I practice speaking through a local Toastmasters club. Our club has dwindled through the pandemic. To help build it back, I volunteered to take on the role of VP of Public Relations. Last Saturday, I ran a special event to try and build membership.

It started with an idea to write an article for a local paper about our club president receiving a special service award. The benefit of this is that someone else (the paper) would be promoting our club to every house in the neighborhoods in our area.

That meant we had to give our president an award and I thought that we could amplify the impact of that by using the award as a pretext to activate past members. “Would you come and honor our president?” was the message that our VP of Membership reached out to these people about.

I also invited two guest speakers and asked them to speak on leadership.

We promoted the event on Meetup, Facebook, and I posted flyers on three local coffee shop walls.

The result was that we doubled our attendance at that meeting. That sounds like a success, but I doubt any of the attendees will show up at future meetings. Of the new people who attended, all of them were past members, guest speakers, or family member invitees of active members.

In reflecting on the campaign, I came up with some hypothesis:

  • Flyers don’t work (0 attendees from coffee shops.)
  • Social media doesn’t work (0 attendees from Meetup or Facebook)
  • Leadership as a topic doesn’t work (0 unaffiliated people overall)
  • Summertime is a bad season to recruit in.
  • People need more lead time to plan to attend (about a week of visible promotion.)

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that these are true. But none of these hypothesis stand up to scrutiny. I can find evidence that runs counter to each idea.

Similarly, I’ve had many conversations with other entrepreneurs and heard things like, “PPC doesn’t work” or “productized consulting doesn’t work.”

Really, it’s that one specific application of a tactic didn’t lead to the results the person was looking for. This creates a false lesson which limits options and doesn’t produce anything of value.

What I know from this experience is that several things had no effect in this context. And also that something did work: direct invitations to guest speakers and past members.

This is a pretty common experience when it comes to innovation. Most things don’t work. The trick is to start with something that does, in some context, and then try to set yourself up to learn.

For me, I’ll run another special event in a couple of months. We’ll do a direct invitation campaign to speakers, members, and people in our members’ network targeting people who might possibly join. Beyond that, I’ll test some of the variables I identified above using models that have worked for other clubs.

More on figuring things out: Navigating the Murk

Featured image is an old Japanese rendition of a Russian will-o’-the-wisp by Kaikidan Ekotoba used under public domain.