Kickoff Meetings – Episode 8

I went to a kick off meeting this week.  I’ve lost count of how many I’ve gone to.  Some were very successful.  Others… no.  Not.

Many of those I’ve attended were corporate start-ups.  I schedule my own working hours so I can attend these during the day, which makes me special?  No, not really.  Just available.  There are a lot of Toastmasters up in Cleveland who can arrange their work schedules to go down the street to a site just as easily as I can drive up about 60 miles.

I have never been in charge of these meetings, but I think I’ve had enough experience to talk about these things and why I think you should make the effort to get to kick off meetings.

Kick the tires of the kickoff meeting

Kick the tires of the kickoff meeting – we’re from northeastern Ohio, so Goodyear is our image of choice.

Today, on the table – topics for Toastmasters kicks the tires of the kickoff meeting.


Kick off meetings sound like they may be something like the kickoff of a football game.  Everyone’s in place, everyone’s waiting for the ball to be in the air and we take off and show our stuff. We can take that ball all the way to the end zone.   Go for the touchdown.

That’s not a bad way to look at it.  A well-done and organized kick off meeting has half a dozen or so people who know Toastmasters.  We know the format, we know where we fit on the agenda. Organization?  Who needs that?

This is an issue I’m having with my club and I’ve seen this in the kick offs as well:  we’re gonna wing it.  We’ll get a couple of DTMs, an area governor and or a division officer, and we’ll make the magic happen.

The magic does not happen.

Let’s go kick the tires of a kickoff meeting.

Kicking the Driver’s side front tire:

A good meeting has the team prepared in advance.  I will know if I’m giving the speech or if I’m doing table topics.  This gives me the opportunity to prepare and refine my speech.  I have a speech I’ve used at 3 kick-offs.  I must admit, every time I’ve given this speech, it’s bombed.  Really bombed.  Bad.  Nuclearly bad.

So if I’m going to be the speaker, I’m going to need some time to write a new speech and maybe give it to my club. I can test drive it before I get up before a group of non-Toastmasters.  I can be sure to get the sales pitch to work.

I recently had a surprise at a kickoff – I was the speaker.

Knowing that my last kick off speech is so bad and it had been so long since I’d given it – I wasn’t going back there.  I pulled out my CC and found an empty speech (Visual Aids) (that completed that CC!) and started thinking.  Smoke might have been coming out of my ears.  I created an impromptu speech about giving impromptu speeches.  I used my hat and scarf (it was cold in Cleveland up by the lake!) and a CC and CL manual as my visual aids.

Saying that this was a pretty good speech may allow you to think that everything I just said wasn’t true.  I had a great crowd and they rolled with me – even when I picked up the wrong manual mid speech and then whispered to an area governor across the table “I didn’t really do that, right?”

I think I pulled it off – I did a lot of humor based on a table topics list I’d just done at my club last week.  But boy o boy, that was not fun.

Passenger side front tire:  Food at a kick off.If necessary, a good kickoff meeting menu is a submarine sandwich.

I have mixed feelings about food at kick off meetings. If the meeting is at lunch, then yes.  If the meeting has the space to put the food out, then yes.  If the meeting site was changed in less than 24 hours before the meeting, then NO.  If the meeting is in the evening and is a community club looking for charter members, then yes, probably.

Food is distracting.  That smell pulls people’s attention away.  They’re trying to decide between pepperoni and sausage, I’m trying to not eat because I want to be able to talk at any moment – without a mouth full of food.  I won’t eat at a kick-off until the end unless we have specific time to eat before the meeting starts.  Then I will, to be sociable.  And usually, I’m hungry.

I have a different standard for established meetings – I eat at my regular lunchtime club all the time.  But for the kick off, I’d just as soon skip the food.

If there’s going to be food, I’d go for cold food like sub sandwiches, not pizza.  It’s equally messy, but it won’t matter if it gets cold.  If the food gets there late for whatever reason, it won’t matter so much.  Finger foods are best – cookies, cupcakes, brownies… probably it’s just my taste talking, but I think those work.

Passenger side rear tire:  Make sure you’ve got the paperwork.

Always have name tags at a kickoff meeting.

Always have name tags at a kickoff meeting.

Driving a meeting without an agenda is like planning a wedding without knowing the name of the bride.  Our kick off guests don’t know what’s going on and even if the meeting Toastmaster explains it, having it in hand is important.  Especially with the discrete parts of the meeting.  While each person who serves as General Evaluator, Table Topics Leader and Toastmaster should be explaining their roles, having some sense of how long these are going to last gives important information to the guests.

Having the membership applications handy helps, regardless of the likelihood of chartering that day.  The cost is always the number one question on anyone’s mind – this provides some clues, even if the application isn’t clear until it’s explained due to the separate TI, club and new member fees.  Toastmaster fliers, such as the Success 101 flyer, are invaluable at these kick off meetings and they’re free for shipping only at the TI online store.  You can get 20 at no charge if you order something else at the same time.

Regardless of what manual you’re working in and what task you’re assigned – bring your CC and CL.  People will want to look at them – be willing to share.  Ok, don’t take a CC that you’re one speech away from finishing unless you’re going to watch it so it won’t get lost.  I’d hate to see you lose 9 speech credits.  If you speak or take a role, get credit.  Never speak without a manual!

Putting together the packet to hand out in advance makes everything so much simpler.  If the person who is in charge of the meeting can’t do it, find another Toastmaster or two who can.  It looks professional.  It looks competent.  It looks good, and then, so do we.  Using table tents and name tags are is also important for the Timer and Grammarian.

Driver’s side rear:  Be on time.

In this case, on time is at least a half hour before the meeting.  Often that’s not really convenient for the host, who’s probably got other things to do than watch us sit around and talk shop.  But that shop talk is important to us, especially if we don’t know each other well.  We catch up, we get the sense of how everyone is feeling and build up our own excitement or to mitigate the hassles of getting there – that’s surprisingly key to success.  I think the best kick off meeting I’ve been to started with the Toastmasters standing in a lobby waiting for the last person to arrive.  We chatted.  We caught up.  We improved on our attitude and I think it worked.  Marathon chartered!  Yeah!

The worst possible thing that we can be is late.  We talk about being respectful of our guests’ and members’ time, but being late shows we really don’t.

So all that’s left might be the spare in the trunk – although I hear that many car companies are getting rid of them in favor of a donut to reduce weight.  Well –ok, let’s add the spare.

Spare tire:  Get more Toastmasters than you need.

I liked a recent kick off meeting’s table topics because the leader called on an experienced Toastmaster first to demonstrate the technique.  We know what Table Topics is – but the fact is it’s a quirky little game that most people need to see before they want to play.  Picking a Toastmaster before picking a random kick off guest makes things go so much better.  You can also assign the Toastmasters to sit around the audience or table to make some whispered comments to explain things, especially when the agenda is changed – times or personnel.

We’ve kicked all the tires of our kick off meeting.  I didn’t mention that I’d rather skip the grammarian report, and would include voting for best Table Topic speaker.  I would also prefer a room where everyone is at the table – those in the back row may have chosen to sit there, but they’re going to feel left out.

That’s what I think about kickoff meetings.

So when you get asked to go to a kick off meeting and there’s any way for you to go, make the effort.  I know I’ve gotten a couple of sponsorship credits with TI because I did these.  Consider my advice – but manage the meeting in the way that you’re most comfortable.  In the end, it’s your presentation and how comfortable you are that demonstrates the best of Toastmasters and encourages the chartering.

One more thing:  if you’re going to be paid for the mileage, take an extra copy of the reimbursement paperwork with you – just stick it in your manuals or Toastmasters bag.  You’ll need it later.  I turned in some receipt at the last conference for something and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was for or how much.  I forgot the paperwork.

Why should you as a Toastmaster working on the DTM go to a kick off meeting?

You get known.  Those people who join will remember you.  If you have plans to move up in the district into elected offices, this is important.  But on a simple, basic level:  understanding what starts the club is part of being a leader in Toastmasters.  I’ve heard the statistics and costs of losing a club and chartering a replacement so the district has no net loss – it’s not cheap to charter a new club and it’s much more economical to keep a club functioning than to let it fold.  Getting the under-the-hood knowledge of clubs’ founding and chartering is knowledge that will apply outside Toastmasters too in the business world.

Make your district’s kick off meetings a priority in your DTM track.  You’ll be known and remembered by the new members at conferences in the future – and that’s very sweet.


Thanks today to Toastmasters of District 10 for sponsoring On the Table – Topics for Toastmasters.  I love seeing you at kick off meetings, at conferences, at TLI and Marketing Institutes.

Speaking of TLIs, Marketing Institutes and conferences…

The website calendar is full of important dates, like the upcoming District TLI in January, the five make up TLI sessions scheduled around the districts and the upcoming Marketing Institute.  If you’re a club president or vice president of membership or public relations – this is for you.  You can get the latest information and register at the district 10. org website.

The Toastmasters Leadership Institute is club officer training.  These meetings are not limited to just officerss.  Any member of Toastmaster may attend, but club officers need to get there for the credit needed for the Distinguished Club Program.  If your club is interested in the Distinguished by January 31 contest, you’ll need to plan accordingly – get your officers trained early!

I know that Lt. Governor Jenilee Taylor is planning an AMAZING TLI in January – but all of the divisions are doing the same.  If you’re willing to help with the training sessions or take on the TLI as your High Performance Leadership Project, this is the time to get started by calling your division governor now.

Did I mention our Spring Conference is in the works?  If you’re interested in helping, Jenilee Taylor will love to hear your ideas.  Contact her through our website District

We are still looking for DTMs to help us review the Advanced Manuals.  If you have a manual you’d like to give a speech about – I’ll try to make sure you get credit for it – contact us on our website

Our music today is from

You can subscribe to this podcast through iTunes – just come to our website and press the pretty pink button.  If you want to contact me about mixing my sports and car metaphors, you can use our contact page.

Meeting adjourned.

“Open Those Bright Eyes” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0


“Awesome Call” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0



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