Last year, when an opportunity to be a Club Mentor presented itself to me, I took it up not really aware of the journey that lay ahead. The first few months were challenging, but eventually, the experience turned out to be very rewarding. Moreover, it gave me an insight into an area of Toastmasters that I wasn’t even aware of before. I came to learn about the roles and duties of Club Sponsors, Mentors and Coaches, and the impact they can have on clubs.
These roles aren’t very well known about, and yet, they are crucial to club growth, sustenance and retention. Therefore, the rest of this article explores more about what each of these roles entail, and tells the experiences of people who have played these roles in the past.
A Club Sponsor is the usually first point of contact for a prospective club and the one who gets things up and running. He/She organizes the new club, sets up regular meetings, completes the paperwork and gets the club chartered. A Club Sponsor’s approach differs slightly depending upon the type of club being chartered. For corporate clubs, the Sponsor identifies the company’s details and priorities, and forges connections with its stakeholders. For community clubs, the Sponsor holds demo meetings, creates publicity and targets prospective members.
DTM Ashley Lobo has been a sponsor for Mapusa Toastmasters Club and a few college clubs in Goa. Prior to his involvement with Mapusa, there had been three attempts to start the club. The main problem they faced was getting 20 charter members before their interest waned. “We had 9 members at the time and booked them as Goa YMCA Toastmasters Club members. We changed the frequency of meetings to 4, and held them in two different locations: 2 in Panjim and 2 in Mapusa. We arranged meetings, invited guests and conducted a Speechcraft. Soon, we were able to get to 20 members and charter the club,” he says.
After the club was chartered, he advised the Executive Committee not to get new members right away, in order to focus more on the development of the existing members. Members were allowed to give speeches as frequently as they wanted, and within 2-3 months they were proficient enough to become mentors themselves. After that the club opened its doors to more members, but always ensured that they had good quality mentors.
“The club was chartered on 18th November, and by June, we had 9 DCP points. We didn’t file the 10th point, because we wanted to set the next term up for success in time.”
The next year they became a Diamond Club and continued to be one the year after that too.
Sponsoring college and community clubs have their own unique ups and downs. Sponsoring a college club is quite simple. One simply needs to convince the administration of its benefit to students, but the follow through by students doesn’t always happen. On the other hand, sponsoring a community club is more difficult. In a place like Goa, organisations like Toastmasters and improving one’s communication skills aren’t given much importance because people are already proficient in English. Also, companies that are hiring don’t value communication skills as much as they do elsewhere.
Spreading awareness among the community needs a different approach in each case too. For college clubs like NIT Goa, DTM Ashley talked to the administration, gave a presentation to students, and even got 60 people to sign up. But the club remained active for a mere two months, and ultimately, students did not renew their membership. “For Mapusa, I requested senior Toastmasters to visit and give speeches and evaluations, so people could witness good quality meetings. They also talked about the benefits of communication and leadership, and how the program helped them overcome stammering and speech problems,” he adds.
The strategy worked in their favour, since the club started flourishing and continues to flourish to this day.
After a Club Sponsor’s responsibilities are complete, they pass the baton of support and development of the new club to the Club Mentors. Mentors are the advisors and tutors for new clubs and have a great effect on the degree to which a new club succeeds. Mentors teach, share knowledge, answer questions and empower the members to find answers on their own. They provide insight to the Executive Committee on how their decisions and actions affect members. They also familiarize members with the educational program, and train them by example on running quality meetings and performing roles.
TM Suneel Agarwal, earlier a mentor for Accenture Toastmasters Club and currently mentoring SP Jain Global Toastmasters Club, feels that after a club charters, the Mentor should be in the picture as quickly as possible.
He has observed that initially, members are not aware of what is available and what will be provided to them. They must be told that mentoring is a crutch that will be taken away. Mentors should make them realise that the faster they take ownership, the better their club will be able to progress and sustain itself. “As a Mentor, you know how and why members will benefit from the program, but they do not, and you have to sell it to them. You have to gauge where they are at, get them to meetings to play roles, and give them ideas on how they can get more attendance and participation,” he adds. He also believes that members should be told to visit other clubs to accelerate their learning from the program. Growth only happens when they visit other clubs and get to learn from their culture, hospitality and practices.
He touches on a couple of things new mentors should keep in mind. Although a Mentor may initially take up certain meeting roles to demonstrate them, later on they should be strict and urge members to take up roles themselves, so that they can be self-reliant. Secondly, in a new club, every single thing has to be explained from scratch. Just like one doesn’t realise the internal support that is there in a joint family until one is in a nuclear family, new Mentors don’t realise the support structures and systems that have been developed over the years in established clubs and tend to take them for granted.
He has observed that when one mentors a new Toastmaster or a contestant, the emphasis is on the individual’s journey and their performance alone. But when one is mentoring a club, the approach needs to be more holistic. “You have to mentor everything, right from making them understand the nuts and bolts of running a meeting smoothly, to ensuring the energy, attendance and participation is up-to par, to raising the bar of meeting quality,” he adds.
Meeting quality is of prime importance for a new club, because that is what determines its long term success. “Club retention largely depends on the club’s ability to conduct good quality meetings on their own. If the meeting quality doesn’t inspire people to attend, even those who’ve paid the membership fees won’t come. The sacrifice members make to attend meetings has to be justified to them”, he concludes.
Sponsors and Mentors help set a new club up for success, but when a club starts floundering, a Club Coach comes into the picture to help. A club can appoint a Coach when it has at least 1 but not more than 12 members. They are not members of the struggling club and are unfamiliar with the its members when appointed. A Club Coach builds a rapport with club leaders and members, observes and analyzes the club environment, then assists the club in generating solutions by helping them develop a plan with goals for improvement. He/She enables the club to achieve those goals and instills enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility for the club’s future in its members. Only after a Club Coach helps the club to achieve the Distinguished recognition can they claim credit for it.
In 2016, soon after TM Ratnakumar Vadapalli’s term as an Area Director began, one of his clubs, Waltair Toastmasters Club, began to struggle. At the time of his appointment as its Coach, the club hadn’t held a single meeting for 3 months, and the membership strength was down to 8.
For the next 6 months, he would be the first to arrive, ensuring that he attended every single meeting and that all the roles were taken up. He would invite members from other clubs to join and would organise either a special or a joint meeting every month. “Although I wasn’t a member, no one could tell me apart from the other members,” he says.
When the then District Director, DTM Chandra came down to Vizag, a PR event was held which got a lot of attention. Similarly, prominent Toastmasters from Divisions EFH attended the Area Contest held in Vizag. They answered members’ questions and helped them understand more about the program, which helped instill people’s trust back in the club. “Each time someone prominent visited Vizag, I utilised the opportunity and made sure members got something valuable out of it,” he adds.
Eventually, his efforts bore fruit. The club ended up earning 5 DCP points and winning the Golden Eagle Award. One member even went onto represent the club at the Division Level Table Topics Contest, and is now an Area Director.
But being a Coach for a struggling club in a tier 2 city presented TM Ratna with a few unique challenges. Running a contest or any event apart from a regular meeting was difficult, due to the lack of people to serve as roleplayers. Less events also meant that keeping people’s enthusiasm up was difficult. It was also difficult to get people to travel from Vizag for major events like COTPs, Division and District Conferences which were held in Hyderabad.
“I tried to resolve these issues by explaining to members the difference they could make and what they could gain out of the experience. I also coordinated trips so people could travel together and get to know each other better.” Ultimately, when people from Vizag came to Hyderabad and were acknowledged for their efforts, the rewards became apparent to them.
This experience impressed upon TM Ratna the level of responsibility and ownership one has to have as a Coach. “You have to ensure everything is taken care of and run smoothly. Things have already fallen apart and can easily fall apart again. You have to be careful with every word you speak and every piece of feedback you give, and treat everything with a certain level of tenderness”, he concludes.
This article was first published on District 98’s bi-monthly newsletter ‘Communicate 98’. To read other articles, click here.