By Nancy Moscardini
Organizing an Open House is a large task and creating the public relations efforts for a virtual one is no easy endeavor. First, I’d like to thank the Talk and Thrive leadership team, VP of Membership and Toastmaster of the April 6th Open house Saurabh Tailang, VP of Public Relations Robert Fornshell, VP of Education, Lilit Arevshatyan, Sergeant at Arms Cecilia Oduwole, and Treasurer, Messan Teko. Having a highly committed team made this easy. We were hoping for 20 attendees, the response exceeded our expectations.
In Mid-March, Saurabh set the theme, then Robert, Saurabh and I worked on promotions. We created a series of flyers, a teaser, the main flyer, and flyers for each of our guest speakers using presentation software set to portrait and exported to jpeg. This allows us to quickly take the image and post on our internal social media platform. See examples of the flyers above.
For content, we wanted to ensure the following: who, what, when, why, and the call to action. The Toastmaster brand is strong for public speaking; however, the audience may not know of the leadership skills training available, and that no prior experience is needed to join. We wanted to address this early in the communications. Plus, we wanted to take the pulse of interest, so we added a call to action to send us an email asking for an invite no later than Friday April 2.
We posted to our internal social media platform, as an “Announcement”. Every day for seven days, we posted a new flyer promoting the event. We asked each member of the club to like each of the posts and share with their internal groups.
We connected to internal newsletter editors to promote our event. We submitted an article based on the Toastmasters Open House News Release and modified it for our use by adding quotes from our leadership team and Toastmasters-branded graphics. The call to action on the article is that the audience needed to contact us and ask for an invite by Friday, April 3rd.
Creating a deadline helped in multiple ways, it built interest that this was an event not to miss and helped us create the next communication. As departments are creating team and individual goals for the year – and public speaking and leadership is a desired skill set, so the timing to promote this event was perfect.
Wednesday March 30th the newsletters went out and we monitored our shared mailbox, about 5 asked for an invite that day, which was our goal. As we had the Open House the same time as our regular meeting, we forwarded the invitation and I created a spreadsheet with the name, email, and any notes as few had questions such as, “What is the cost of membership?”, “Can I invite my team? “I may not make it, but can you send me the invite to the next meeting?”. These questions were valuable as that made up the 2nd communication. Overnight it hit big, by Friday we had over 160 requests for an invitation.
Saturday before the event, I created the 2nd round of communications. Our strategy was to build excitement, not only they would get an invite, but they would attend during their lunch hour. We had great guest speakers and a strong presentation; we wanted to move from interest, to attendance and eventually membership.
The second communication was sent the day before the event, it was a branded email reminder to attend, and an FAQ. We wanted to maximize the time in the open house to the speakers and the agenda, and with this size of audience, we might not have the time to answer audience questions. Adding an FAQ in advance let the audience know that we were thinking of them first, and enabled them to sit back, relax, and enjoy the event.
The Open House
April 6, I provided opening remarks and handed it over to Saurabh as Toastmaster of the day. He welcomed everyone and presented an Open House deck with the Toastmasters video to provide an overview of a general meeting. At mid-point I glanced and saw at least 117 dialed into the meeting.
The entire leadership team was monitoring the chat and answered questions. I was monitoring our shared mailbox as we had additional requests to join even after the event started. We had 2 key speakers, Table Topics and Q&A. Having a virtual event does not come without challenges. We did lose the connection to one of the speakers during a speech, we pivoted to Table Topics and I supported the technical side to get the speaker to rejoin the meeting and continue the presentation.
After the event, emails arrived wanting to learn more about our club. Saurabh quickly sent out our membership form, Pathways flyer with a pre-made thank you email within 24 hours. The leadership team has access to the Talk and Thrive Communication Toolkit which contains premade content, (this is a great HPL project). I use this toolkit multiple times a week as it has content for a variety of audiences and situations. To keep an audience member engaged, you want to respond quickly, and as we have our day jobs, the toolkit is a great document to search for what you need and copy and paste into email.
We had 4 new members join in the first 24 hours after the event, and an additional 4 a week after. To put this in perspective, a year ago we had 8 members and teetering on closing, now we have 18 members with a 99% retention rate.
This could not have happened without the dedicated energy of this amazing team for making this event a success. The leadership team and the club members worked hard to support this event from pre to post. Thank you!
- Understand your audience and create communications that inspires and engages.
- Connecting early with newsletter editors and providing content and graphics in advance of the deadline is important as they may need time to review and align with their editorial standards.
- Having a deadline helps us understand if we need to look at a different meeting platform due to the size of the audience, and we can address questions early on with a FAQ.
- Sending out the FAQ in advance of the meeting was key, it helped the audience understand what to expect, and continued to build excitement.
- Next time, we will automate this process. If they are interested, they can complete a form and the link to the meeting will be automatically sent. I underestimated the response and spent many extra hours on Friday and Saturday tracking in a spreadsheet, and I really, really, don’t want to do that again. I create forms and automated email notifications for my work, next time, I’ll apply those same skills to our club events.