First impressions count for a lot – and can often be hard to overturn. That is true for bridge clubs just as it is in other areas of life, which means that what happens the first time a visitor or prospective bridge student comes along is super important.
“Taster sessions,” where potential bridge students come to a special event to learn whether what you are offering is for them, are a great idea for lots of reasons. They are the initial focus point of a membership campaign. Every campaign needs a “call to action”; it is no good simply publicising bridge as a wonderful game to learn, true though that is. People need a date for their diary, an event to look forward to, and an introduction that feels safe: if they do not like it, there is no pressure and they can easily back out.
Putting these two thoughts together means that it it is worth putting lots of effort and planning into running a taster session. It will directly impact how many students sign up for your course.
What will make a good taster session? In some respects the detail does not matter. What matters is that those who turn up feel welcome and that they have made a great decision in exploring how to play bridge. We need to convey something about what a fantastic thing it is to play in a bridge club. They will never be bored again. They will make new friends, they will engage with something that is both fun and mentally challenging, they will find every game has its surprises – did you know there are 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000 possible deals (I am not sure how that number is pronounced but you could try 5.36 x 1028). Get them laughing with you, then they will be on your side.
It is worth working hard on creating a lovely atmosphere. That means refreshments, some existing members of your club who can answer questions and/or some existing and enthusiastic students, and making sure the venue is warm and well-it (or in high summer, well ventilated!).
What is a good time for a taster session? It makes sense to have it at the same time and place as you will be teaching – then you know that the people who come can normally make that time. Start on time and do not go on too late; it is always better if people leave wanting more and with no worries about how late it is getting.
What will you actually do? Opinions vary. Some teachers make the taster session an actual lesson, aiming to teach a number of basic points about the game. Others treat it more as an initial exploration without any real teaching goals other than to give people the broadest possible flavour of what bridge is all about.
We have heard though that too much complexity is counter-productive. People may be put off before they get started. There is more risk in saying too much than in saying too little. The most important goal of the taster session is get people to sign up for your course.
When it is time for a presentation, get people sitting at bridge tables – they will likely be playing some cards later.
Icebreakers are good. When I went on a bridge teaching course with EBED’s Lorna Watson, she got us to think up songs with cards in their title, in the groups at each table. No purpose other than to get people talking and relaxing.
There is a video, The Game of Bridge, which is less than four minutes long. It gives an idea of how the game works. If you have the right equipment, showing this or another video is worth considering – bearing in mind what I noted above about avoiding complexity.
People will want to have a go for themselves though, and for this playing some actual Minibridge is a great idea. Minibridge is essentially bridge without the bidding, where the pair with the most points win the contract automatically, the declarer is the hand with the most points in that partnership, and decides the contract after seeing dummy. We have all the details here. It is a lot of fun even for bridge players. So you can play some minibridge for a bit, with lots of help and supervision.
Of course there is some admin to do. Take names and contact details. Have a handout with details of the course you are running, the aims of the course, all the dates, how long the lessons are, what it costs, and what happens when the course ends.
Leave plenty of time for informal questions at the end.
All the above are just suggestions. Every club, every area and every group varies and there is no substitute for local knowledge. And if you have some good tips let me know or post in the comments below.