For several years now I’ve been helping my Toastmaster’s club to implement, organize, and build a mentoring program. For several years now I’ve been frustrated with the results. For several years now I’ve tried numerous different strategies to obtain different results. But alas, all my efforts have disappointed.
My Failed Strategies
- Recruiting seasoned members to mentor new members.
- Assigning new members to a mentor with in the first week they join.
- Meeting with interested mentors to share the vision of mentoring and expectations.
- Giving education speeches about the value of mentoring and explaining a clear initiative for our club.
- Seeking out people with strong follow through to be mentors.
- Encouraging every member to have a mentor as someone to give them encouragement and push them forward on their Toastmaster journey.
- Encouraging new members to seek out an un-assigned mentor who they might connect with more and desire specific input from.
- Simplifying the mentoring process to a once-a-month, five minute phone call or face to face conversation initiated by the mentors.
The Irony of Initiative
What strikes me as odd is that we, who show initiative to join Toastmasters, give speeches, show up week to week, pay dues, attend parties, stay after for coffee, take on meeting roles, sign up for roles months in advance, and choose to serve in club leadership, will often not take the initiative to make a phone call. Maybe I’m wanting it to be too formal. You know, a conversation that can be checked off on a to do list. When what more likely happens is members having conversations outside the ‘mentoring’ program, asking for help, bouncing a speech idea off others over coffee after a meeting.
We are overwhelmed.
And we are distracted.
Work demands, family activities, and household chores are enough to sap us. Add on top of that the ever pesky handheld computing device that receives phone calls, text messages, emails, tweets, facebook updates, calendar alarms, etc. Then there is the laptop or desktop computer, television with either the latest movie from Netflix or hundreds of tantalizing cable or satellite channels to watch. Recreation. Exercise. Reading. Ad nauseam.
What I’ve Decided to do about it – The Mad Mega Mentoring Machine
- Encourage each new member to strike up conversations with anyone that want to get input from. Call it micro-mentoring.
- Add each new member that joins this year to my mentoring memo email list.
- Send a mentoring memo once-a-month and cover the basics – explanation of the minor roles, how to be the table topic master or respond to table topics, how our online and paper scheduling works, etc. I will keep these saved in my gmail ‘canned responses’ to either keep using in years to come or to pass on.
- Hold once-a-month new member orientation, as needed, to give a quick 20mn overview of Toastmasters and our club to new members.
- Offer to be a sounding board for ideas to any new member. And, no, I haven’t been overrun despite our club’s healthy rate of attaining new members. It’s a form a approachability.
- Look for those opportunities to have a conversation with a new member after a meeting to encourage them.
I know, it’s not what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to assign mentors. And we are all supposed to be super-human too. Well, instead of waiting for the planets to align, I’m taking the bull by the horns and incorporating a strategy that works and that can be passed on the next guy or gal willing to oversee mentoring.
VP of Membership
Unfortunately, not every successful leader is a strong communicator. It is a mystery to me how someone can lead well, but speak in public poorly, but it happens all the time.
Recently I listened to two speakers, both successful leaders, who made these four common mistakes:
- Sharing too much information. We are all tempted to believe that we can wow an audience with our shear wealth of knowledge. But we can only absorb so much information before we tune out due to overload. Remember to keep your ideas succinct and few.
- Not telling a good story. A great presentation is a blend of information and story – one without the other compromises the effectiveness of a speech. A good story is more than just telling us your history or the history of your organization. A good story involves characters, a little background, setting, dialogue, conflict, a twist, a happy ending, etc. Never underestimate the power of a good story.
- Failing to speak with passion.I used to make this mistake as a preacher when I first started preaching – I’d give a bunch of background info with any excitement and then I’d finally warm up to the good nuggets of content towards the end. Why waste everyone’s time on the boring stuff? Why not get right to the good stuff as quickly as possible and speak from our hearts and with passion? Both these speakers started getting a little more excited towards the very end of their speeches – oh, if they had only started there and talked from their heart!
- Not interacting with the audience. We had two hours with these accomplished leaders and part of it was for Q & A. There was 7 minutes left when it was handed over for Q & A. SEVEN MINUTES out of 120! Ouch! I know the audience would have loved to have been reached out to and included in the presentation. Why not interact with the audience and ask them questions? This endears a speaker to the audience every time it is done right. And the audience may want to hear about something you didn’t think they wanted to hear about – a chance for another story!
I’m guessing that if we master these four areas as speakers, doors will open for us in leadership as well.
Go get ‘em!
Two kinds of people: PUSHERS and PULLERS. Pushers always have words inside them, like bottomless Pez dispenser. Pullers have to pull the words out of themselves, much like an undesirable object in a puppy’s mouth. Whether it is after being called on for Table Topics at a Toastmasters meeting or after you’ve responded to a question in a business meeting, pushers and pullers alike are critical of their responses. A puller will inevitably THINK, “I wish I would have said THIS instead!”. Since a pusher says what they are thinking, they might think, “I wish I had thought of something else to say”. What does a pusher say (since I am not a pusher)? We are on a growth journey and none of us arrives instantaneously. So don’t be too hard on yourself – expect failure along the way. In either case, both categories can benefit from the following strategy for speaking spontaneously:
- PRE-LOAD : Fill your tank ahead of time and tie the question to what is on your mind (reading, experience, thoughts and ideas, etc.); what we value and are familiar with affects what we believe about life (positive spin). demonstrate
- PLUNGE : Pause and start slow and turn the question over in your mind and talk about the question as you develop the body of your question. Ask good rhetorical questions about the question; analyze it. demonstrate
- POINTS : there are several things I’d like to say about that…; 1,2,3 points; contrast: this –vs- that; plus/minus; tie into what is on your mind; tell a story; positive spin – how does the question relate to your values/experience? demonstrate
- PUNCH : summarize; when inspired, end with a wow! (quote, wit, declaration, let some dynamics fly!, etc.) demonstrate
There is one essential element for promoting any Toastmaster club – well planned, exciting, and meaningful meetings. Everything rests on excellent meetings. If our meetings are enjoyable, word will spread.
If our meetings are fantabulous and we can get a SALESMAN to join our club – membership will explode. This happened serendipitously for my club. Scott, who enjoyed horses, invited Mark, who also enjoyed horses to speak at our club. Mark is a former NBA All-star basketball player. Mark has an executive coach at the time named Julio. Mark invited Julio to come along to the club when he spoke. Because our club was conducting meaningful and exciting and well planned meetings both Mark and Julio joined immediately. Mark is a professional speaker. Julio is a SALESMAN.
According to Malcom Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, a SALESMAN is someone whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others’ buying decisions and behaviors.
After two years of over 40 members we had to approach Julio to stop persuading others to join our club.
Meaningful, exciting, well-planned meetings are so important that everything else related to Public Relations pales. If we don’t have great meetings we will only be turning people off to Toastmasters by inviting them to bore themselves.
In addition to word-of-mouth sales, we can help people discover what Toastmasters is about and where and when we meet by:
- submitting meeting information to be printed weekly in the local paper for free under the community meetings section,
- submitting news and pictures to the local newspaper to be printed and bring attention to what the club is doing,
- submitting PSAs (public service announcements) to the local radio station that tells people when and where you meet,
- asking to be interviewed by the local radio station regarding recent breaking news related to your club or to inform the community about what Toastmasters is, and
- creating a blog/website that provides information that is easily found by visitors looking for meeting times and locations and explanations about Toastmasters. By posting current news and information onto our blog we can drive traffic to our sites and increase awareness in the community.