Swan Speakers Story

Six weeks after we decided to create her, Swan Speakers was chartered.

This new corporate Toastmasters club at Buckinghamshire County Council was set up through a combination of building a great team, getting fantastic support from within the Council as well as in Toastmasters, and rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck in.

It all started with my buying a music stand to practice speeches at home.  So when one of the Strategic Directors and I were doing a series of employee briefings, and she wanted a lectern, I brought the stand in for us to use.  After a few of these briefings, she asked why I had a lectern in the first place and I explained to her about Toastmasters.  She wondered whether that could be something we could do in the council?  That was all the encouragement we needed – Belinda Yare and I had only been talking a few weeks previously about finding a way to get a club started at work.   Within a few days, we had sponsorship funding, corporate support and the encouragement from Division and District – we were on our way!

The first thing we did was start to build a team.  First of all we spoke to people we knew and asked if they wanted to get involved.  Very quickly that gave us five members, all of whom were up for helping to get the club started.  Rebecca who works for internal communications had, in no time at all, put posters up and an intranet announcement.  Bex, who is responsible for a refurbishment project, amongst other things, used her contacts to get us a venue and started to pull together information packs.  Frances, who takes care of training in the organisation, provided the funding, advertising in her training catalogue and started to promote the club to people who had been on other courses that might be relevant.  And then there was Belinda and I who set about learning all there was about setting up a club, and coaching the others in how Toastmasters works.

We connected with other corporate clubs in Microsoft and Vodafone to get ideas, and Belinda visited Microsoft to see a club in action.   There were loads of decisions to make;

  • We decided on 1 hour meetings because as a corporate club we knew it would be hard to get people away from the office for longer.  We experimented with different ways of making everything happen in an hour – we have since decided that this is like Toastmasters on Speed!
  • We discovered that we wouldn’t be able to rely on just one time of the day – there were just too many people who could do either lunchtime or mornings – there weren’t so many takers for after work.  So we decided we would alternate between lunchtimes and mornings on a weekly basis.
  • Initially we thought we would make membership free because we had corporate sponsorship and a free venue, but then we realised that that meant no up front commitment on the part of the member, and we might have problems working out who was a committed member when it came to paying dues to Toastmasters International.  So membership costs £10 for six months.
  • We borrowed and bought equipment and our sponsoring clubs Aylesbury and Thame donated lights and trophies.
  • We picked the name ‘Swan Speakers’ because the Council’s logo has a swan on it, and it seemed catchier than ‘Buckinghamshire County Council Toastmasters’!

We fixed on a launch date for a month hence – it seemed like a long time away then, but it went really quickly.  We met up each week – for the first couple of weeks it was all about organising things, but we started to introduce practice topics sessions for our new members to start to get the Toastmasters experience.  At the last pre-launch meeting, we did a dry run which allowed us to work out what we hadn’t thought of yet, and to allow our team to experience a full Toastmasters meeting – two of them even did their Icebreakers and everyone did a topic. We felt cautiously ready to kick off.

In the first two weeks of advertising, we had thirty people express interest.  We sent all of them information, and we also provided a bit of encouragement – the first 20 people to sign up would get their membership packs straight away, the remainder would have to wait a little while for their packs to arrive.  This worked quite well – we had 13 members before we even launched.  For people at BCC, they know that in the political arena, making things happen requires lots of engagement, stakeholder management and influencing – so Toastmasters is perfect.  The organisation isn’t immune to the public sector cost cutting too – so it provides an opportunity for people to hone up their interviewing skills and confidence.

The launch on the 16th of September was really successful – despite a 7:45 for an 8AM start we had over thirty people at our first meeting – members, guests and supporters from other clubs – we were totally energised by the experience, despite the early start!  Another 5 people signed up.  Our second meeting was at lunchtime and another two people signed up.  There was a BCC leadership conference – we had a stand to raise awareness and encourage more guests to come along. We were then ready to charter, and let all of the people know who were thinking of joining that if they took the plunge by the 30th of September, then they would be able to be a founder member – another five signed up.

So on the 1st of October 2010 we chartered with our 25 members.  We’re fortunate to continue to have a loyal band of people from Aylesbury, Thame and Vale who come along week after week to mentor our new members and take on roles.  Just over a year on, the club is still going strong with members getting strong and stronger at getting their message across – roll on 2012!

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