (depending on the club and the people involved). The first person you’ll normally see is the sergeant at arms. He or she is tasked with setting up the room and welcoming people to the meeting. The Toastmaster of the Day (the person in charge of running that particular meeting) will usually be there early as well.
The benefit of getting there early is that you’ll meet people as they walk in. So if someone is busy preparing for the meeting, they’ll introduce you to someone who can tell you about the group and they in turn will introduce you to other people. Contrast this with walking in five minutes after the meeting has started where everyone is watching the first part of the meeting. Of course, sometimes we can’t control things like bad weather, traffic, a faulty GPS or our other commitments in life. So get there when you can, but try to shoot for fifteen minutes before the meeting is scheduled to start.
Have a talk in your back pocket:
No, I’m not being literal here in the sense that you need to write a speech and bring it with you. But you might find the opportunity to get up and address the group if you’d like to. Many clubs invite guests to come up and participate in table topics — a part of the meeting where people are invited to speak off the cuff about a particular topic or whatever is on their mind. Guests sometimes are invited to just introduce themselves to the group or share what made them decide to pay a visit. So think about these things ahead of time, perhaps on your way over to the meeting. I always recommend you share your name, what you do for a living, something interesting about you (if you’d like to share it) and what made you decide to visit Toastmasters. This will also help you when meeting members as they will ask you a lot of these types of questions.
How to dress:
Most clubs are either casual or business casual. The only exceptions may be clubs that meet at a company with a formal dress code or some advanced or special clubs that choose a more professional atmosphere. The simple way to find out: ask. When you confirm the location and time, ask about the dress code. Not sure what the various dress codes mean, check out my article on dressing for success.
The money question:
Yes, it costs money to join Toastmasters so should you bring your checkbook with you? Honestly, it depends. Personally, I get annoyed when people tell me to bring my money with me — this has happened to me recently when visiting the gyms I’ve been thinking of joining. But most of the time, you’re safe without bringing money. If you decide to join right then and there, you can fill out the application and bring the money next time. The only exceptions are if you want to get started right away and schedule your first speech at the next meeting (although most clubs will still allow you to do this as long as you bring the money the next time) or if you’re afraid you’ll find an excuse to chicken out if you don’t commit financially right away.
Last, but not least:
Bring the right attitude. Toastmasters can be a fun experience where you can make life-long friends. Try not to worry or get stressed. And remember, everyone is there to better themselves and it’s okay to make mistakes. So show up, have fun and if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. There are other clubs out there to visit so don’t feel the need to join the first one you visit.