The reaction of most guests to a Toastmasters of Paris meeting is Wow. For the past 20 years, as an experienced member of TMP, that’s been my reaction, too. Every meeting is a high-value, action-packed event neatly complemented by a 3-course dinner in an old-style, iconic French restaurant.
What’s at work is a tradition of excellence – going back 45 years – that motivates and empowers every Club member to deliver his or her best, year after year.
Excellence abounds throughout all the Paris-based Toastmaster Clubs. What differentiates Toastmasters of Paris is receiving Wow’s from the audience at the end of each meeting; and at the end of each year, receiving an award for Distinguished Achievement from Toastmasters International.
I believe there are at least nine ‘secrets’, often taken for granted and rarely placed in the spotlight, that account for the Club’s success.
- Our meetings
They enlighten and entertain. They combine communication, leadership, education and near-flawless execution in the presence of a discerning, highly responsive audience.
- Our guests.
A breed apart. They are hip, smart, curious, thoughtful, and appreciative. The presence of guests like these enrichens each meeting and dynamizesthe Toastmasters experience.
- Restaurant and Marquee
The Wow factor is kindled even before the meeting starts. Our evening get-togethers take place at Les Noces de Jeanette, a 100-year old restaurant that evokes the stately elegance of Paris in the 1900’s. The restaurant’s allure manifests as you approach the building – especially at night – when the marquee, a work of art in its own right, is gently aglow.
- Meeting Room
You enter the restaurant, pass through its non-descript vestibule and step into our meeting room, a brightly lit, private salon. The tables, arranged banquet-style along the walls, are bedecked with white, freshly pressed tablecloths, gleaming cutlery and sparkling glassware. The speaker’s podium, whiteboard and TMP banner adorn the front of the room; and the Timer’s table is in place near the back.
Real magic happens in the process of pinning on your nametag. Upon entering the meeting room, attendees are directed to a table strewn with plastic nametags. Members and guests mingle, dive in and search. Success is assured. Each badge has been computer-printed in a large easily-readable font, so that as attendees stand, sip kir and chat informally, they are already on a first-name basis. This ritual melts the member-guest divide. And when the meeting ends, everyone is asked to toss their nametags into a common Nametag Carton for safekeeping: an implicit invitation for everybody to reunite two weeks hence at our next meeting.
- The meal
An appetizer is served during the President’s welcome, the introduction of guests and the presentation of Toast, Joke and Word-of-the-evening. We break for the main course. The meal is conversation-filled prelude to our intense and vibrant educational session and allows members and guests get to know one another and relax in anticipation of the action to come.
- Waiters & waitresses
Les Noces delivers throughout the evening with attentive, extraordinarily discreet staff who intervene unobtrusively – ballet-perfect – almost invisibly — serving a three-course dinner without distracting the speaker and the audience. Les Noces serving staff are experienced, no-nonsense, men and women who, in the French tradition, have been used to making noise, talking up the customers and kicking open doors. But now their performance is discreet and whisper-quiet. Someone must have trained them in the delicate art of serving at TMP events.
Who set up the room? Who trained the waiters? Who prepared the nametags? Who made sure that days before the meeting restaurant management had the information it needed to pre-order the right quantity of food for dinner? And during the meeting, who made sure the chefs prepared exactly the number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals needed?
TMP’s best-kept secret is the SAA and the importance TMP attaches to the role. Our SAA is more than a set-up / tear-down specialist. That, in itself, is hard enough, showing up early to set-up the room and staying late to pack up. In the great spirit of TMP, at the start and stop of every meeting there are always members present to pitch in and help out. If there were no SAA willing to go the extra mile, liaise with the restaurant, manage guests and manufacture nametags, TMP would still be one great Club among many in our Area.
- Giving Thanks
The highlight of every TMP Christmas meeting is taking a few moments to acknowledge the waiters, waitresses and manager of Les Noces de Jeanette. We invite them into the meeting room. They stand – a bit self-consciously – next to the podium. The Sergeant-at-Arms delivers a short speech thanking them for their contribution to our success, their impeccable service, their great food, their willingness to store our bulky equipment and their willingness to adapt their serving style to our preposterous requirements. Gift-wrapped boxes of world-class chocolate emerge from behind the podium and are handed to each member of the team. It’s a difficult moment for them, standing there in the limelight. They’re used to tips, not chocolates and fulsome praise. And they’re certainly not used to the standing ovation that goes on and on – to the point where they start blushing — as TMPers rise to their feet and pour out their gratitude.