Building synergies with companies (“a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements as resources or efforts” Webster) is a precondition for Toatsmasters clubs to grow corporate clubs: the Nokia house club emerged from Helsinki Toastmasters being hosted at Nokia’s premisses, ExxonMobil started its own in-house club in Budapest after hosting the meetings of the Budapest Toastmasters club, etc. we all know such examples.
In this article, Luís Marrana, Ana Isabel Lage Ferreira, Rui Henriques tell us the story of how looking for new challenges for its members,
the Oporto club went on stage at the FNAC and established a great synergy with the company. Even if a FNAC club or any other corporate club has not directly ensued from this experience – that was not the main objective, it illustrates both the dynamism of the approach of the Oporto Toastmasters in responding to their club members aspirations and how companies are receptive in many ways to Toastmasters vision and mission.
OTC and FNAC: When two complementary needs come together you get synergy
OTC stands for Oporto Toastmasters Club. We are the second oldest club in Portugal, having chartered in late 2006; we are one of four Toastmasters clubs in the north Portugal. A year ago we moved from fortnightly to weekly sessions. The response was one of great enthusiasm: growth in membership with high attendance and active participation at each session. We faced an increased challenge in scheduling all speech requests, in creating as many opportunities as possible for members to evolve in their communication and leadership tracks … The challenge has been to strive to continuously improve the quality of our sessions.
To respond to these new challenges we decided to hold sessions outside our usual meeting place. This has helped take the Toastmasters concept to the wider community whilst offering our members new (dis)comfort zones to practise.
Several “new” meeting places resulted from this initiative. We had several unforgettable open air sessions at public parks in the summer. We also met at the emblematic Casa do Infante, birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator who coordinated the well-documented Portuguese maritime discoveries more than five hundred years ago. Further, we received an affirmative answer from FNAC to hold a session at two of their stores.
FNAC is a well-known European retailer of books, music and electronic equipment. Among many innovative features at their stores, FNAC have a stage area. It is generally used to attract public to the store through live book launches with author autograph sessions or for live music entertainment.
Strategically situated inside the store, this “stage” space contributes to the bottom line of the business by drawing the public’s attention to the products being promoted or by inviting them to have a cup of a coffee at the nearby bar.
We were thrilled at the opportunity to hold sessions on the FNAC stage. We were given a very tight schedule by FNAC so we had to adapt a standard Toastmasters session to the given conditions. Sessions would open with a brief learning moment outlining the Toastmasters concept and a setting of the mood … One prepared speech and a broader than normal Table Topics segment was planned. We then sent the store managers the complete agenda for the session. Unfamiliar with Toastmasters, the store managers were impressed by our detail, number of activities and overall organisation.
In the days leading up to the sessions we dedicated valuable time to stirring things up by creating a buzz with our comments on FNAC’s events page online and on our own Facebook fan page. This helped raise awareness among the “FNAC public” and also among past members of our club.
On the respective days, the sessions went off very smoothly. As the public arrived we offered agendas and were on hand to explain what Toastmasters is whilst making people feel both welcomed and at ease. Once the session(s) started we noticed curious passers-by standing around mesmerized by the speeches, the humour and the positive vibes. By crowding the neighbouring areas they gave rise to further attention by others.
At one of the sessions, a family which had turned down the invitation to sit at one of the available tables because they were in a hurry ended up remaining until the end. They watched attentively throughout, holding on to their intended purchases before proceeding to the checkout counter once the session was over. There were many others who kept looking back over their shoulders, slowing down to observe a little more of what was happening on stage.
In the end, all the work paid off. Here are some of the lessons learned from this experience:
1. The organisational skills we practise at Toastmasters are unique.
The sessions were planned almost effortlessly as all members knew exactly what to do.
2. Although there is a defined structure you can always adapt it.
We easily adjusted the structure of the session to fit in with time and space constraints.
3. The importance of anticipating audience’s response.
The moments of silence intended for use by all those present to complete the evaluation sheet as feedback to the speaker of the prepared speech did not work out well. Some people thought the session was over and left.
4. Different settings afford new learning opportunities.
Many of our members used a microphone for the first time. We have since decided to make a microphone available for use at our regular sessions so that our members can practise.
5. Use social media to advertise and spread the word.
Take full advantage of how people connect and share information these days.
As if this was not enough, we had a number of our “FNAC audience” coming to our subsequent regular sessions. Some have stayed on and become new members of OTC. Recently we received an email from FNAC’s Events Manager enquiring about our availability to participate in additional initiatives with them.
It was a win-win situation. Positive synergy. More good news is sure to follow in the near future!
Luís Marrana, ACB, ALB
Luís is a OTC member since May 2010 and was Club Treasurer in 2011/2012. We won several speeches and evaluation contests at club and area level.
Ana Isabel Lage Ferreira, CC, ALB
Ana is a OTC member since January 2011 where she served as Vice-President Education and President. She is currently Area Governor for L4.
Rui Henriques, DTM
Rui is member of three clubs (OTC, Mind Business, TecMaia TM). He has held almost all officer roles: SAA, Vice-President Education, President and Area Governor. He truly lives and represents the Toastmaster spirit.
More moments from the Oporto Toastmasters club life