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How I promoted a Toastmasters event

If you want effective PR, you need a strategy.
Vladimír Záhradník
June 17th, 2020 · 12 min read

I’m not a professional promoter, and I don’t have many opportunities to practice it. Thus, when I had the opportunity to promote the Toastmasters Košice club meeting with a special guest, I took it.

It was the end of January 2020, we had a club officers meeting, and one of the program’s main points was our guest’s educational event from the Bratislava club, Matthew. He had work duties in the east of Slovakia, and on this occasion, he offered to come and see us and prepare a lecture on a topic. What topic, though? We needed to solve that.

We came up with six topics and had our members vote on them. Although not everyone was involved, I sent the results to Matthew. The winning topic was “Why go into club management,” and the runner up was “What can Toastmasters give you?” Matthew liked both, but he chose the latter. He said: “I can include leadership in that topic, too.” We agreed on the date of his speech at 03/02/2020.

Every meeting in our club is hosted by someone. The role rotates among members to improve their organizational skills. And it was this meeting that was to be hosted by me. As Vice President Education, I still communicated with Matthew about his speech. All the information naturally flowed through me. So it was quite convenient that I didn’t have to pass them further. Let’s take a look at what I had to secure or coordinate with other officers:

  • I had to confirm the reservation of the room for the event.
  • I had to cast members for different roles in the meeting. Roles such as the Timer or Ah-Counter are part of every meeting, and it is up to me to assign them to someone in time.
  • I had to agree with Matthew on the topic of his speech.
  • I had to decide what time window to set aside for Matthew during the meeting.
  • Subsequently, I had to adjust the meeting agenda so that we wouldn’t be at the meeting for long. For example, I got rid of the prepared speeches that we normally have.
  • I had to deal with the promotion of the event. At that time, we didn’t have a PR person in the club, so I had a free hand.

It may seem like a lot, and it is. But after almost a year as Vice President Education, I coordinate these things regularly. I have improved so much in planning and organizing that it’s no longer a challenge for me. At the same time, I knew I wouldn’t spend much time on stage either. Matthew, the star of the evening, will be there. I wanted to make the organization of the event challenging and learn something new again. I said to myself that I would also promote the event, just the way much larger events usually are.

PR in the club

PR is usually taken care of at the club by a designated officer, Vice President Public Relations. We had one for some time, but after a while, he left the club. With his departure, our club found itself in a bit of chaos. The rest of us took upon the role of PR. And let me tell you, doing PR takes an enormous amount of time. Our PR worked in emergency mode. Usually, we added a new event on Facebook, a short general description, a photo, and that was it. And because it was several of us taking care of PR, it lacked a clear concept and consistency.

The club lacked a unified PR strategy

Each of us communicated with the audience a little differently, and it appeared amateurish. I took the upcoming event as an opportunity to show what it might look like. It was a big commitment, but I only took it for a few weeks and only for this one event. However, I still use what I’ve learned.

Matthew as the main attraction for new members

I realized the potential of the meeting. There wasn’t much I could’ve messed up. Our members would come anyway — but our club could’ve gained a lot with the right PR. I saw an opportunity to use Matthew as a magnet to recruit new members. I would entice the guests to come and see this event, and Matthew would do the rest. In more than five years since working at Toastmasters, he has become a successful speaker and host. By leading his club, he has also acquired leadership skills. Guests can see themselves in Matthew: “Look, this can be you in five years.”

Matej Petrenka
Matej Petrenka

Although anyone is welcome in the club, I wanted to focus on a group of people who are actively working on themselves, go to various seminars, webinars, are constantly improving, and Matthew can “sell” the Toastmasters concept to them. All it takes is just a few such active people in the club, and then it starts to grow naturally. You don’t have to give tasks to such people; they make them up themselves. And before you know it, their activity attracts others.

However, such guests often don’t even come to us. And even if they do, they only see prepared speeches by less experienced speakers. In other words, they often don’t see the potential of what they could learn after seeing only one event. However, when they listen to Matthew’s personal story and see his confident presence, that’s another thing. I knew Matthew personally from several Toastmasters events, and I knew who I was going to promote.

Intense two weeks

Preparation for the meeting began at the end of January, but it moved very slowly. There was no reason to hurry. Matthew and I agreed to set aside 45 minutes for him on stage. At the same time, we already had the topic of his speech chosen, and the event’s agenda adjusted. Two weeks before the meeting, I switched into a higher gear. From then on, we started to be in regular e-mail communication with Matthew. Regarding PR, I had no one to turn to in the club since no one had the experience I needed. I addressed Matthew directly with a request:

— Hi Matthew, I’d like to start talking about promotion with you. I’d like to do it the way it’s done at larger events. I imagine that I would make a new post about the event once a day or two, either about the speaker or the topic. Would you help me with that? It would be ideal for a start if you sent me a photo of you talking.

— Hi, Vlado. I am sending you some photos for promotion and a short description of me. Darinka from Trnava or Ľuboš can best help you with marketing.

To elaborate, Darinka is from the Toastmasters Trnava club and Ľuboš from the Slovenskí Toastmasters club (from Bratislava). Darinka currently works as the club president but has also been dealing with PR for a long time. I contacted her, described in detail my intention with PR, and asked her for help. She willingly agreed.

Several important findings emerged from our debate:

  • Create a good description of the event
  • Almost no one knows Matthew. Focus on the topic you want to present. You can introduce him in more detail later
  • Focus the communication on guests
  • Put the place, date, time, and logo of the club in the photo of the event. People are more visual
  • Get inspired by graphics on the Internet. You need simple graphics that looks professional
  • The whole graphics must be matching
  • Invite members of your club to the event and ask them to confirm their participation. It adds gravity to your event

So we have the basics. But I had another problem — should I ask guests to reserve a seat? How do I know how many will come? Will the currently reserved room for 30 people be enough, or do I have to prepare for the need to book a larger room if there’s interest? Darinka told me two things about this:

  • The necessity to confirm registration can be a complication that can discourage guests
  • From her experience, a maximum of seven guests came to an actively promoted event

Let’s begin with PR

I decided to do the promo on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Facebook is our main platform, and we have almost a thousand followers on it. That’s why I focused on it the most. Other platforms were more of an experiment — I believe in LinkedIn and Twitter’s potential, but we are just getting started on these networks. I didn’t have high expectations for them. The content published on these platforms was almost identical, but I slightly adapted it; mainly on Twitter. We also published the event’s announcement in the local newspaper, but I didn’t address journalists since it’s not such a big event.

If the promo is to look great, it must not end with the creation of the event. You should keep reaching out to people until the last minute, and you should increase the number of posts just before the event. I divided people into two groups:

  • Those who have expressed interest in the event on Facebook by selecting “I’m interested,” or “I’m attending”
  • The others who are either not yet aware of the event or have not yet been sufficiently interested. The communication on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn is also focused on this group

If someone confirms their interest in your event on Facebook, they will start seeing all your posts about it on their timeline. This way, you can effectively target the group of people on the fence on whether to come or not. Communication can be more direct and can reveal behind the scenes preparations. I published posts in the event under my own name to make it look more personal.

However, it is not enough to publish posts only in the event. You still have the potential to reach other people who either do not yet know about the event or are not yet interested. And that’s exactly what I used our Facebook page for. And also, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. This communication is aimed at a wider group of people and is more formal.

I started by creating graphics. I needed to come up with a simple concept that I would use in all the posts. I watched several other events for preparation, and I was also looking for software that already has some ready-made templates. Finally, I created graphics in Canva and Inkscape.

I used a semi-transparent bottom bar in each image, where I always stated the name of the event, place, date, and time. I also placed a transparent club logo on each photo. I created several color variants of the logo, but in the end, I used the black logo and made it transparent. That logo is the one I use most often today. Overall, I think I did a good job.

Event banner
Event banner

I formulated the very first post in a personal spirit. Notice that the picture shows a girl dreaming and thinking. The text looked something like this: “Stories rule the world. Did you experience the moment when you were afraid to say something? That’s what Toastmasters is about, too. Overcoming your fear is half the battle…”

And so I gradually bridged Matthew and introduced him, so far only in hints — how long he’d been working in Toastmasters, how he’d improved as a leader, found his dream job, and how he makes a living. I also mentioned that he hosted a conference in Košice that several guests might know. It could also entice them to come and see us. I ended the whole post with his statement, which is in the header of each of his e-mails.

Matthew loves people, believes in a critical mass of people, and believes that his approach can change the world.

I started my first update in the event by introducing the agenda. I didn’t want the guests to feel like they were just listening to Matthew. I wanted the program (albeit only preliminary) to be clear to everyone.

Publishing of an agenda
Publishing of an agenda

I wanted them to know that they can also look forward to improvisations and that they will also see some evaluators who will review the whole evening.

Creating additional content

Ideally, you should add new posts to the event at least once every two or three days. In my case, it didn’t work out — I didn’t have enough content to publish. I had the idea that I would give Matthew a few questions that he would answer by e-mail and that I would publish a short status every day with his answer, a photo, and an invitation to the event. I also asked him if he could find some time to record a video invitation. Video has the potential to engage.

Those questions were:

  • How did you hear about Toastmasters?
  • Why did you go into management?
  • Can you give one specific example of where Toastmasters helped you in real life?
  • Can you name one or two things you found out about yourself, thanks to Toastmasters?

Unfortunately, e-mail communication was delayed. I used information from his home club and also searched the Internet. I found some mentions from his other events, which he hosted. From this information, I compiled another post.

Introducing Matthew
Introducing Matthew

I also used Matthew’s status post, in which he talked about how he was going to various Slovak Toastmasters clubs. Ours was supposed to be his last stop. Great, I shared it in the event for guests who were already interested in Matthew. This information did not go to the Facebook page, where I communicated more formally.

To bridge the time before Matthew answered my questions, I went about it differently. Although he was the main star of the evening, he wasn’t the only one. Guests need to be prepared for what will happen. I had photos from a previous club meeting that we hadn’t posted on the Facebook page yet. We usually do it right after the meeting, but we’d forgotten about it. I did not admit this mistake. On the contrary, I wrote a post in a positive spirit that fits into the concept:

Now that preparations for the next meeting are in full swing; let’s briefly recall the previous one…

Photo from the last club meeting
Photo from the last club meeting

As people say: I saved the day.

I succeeded and got the material for one more post. Sometime around that time, our new member, Mirka, wrote a blog about how public speaking terrifies her. I took this chance, and used her post in my promo. I just had to adjust the post to fit my concept.

Mirka's Blog Post
Mirka's Blog Post

As our new member, Mirka offered the view of someone who had just started. On the other hand, Matthew represented someone who had been working at Toastmasters for a long time. It was the contrast that was tempting, and I took advantage of it.

You will be able to hear Matthew on Monday […] but we thought we would show you the view of someone who has just joined Toastmasters — our new member Mirka.

It is in Mirka that guests can see themselves. At the same time, they see her blog well in advance, so they have time to read it. I put this post on all our social networks.

Sometime around that time, Matthew finally wrote me back. I had the answers to my questions, but it was the day before the event. I knew that I would no longer implement my original idea of ​​publishing them gradually. However, it would be a pity not to make use of them at all. I made one comprehensive post in which I wrote my questions and Matthew’s answers. I had to edit his answers a bit to make them easier to read.

Questions for Matthew
Questions for Matthew

The day before the event, I published information in the event page with a photo of the room where we’ll be located. There were also instructions for guests.

Where you find us?
Where you find us?

Day of the event

On this day, all pieces of the puzzle were put together rapidly. Coincidentally, I went to a copywriting workshop at the time. I wish it had taken place two weeks earlier. I took the opportunity and gave a behind-the-scenes look at the event as I travel to Košice.

Train ride
Train ride

Matthew calls me in about an hour: “Hi Vlado, I didn’t have time to record that video invitation. If you want, I can do it now.” I replied: “Thanks Matthew, but it won’t be necessary. We did a good job with the promo, and those who want to come will come. Don’t worry about it.”

I completed my workshop: I was the most active participant there; I even won a notebook. After the workshop, I got into a debate with about three participants about startups and such. We would have debated for hours, but the others were already pressed for time.

The workshop took place on the premises of my former university. I was not too fond of it, and I had to walk through the university park to see how it changed. I still had enough time, so I went to the city center.

About two hours before the meeting, Matthew calls that he will be at the venue in about an hour. We agreed that I would come to him as soon as I could. And so I did. When I arrived, Matthew was already in the cafe. We got into a friendly debate, and later two other members from the club joined us, who came a little earlier. Time passed pleasantly, and at about six in the evening, I suggested that it was time to get ready. I asked the others to help me prepare the room.

The Event

At first glance, I noticed that there are more of us than usual. PR obviously worked. About six guests and most of the members came. I was making notes and arguing with Matthew about the last details. He asked me to make an “introductory round” with the guests and find out what they wanted to learn.

Matthew did not have his lecture set in stone. He wanted to make it interactive, and I was happy to help him with that. At the same time, I took the time to ask the guests where they found out about the event. Everyone said unanimously: Facebook. However, I do not regret the promo on other networks. It takes time to build a following.

The moment I gave Matthew the floor as a host, I was relieved. I knew the hardest part was behind me. People have come, the event is in progress, and I finally have a three-quarter hour break. I sat back completely and watched the show. People actively asked questions, and we had a pleasant atmosphere. They also asked during the break when Matthew finished. After the break, the club meeting was no different from the others. Table Topics and various evaluations came, such as where we broke the grammar rules.

After the meeting, I invited the guests to an after-party down to the cafe, where the debate continued.

How did it turn all turn out?

Overall, I rate the whole event and PR as very successful. We did not get new members that day, but we got the club’s awareness out among other people.

It was March 2, 2020, and it was our last club meeting, where we saw in-person, for a long time. Something, which none of us knew at the time. We had a officer’s meeting in about two weeks, and the day after that, the government ordered a meeting restriction due to the coronavirus. Suddenly we were facing completely new problems. But I’ll tell you about it next time.

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