When guests visit Club Awesome, one thing we often hear from them is, “I looked up a few local clubs, but I really liked what I saw on your website” … which is my cue to beam with pride.
There are certainly limits to what a website can do for you as a recruiting tool — what guests experience in person has to measure up to what they saw online — but a good website can attract guests and, ultimately, members. A bad website can also scare them away. And while I promote WordPress for Toastmasters and have considerable ego wrapped up in the idea that it is the best online platform for clubs, the software is less important than what you do with it. I’ve seen some very uninspired WordPress-based club websites, as well as some good Free Toast Host examples.
I’m only sharing the positive examples, but here is what makes the good ones good:
- They tell an attractive story, in words, images, and maybe video about the club experience.
- They clearly explain, right up top, where and when meetings are held, how to attend as a guest, and that guests are always welcome.
- They focus on answering questions people with little or no knowledge of Toastmasters are likely to have, rather than on insider information for current members. Particularly on the home page, avoid navel gazing.
- The images, videos, and colors used are carefully chosen to support a clear, welcoming message.
- Bonus: More depth beyond the home page. Examples: Member directory, blog articles, link to an active Facebook Group or Facebook Page.
I like the Miami-Wynwood Toastmasters example shown above because it features a collage of dynamic images: four Toastmasters in the act of speaking, not posing woodenly with a ribbon or a certificate.
In fact, it inspired me to add a semi-similar image at the top of the Club Awesome home page.
My version does feature a ribbon-passing photo (with smiling, friendly faces), but also some images of club members in action. As is true of the Miami-Wynwood home page, the image is followed by a couple of paragraphs of “why this is the right club for you” copy, then details on where and when we meet. We include a Google Maps link, and they embed the actual map.
What to Avoid
The negative examples I cite here might not necessarily scare a potential visitor away, if your club has established a good reputation in other ways (offline word of mouth) and meets at a convenient place and time. However, we know how important first impressions are, and these days someone’s first impression of your club is likely to be an impression they get online, before you even get them in the door.
Things I recommend against:
- Outdated information, like a message congratulating the “new” officers … from 3 years ago.
- Insider messages that only make sense to people who are already in Toastmasters.
- Home pages that are all text, no images, video, or other eye-catching elements.
- Group photos and ribbon/certificate passing photos that fall flat. Not all group photos are bad, but if the group is small and the members don’t look particularly happy, ask yourself why you’re sharing it. Try to feature dynamic, engaging images, particularly at the top of the page.
- Photos where no one is smiling or looking at the camera. One local club prominently features a photo taken from the back of the room where everyone is looking in the other direction.
- – don’t think you should use every available font, or make everything bold and italic (the whole point of those is emphasis, and you can’t put equal emphasis on everything).
- Wild, random color choices. A simple, consistent design tends to be much better.
Let’s get back to the positives.
Video is one of the best ways of showing Toastmasters in action. Here’s a good use of video, right at the top of the home page of Hobe Sound Toastmasters. The still image is eye-catching, making it more likely that a visitor will click “Play.”
Club Awesome uses two video clips, not at the very top of the page but a short scroll down. home page, you find a video of club members endorsing the club experience, and another showing what it’s like to receive a standing ovation (which we customarily give to every Ice Breaker).
We also often post blogs that feature speeches that the speakers were particularly proud of, as well as contest-winning speeches (with the speaker’s permission).
See my article on How to Routinely Record and Share Toastmasters Speech Videos for tips on both the mechanics and the etiquette.
Shooting video is also a way you can get better photography for your website because you can pull still images from the video of a speaker to capture a moment where they are making a dramatic movement. Here are how-to instructions using free tools for Windows and Mac.
Going Beyond the Home Page
A good club home page can do a lot for you, but adding additional web pages or blog posts does a few things for you:
- Gives the interested website visitor more to explore and an impression of the club that is more than skin deep.
- Creates alternate entry points: a website visitor may start with an interesting page or post found through search or social media, then navigate to the home page to get the basic details.
- Gives you an alternate link to promote on social media, beyond your club home page.
Plantation Toastmasters has created a Speakers Gallery where their most accomplished / ambitious speakers have their own pages. You can see they use a group photo on their home page, but it’s an impressively large group where people are smiling and looking into the camera.
Club Awesome sometimes builds blog posts around videos of outstanding speeches, like this one from Dr. Andrew Bern.
When you feature an individual club member, you create an opportunity for that members and their friends to share and like any social media postings of the article. Website visitors who read the blog and / or watch the video will have a point of reference when they come to the club and meet that person.
You can also encourage members who like to write (or, at least, are willing to write) to share a blog post about how to write a speech, lead a volunteer organization, or any other topic on which they have expertise. They can get Toastmasters credit for the Write a Compelling Blog Pathways project.
Access to a built-in blog is one of the reasons I recommend WordPress. However, if you’re on Free Toast Host or some other platform, you can also post links to articles on LinkedIn (which has its own blog-like tool for publishing articles), Medium, or some other publishing web publishing platform.
More Positive Examples
Creative framing of a group photo, with Spanish language content to emphasize the nature of Broward Bilingual Toastmasters Club.
Home page photo taken from an interesting angle: Delray Newsmakers.
Do You Really Need a Website?
The next two examples, the official website you get directed to from Find a Club on toastmasters.org are a Facebook page and an Eventbrite page.
In both cases, I think these clubs do a good job of sharing images and information that might entice someone to visit. On the other hand, I would argue these options inherently limit the kind of content you can post.
I absolutely think you should take advantage of Facebook as part of your club marketing plan, and it has a lot of advantages. Posting an image and a couple of sentences to Facebook is easier than creating a blog post; on the other hand if you want to post more in-depth information and control the presentation of your content, that is not as easy on Facebook. Also, not everyone is on Facebook, and some of the people you want to reach may actively dislike the service.
In other words, I think it’s better to use online services like this as an extension and amplifier of what you do on your website, not as a substitute for it.
Worth the Effort
Maybe you don’t have time to write a dozen blog posts per week, or share tons of videos on your website. You don’t have to go crazy. But I hope I have convinced you it’s worth investing some time and effort in making your website more attractive and interesting for potential members to explore — and eliminating the negatives that could be scaring them away.
David F. Carr, DTM, is the District Webmaster for 2019-2020, a Past President and VPE of Club Awesome in Coral Springs, FL, the Charter President and current Treasurer of Online Presenters Toastmasters, and the organizer of the WordPress for Toastmasters open source software project.
He is a writer and editor with years of experience at technology trade publications such as Internet World, Baseline Magazine, and Information Week. He wrote the book Social Collaboration for Dummies and has keynoted at technology conferences internationally. See davidfcarr.com