Written By Robyn T. Braley

Rotary clubs put great effort into raising community awareness. Most PR initiatives aim to increase the club profile, help in fundraising efforts, and attract new members.  
New members are the lifeblood of Rotary. If your membership is shrinking, it may be time to refocus your efforts to ensure they will have the best experience they can have.
The Visitor
Imagine you are visiting your Club for the first time. When you walk into your meeting room, what do you see? Are you greeted by smiling Rotarians or grumpy old people?
Perhaps you've invited a business colleague or perhaps a stranger who contacted your Club through its website. When they walk through the door, what first impressions will they take away from your Club?
Are they made to feel welcome? Are they immediately engaged and drawn into a warm conversation?
Or, do they feel like outsiders left standing off to the side, making awkward nods to passing Rotarians who don't seem to realize they're there? I've experienced both.
Read the Buzz
When I speak at a club, I arrive early to meet with the tech team. As we get closer to the start time, I am always inspired when there is a growing buzz. The buzz is created by Rotarians engaged in conversations with people they like spending time with.
In 5 minutes, I can tell whether members are inspired to be there or are there as a sense of duty! If you were a first-time visitor, is this a group of people they'd like to hang out with?
Turn it Up Baby
As the President, you can manipulate the buzz and increase the level of enthusiasm even before the launch of your meeting. Lock down your agenda beforehand so you can focus on people during the 10 minutes before your meeting start time.
  1. Move with a confident gate from person to person.
  2. Look each person in the eye and extend your handshake of welcome.
  3. Slightly increase the energy level of your voice and make a relevant comment.
  4. Avoid prolonged conversations and politely move on to greet the next person.
  5. Make a special effort to welcome visitors.
You will find that others will pick up on your energy level and positivity. There is an adage in meeting production.
Energy creates energy. Enthusiasm creates enthusiasm.
I learned these techniques while teaching at a Jr. High School many decades ago. The school was in a high-needs area, and some students were troubled. Standing at the door, making eye contact, and greeting each student as they entered my drama studio made them feel welcome. It also helped me connect and establish control. 

How Does It Look
Is your sign-in process easy to follow for visitors? Is there a natural flow or a frantic scramble of Rotarians trying to pay, find name badges, and have 2-3 simultaneous mini-committee meetings while doing all the above?
  1. Is the room configured for energy and efficiency?
  2. Does it look cramped, or is it too big for the size of your group?
  3. Is the podium and head table crisp and clean looking, or are there strings of banners, Rotary paraphernalia, and flags randomly plopped here and there?
  4. If you use a looped PowerPoint show for club announcements as people enter the meeting room, is the messaging inclusive, or does it only provide 'insider' information?

Where Do We Start

Meetings are often the second point of contact for new members, the first being the person who invited them.
1.     Are they positive, upbeat, and engaging?
2.     Are they well-organized and smooth flowing?
3.     Do they feel disjointed?
Producing the Program
When I use the term producing, I mean being intentional about how you order the content in your agenda. Radio producers know that changing the order of five fast, medium and slow songs can subtly alter the sound of their station.

Every meeting has a rhythm, pace, and tempo. Meetings have a beat. The way the President opens the meeting will set the tempo for all that follows.
Thinking through the order of announcements allows you to influence the rhythm of the meeting. Starting the section with a strong speaker sets the tone. Ending with another strong speaker closes the section on an upbeat note.
Is there deadwood in your program? Are elements included just because they've always been there? 
Predicting Predictability
One of the greatest enemies of engagement is predictability. Their attention span tends to wane once an audience can predict what will come next.
Some clubs have the speaker right after the meal, with announcements to follow. Others launch into their speaker section directly after the opening. Others have a meal, announcements, perhaps a mini report, and a speaker at the end.
Why not periodically change up your Club's routine? Why? Let me explain it.
I have produced numerous record albums. I learned that full instrumentation for each song became predictable. Each song began to sound similar.
Including an acapella song, voices accompanied by just a piano and cello, or an acoustic guitar adds an element of surprise. 

Watch Your Language

Rotary is filled with acronyms: RYLA, RYPEN, DISCON, PETS and SETS and TRF. I'm sure some visitors wonder whether any of the terms require a vaccination.

Link Rotary acronyms with descriptive phrases. For example, saying, "RYLA, our Rotary youth leadership conference," explains what it is for visitors and reminds long-time Rotarians that it is an important program.  
Be thoughtful about using the word service. To a 55-year-old anticipating a meaningful retirement, service means one thing. To a 35-year-old, mixing service with career, family and lifestyle demands may be stressful. They often think service means an all-consuming and never-ending activity.
I once heard a president say,
"We need recruits because our members are getting too old to handle the number of projects our club was committed to."
Really? I think any 40-year-old visitor considering joining may have had second thoughts.
The Mayor and the Bullhorn
Years ago, Southern Alberta experienced devastating floods due to extreme rainfall. On the morning after the storm, a call for volunteers went out on all radio and TV stations, asking volunteers to attend an organizational meeting at 11:00 am. 
City officials were overwhelmed when about 2,500 showed up ready to work. Organizers did not have jobs for all who were there.  
Our mayor, forced to use a bullhorn because a sound system hadn't been planned for, instructed us to go and help our neighbours. People of all ages knew what that meant.
For readers living outside District 5360, I should also mention Rotary clubs from throughout our District and beyond got involved and helped in various ways. You could call it service, or you could call it doing what was needed to help communities and people to recover.

Putting It All Together

Well-produced meetings build member pride. They motivate Rotarians to bring family, friends and colleagues who may be potential members.
My Club produced an event where three high-profile politicians vied for their party's leadership. It was sold out and attracted a packed media gallery. Our goals were to profile the Club, promote our new location at the Grey Eagle Hotel, and create a premiere event to which we could invite potential members. 

The Leader's Forum dominated mainstream and social media locally, provincially, and nationally for two days. It also became a positive talking point for members and their circles of influence.
At least one member joined because of the event. Past President Mike Carlin wrote,
"Wow. I am writing this while I am still pumped from today's meeting. It was a well-organized, well-timed, and well-thought-out program."
Today is an example of where we can take this Club into the future; at this moment, I couldn't be prouder to be a member of the Calgary West Rotary Club."
 Can't say it any better.
Robyn T. Braley is a Rotarian who has served on numerous Club and District committees, including as the P.R. Chair for District 5360. He is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker.