In speaking about why people like Toastmasters: some people will say that’s it’s the communication, some people will say that it’s the leadership, but in reality ……….. it’s all about the people. Nothing is more evident than this, than in the following anecdote.
I had the pleasure of performing the “Welcome” assignment for Parramatta Toastmasters Club on Thursday 2nd August. For what can be regarded by some as a relatively minor assignment of two minutes duration, the assignment is actually a major assignment of paramount importance that illustrates that the underlying foundation of Toastmasters is: ….. people.
For anyone to visit an established group of people that already know each other and appear as a cohesive group, then it can and normally is, a very harrowing experience for the visitor. An anticipatory experience that can summon all of Sigmund Freud’s demons that motivate and propel the human instinct of tribalism. All sorts of doubts and apprehensions are rampantly competing for frontal lobe attention – “What if I sound like a fool?”, “What if I stutter and stumble?”, “What if I’m asked a question and am suddenly and profoundly dumb founded and suffer paralysis of the mouth and mind?” all leading to the primordial demonic destroyer of all time: ……. “What if they don’t like me?”
Enter the importance of the “Welcome”. The Welcome is not to formally announce the names of visitors in alphabetical, lyrical, categorical and numerical order for the benefit of established members, it’s function is to ease the individual into the established tribe – and ease them in so that they feel as if they might be starting to be a part of the tribe – that they are starting to feel an experience of being “welcome”.
The Welcome assignment doesn’t start with the words “Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman” – it starts with being one of the first to arrive at the club. Selecting a strategic position for vigilantly scanning and detecting visitors as they arrive and to be the first to establish contact with them. Talking to them, welcoming them, subtlely asking them questions (to gain insightful and helpful information for their formal welcome) and assisting them in ordering their meal and selecting their seat – almost being a defacto Assistant Vice President Membership.
In the formal welcome session, create genuine inviting warmth to make each visitor feel individually and especially welcome and to start each visitor feeling a sense of belonging and set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
The two things that most people remember are the first and the last aspect of an experience (called primacy and recency) and the welcome is their first encounter with Toastmasters. A good welcome will bring them back, a bad one will break them.
Far from being a minor two minute assignment the Welcome is a major assignment of paramount importance that illustrates that the underlying principle of Toastmasters is people. While we aspire to the dizzy heights of excellence in communication and distinction in leadership the underlying foundation will always be people. Warmly welcome them, interest them, involve them and keep them.
P.S. If it wasn’t for people, we’d have no need for communication or leadership.
John Nichols is a member of Parramatta Toastmasters, a Professional Civil Engineer, Engineers Australia Sydney Division Deputy President 2012 and President Elect 2013.