Aug 14 2006

Publish your Community “Shingle”

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How to invite people to your community

Publishing a page on the Web that describes the activities and flavor of a community of practice can be a great invitation that encourages prospective members to consider joining. This page combines the text and images from a community shingle that I developed for a community in which I participated for five years. It was successful in increasing our membership (from 6-7 active members up to 20-25). Below, I insert comments (indented, in italics) about what’s important for this kind of of page. Among other things, this page illustrates how almost all communities use technology, even when they are not distributed across the globe.  A more analytical view is on the Technology for communities tools wiki.

Welcome to the Tabor Toastmasters community!

Goal: Our goal is to improve our communication skills and help others do the same. The ability to speak in front of a group without fear leads to improved confidence and opens many doors. Good communication skills are vital to furthering careers and improving relationships of all kinds. We welcome and encourage guests! The best way to find out what we’re all about is to come and participate in one of our meetings. Then you can determine if Tabor Toastmasters is a good fit for you. Tabor Toastmasters is less formal than most Toastmasters groups and we pride ourselves on having a membership with diverse backgrounds and opinions. It makes our meetings much more interesting and helps us all to appreciate other viewpoints. There is also a range of speaking abilities within our group. Everyone, whether beginner or advanced, is encouraged in a supportive atmosphere.If you come to visit us, this is what you might expect from a typical meeting:

Introduction: The President welcomes everyone, shares announcements, and introduces the day’s toastmaster (master of ceremonies) who hosts the meeting, introduces speakers and practices the art of meeting facilitation.

Making the purpose of the community really clear: most people join a community of practice because of its domain, although the feeling that there’s “good company” keeps them involved. Because this community meets face-to-face, this page uses an “activities” theme to give people an idea of what it’s about.

Table Topics: This is one of the most enjoyable parts of the Toastmasters meeting! Table Topics are generally accompanied by quite a bit of laughter – and often some serious thought too. After the topic has been introduced, we go around the table and every one is given one minute to speak on the subject. Guests are not obliged to participate, but we love it when they do! Topics range from serious political questions to “What is your favorite comfort food?” You never know ahead of time what the subject will be. The point of the exercise is to practice standing up and speaking on a topic (any topic!) without preparation. It’s not only a great exercise; it’s also a lot of fun and occasionally enlightening.

Freshen up the photos over time: this group photo above was taken after the group had grown back to “the right size” (some other photos tried to conceal the fact that membership had dwindled, so as not to discourage people from joining). Many new members said that the web page had motivated them to come visit. Participating made them join.

The Speeches: Usually there are two speakers scheduled for each meeting. The speeches are typically 5-10 minutes long. The day’s Toastmaster introduces each speaker. After each speech, members are given two minutes to provide a written evaluation of the speech. Evaluations focus on the positive aspects of the speech as well as any constructive criticism or suggestions.
The Evaluations: In addition to the written evaluations, people volunteer to provide oral evaluations for the speeches. We often do group evaluations that lead to discussions about communication strategies, techniques and personal goals. Learning to evaluate other people’s speeches is a great way to learn to speak!

Suggests some of the rigor that’s part of the community’s regular practice.

Scheduling: Last, but not least – a very important part of the meeting! This is the time that people sign up to cover various roles at future meetings. Rotating the roles allows every one an opportunity to speak; to evaluate; to lead the meeting as the day’s Toastmaster; and to choose the Table Topic. E-mail some individual for details.

Special events: We even deliver lectures at our potluck social events in the winter and in the summer.

Informal snapshots of community activities are inexpensive but communicate a lot about the level of formality and tone of a community’s “being together.”

We meet at A specific location (with instructions on how to get there) in the basement conference room at 7:00 am every Wednesday…
Call an individual’s name (with their phone number), or another individual who’s the first person’s backup (with their phone number) to schedule your visit.

Suggesting the many roles in our community and the specific steps needed to participate…

Search http://www.toastmasters.org/ for additional information. The www.portlandtoastmasters.org
site has links to a few other Toastmasters clubs in the area and has an extensive Frequently Asked Questions page.

Being generous by acknowledging other groups (even though we need members!).

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