The Making of an Advance Club

By Rod Neucom DTM

 

I have no doubt that there are lots of Toastmasters in lots of places who have pondered whether to start or join what is euphemistically called … an Advance Club…

Well the first thing you have to ask yourself is … why?

Or perhaps if you suffer from terminal laziness, like me… why bother?

Many years ago at the District 69 Convention at Inverell some of us were having an “after function chat”… mildly lubricated by a rather nice bottle (or two) of red wine we asked the obvious question…

“What can an Advance Club offer that our normal club cannot?”

The discussion broke up but the next morning, after a bit of late, late night cogitation; I ran a thought past fellow imbiber Anthony Straker… If an advanced club based on expanding impromptu skills was started in Toowoomba, I would be very interested in joining.

Now what would and “impromptu focused” club look like or more to the point what would it sound like?

It was a four and a half hour drive back home to Toowoomba and that gave me a bit of time to think. I came up with some, for me, profound thoughts.

Most of our life in Toastmasters we follow a remarkably good and proven program on how to prepare speeches and presentations. From CC to ACB etc etc… The only time we get to speak on an impromptu basis is at the dreaded Table Topics, which I have heard described as purgatory and the creation of the devil himself. I personally like it because it takes me to places where I am not comfortable and I am not prepared so I have to seriously work my brain.

There is another time when our brain cells are chided to sparkle and that is in a warm up or Round Robin, but realistically we get a bit of warning from the speakers in front of us and we are usually crafting a response for our 20 or 30 second presentation.

In the “Real World” … at the business meeting when the boss says, and what do you think of Jerry’s proposal … or at the wedding where you are called to give an off the cuff response to a toast because the second groomsman has collapsed into the punch bowl… or the other community group you are involved in, asks you to speak to a group and explain why they should support your plea for “homes for homeless homing pigeons”…

The only common factor in all these (apart from a lost pigeon and a groomsman in a punch bowl) is that they are all going to call upon your impromptu skills and your confidence to take on the project.

So a club that developed and honed the skills associated with impromptu speaking would be a good thing…

The first thing to do was to make someone else a fellow conspirator… Before he knew what he was letting himself in for , I had cajoled Anthony Straker to be a co-founder… Boy am I glad. Anthony’s attention to detail and profound patience with my inability to navigate some of the paperwork took TT from possibility to reality.

We also consulted the Toastmaster gurus (read Graham Miller in particular) who through wry smiles assisted the Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Anthony and Rod, through many steps and pointed out the minefields.

We were under way.

So what would be the criteria for the club? 

First… We wanted to compliment the other clubs in Toowoomba, so it would be a club of dual membership. That means that you had to be a member of a “normal” club (whatever that means) to be a member of TT.

Second … All members had to have a CC or equivalent to join. The rational behind this was that we wanted members to have at least that level of experience to be able to be a contributing member at all meetings.

Third… Where possible ALL functions and presentations in the meeting would be impromptu. This included speeches and evaluations. Some positions would be with fore warning, like Toastmaster and Table Topics Master. The Toastmaster of the meeting in conjunction with the VPEd would work out who was where in the manual and they would be chosen at the meeting.

Forth… All members would start with a new CC manual and they would be called to do projects from the manual. The objectives would be read out the Toastmaster called to the front of the room and then and only then were they give their speech title. At the same time another Toastmaster was given their manual and they had to do the written evaluation for the Toastmaster. All member were given a new CL manual and when called to do speeches, evaluations, or any other function at the meeting it is recorded and evaluated in the CL manual.

Fifth… At the conclusion of the speech, another Toastmaster is called to give the three-minute verbal evaluation of the speech. No you don’t get the chance to talk to someone and not listen to the speech, you may get called up to evaluate the speech you have just heard. AND we encourage all evaluators to “Mark Hard” You learn more from experienced Toastmasters telling you where you can improve than platitudes about wonderful speeches that we look forward to hearing blah blah…

Sixth… Table topics are different. The Topics Master gives a topic, calls the member for a three or 4 minute Topic then calls another member for a one-minute evaluation.

Seventh… We only meet once a month.

Has it worked? 

We have effectively been operating for three years so there is a tentative yes… why tentative?

Lets bounce through the positives.

We are able to have a Business meeting at every meeting so clubs who say it takes up too much time should come and see how to run a slick business session and still follow Rentons.

We have regularly been able to have six plus speeches at meetings as well as Table Topics sessions.

Our Education sessions from experienced Toastmasters are informative and of the highest quality.

Everyone does at least one or two things at every meetings and no one has gone home from a TT meeting and said … that was boring…

Everyone in the club has the option of a mentor who is experienced. It is common for mentors and mentees to battle it out in the club competitions and not at all unusual for the mentees to beat their mentor.

Sometime we throw a complete curve ball and the VPEd with the Toastmaster will throw in a debate and all those involved get three minutes to sort their order and strategy.

Every meeting is great… some are absolute firecrackers.

But now let’s look at the problems

Like many new clubs we have lost members and motivating members from other clubs to take up the dual membership has been a bit of a challenge.

Some members have moved away … some have found that the cut and thrust of TT is not for them.

Only meeting once a month means that if you miss a meeting it is two months between meetings and then not coming becomes a habit.

 

Have we had to change?

Yes… The club recently voted to open our membership to the community, but only those members who have the skills to join in with the TT Philosophy.

This move may actually loose us some members who think that we are poaching from the potential members of other clubs.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Some may come to join TT, the Advanced Club, and find that they don’t have the skills to maintain the level that TT demands from its members and we would be the first to help that member transition to another club.

It has been said that TT members will drop their membership of their home club in preference with single membership of TT… Every member of TT I have spoken to is passionate about both their clubs (or some members are in more than two) and I do not believe this will happen.

TT has the potential to draw back into the fold, lapsed Toastmasters, who may have left another club because they felt it had given them all that it could. TT would welcome these past members and hopefully challenge and motivate them stay.

We are now offering members a slot where they can present longer projects as demanded by some of the advanced manuals. This is a problem for a normal club but we need to help our TT members.

 

And the Future?  We are under charter strength but even a meeting with 12 members is a vibrant and fun meeting. It is rare that you go home without feeling just a tiny bit exhausted. You never sleep at a TT meeting.

TT will maintain its focus on impromptu. It is a skill that serves the members well and the quality of presentation has definitely improved and continues to do so.

What’s in a Name  Now I will admit that I came up with the name TT Toastmasters, with no explanation of what the TT meant… Since 2011 when we started there has been scores of suggestions as to what it means… the TT… and only one person has come even close but were far enough away so as to not get the prize and have me admit that they got the meaning of the name… but there is one (meaning that is) and I promise that if no one guesses I will tell anyone who is interested on the 5th anniversary of our charter… so that’s 2017 around the 20th April.

By the way… If you want to see TT in action… we meet at 6 for 6:30 on the third Thursday every month at the Cedar Centre in Baker Street Toowoomba… BUT if your coming along … you will be doing something… usually what you least expect…

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