Saturday, June 20, 2020

10 benefits of online Toastmasters meetings

The world is brought to a grinding halt, by an invisible enemy, the Coronavirus/ COVID-19. Most corporates that embraced digital technologies have encouraged employees to work from home. Toastmasters isn't an exception. Our regular clubs have now switched to online meetings. Online Toastmasters meetings provide a number of opportunities to Toastmasters. The VP Membership and VP PRs of our clubs should be selling the benefits of online Toastmasters meetings to members and guests. In this blog post, I've tried to capture the benefits of Online Toastmasters meetings. 

1. You can conduct joint meetings with clubs across the globe. This will provide you access to an International audience for your / your club members' speeches. You can learn about different cultures and best practices from other geographies in the world. If you find an interesting speaker during your joint meetings, you can reach out to them offline and request them to be your mentor too. Online meetings provided me an opportunity to attend some of the clubs in USA, that I used to be a member of, before. It was a nice experience to meet some of my old Toastmasters friends, online. 

2. If you are part of a community club, you are saving on the commute time. If you are attending a 2 hours community club meeting, normally you would spend at least 1 hour on the to/fro commute. With the online meetings, you can save that 1 hour of time spent on commute. In the past,  even if members had spare time during the night, they may not be able to conduct a 8 - 10 pm Toastmasters meeting. But now, most people are at home and it is convenient to conduct a 8 - 10 pm online Toastmasters meeting (or a 7 - 9 am online meeting). Corporate members, in the past, had to catch their return bus to home by 6 pm... and it was so difficult to conduct a in-person meeting between 5 - 6 pm. Now, that challenge isn't there. The corporate club members have the flexibility to change their meeting time, outside of their working hours too. 

3. Corporate clubs can conduct joint club meetings with other corporate clubs (or community clubs). This would provide more learning opportunities. It also adds to the variety of the speeches. 

4. Bringing an Educational Speaker to your online club meeting is relatively easy, when compared to in-person meetings. You don't have to arrange for their pickups/dropoffs, you don't have to give a memento to them, you don't have to plan for their refreshments, you don't have to escort them to the meeting place. Lots of administrative overhead for the organizers is gone. You don't have to be confined to a few select local speakers for educational sessions - you can pick from array of speakers from across the globe. 

5. Mentoring becomes easier, when done online. For example, in the last few months, several mentees of mine have rehearsed their speeches online with me... before they delivered the speeches at their club. This is easier to do for both mentors as well as mentees. You can also tap into a pool of mentors from across the globe or from outside of your club. Your mentor can also now join your club meeting online and review/share feedback about your live performance. 

6. Most communication in corporate world happens through online channels - especially, in medium / large sized corporations. Employees of corporates were used to joining webinars, tech talks, status review meetings etc., online. COVID presents an opportunity for us to experiment with our online speaking skills and polish them. For example, things like - looking into the camera and speaking, using the right hand gestures, having appropriate light settings, using powerpoint materials, using the online meeting tools, engaging the audience through online polls, asking the audience to respond to questions in chat window... these are some techniques that you can experiment and learn during your online Toastmasters meetings. It is easy to lose your audience in an online forum and very difficult to keep them engaged. Mastering the online speaking skills will help you at your workplace, when you are making professional speeches. Moreover, in the past, when someone has to deliver a speech with powerpoint, the organizers/members would have to run from pillar to post to get a room with a projector. But now, with online meetings, using a powerpoint presentation in your speech is a cake walk. You can also experiment with Pecha Kucha type presentations during your club meetings, to make it more fun and exciting. 

7. Corporate clubs can use this opportunity, to bring some senior leaders as speakers to their club meeting. You can let the senior leader to address the audience on "how they are maintaining work life balance in COVID work-from-home situation"? "how are they maintaining their health/fitness", "how are they dealing with stress", "how have they re-prioritized activities in personal/professional life"... etc., When you involve senior leadership team, it helps you to highlight the benefits of Toastmasters meetings during this crisis situation... and in-turn helps you to secure/retain the corporate funding to Toastmasters. You'll also get to learn from senior leaders on how to manage crisis. Community clubs can do the same, by bringing senior leaders from the community. For ex., the community club that I'm part of (Chennai Speakers Forum) recently brought Mr. Nambi Narayanan, a renowned Indian scientist and aerospace engineer, to one of our online club meetings. This would add to the variety in your online meetings. 

8. Online meetings are easy to record/replay, when compared to in-person meetings. You can review your performance at the club, offline and identify scope for improvements. You can also share your speech video with your mentor to get feedback. You can watch the performance of other speakers and learn some tips/techniques from their style. 

9. If you have accidentally joined a Toastmasters meeting which is not very interesting or doesn't meet your expectations, you can drop off from the online meeting easily :) It is very difficult to do that in an in-person meeting. 

10. Last but not the least, the lockdowns restrict your mobility and adds to your stress. Toastmasters meetings provide you a fun-filled learning environment where you can destress yourself, make new friends and at the same time learn from others.

If you can think of other benefits due to online meetings, please drop them as a comment in this blogpost. I'll include them to the list.  

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Mentoring in Toastmasters - Frequently Asked Questions

This is the list of questions that I received for one of the online webinars that I did on Mentoring. Disclaimer: Some questions given here are not related to mentoring.
  • How to find a mentor?
You can reach out to the VP Education of your club, if you would like to get a mentor. Alternatively, you can look for people whom you think can guide you to better achieve your learning objectives in Toastmasters. You can reach out directly to them and request them to be your mentor.  It is recommended to have the mentor in the same club where you are a member. It will help them to monitor your progress/performance closely and share feedback. However, in today's world where everyone is digitally connected, it is not a mandatory criteria. 
  • How do I identify a suitable mentee?
You can reach out to the VP Education of your club and he/she can assign a suitable mentee to you. If you are starting your mentoring journey, it is recommended to pick someone who is starting their Toastmasters journey - probably, a new member in your club. You can help them to understand the Toastmasters program and in preparing for their speeches/roles at the club. 
  • Can a mentor be a mentee at the same time ?
Yes. For example, you can mentor someone for their Level 1 speeches, while you may get mentored by your mentor for humorously speaking.
  • How does one set out the objective of the Mentoring with the Mentee? What type of objectives would there be?
The objectives that you set for your mentee is dependant on what they would like to achieve in Toastmasters (or, based on the areas where they would need help from you). Typically, objectives would look like the following:

1. Completion of Competent Communicator or Level 1 path by end of this year (or) 
2. I want to develop my voice modulation 
3. I want to be become better at delivering "impromptu speeches"

Based on these high-level objectives, you should jointly work out detailed sub-objectives/sub-goals. For example, if your mentee wants to be become better at delivering "impromptu speeches"
1. Participate in Table Topics Session regularly
2. Participate in Table Topics Contest
3. Write a short stories catalogue which would be handy when you are on the stage. 

Agree on timelines when you would meet again to review the progress. You can regularly assess their progress against the objectives and share feedback. 
  • Several folks reach out to mentor only during the contest. What is your thought on that?
Dananjaya Hettiarachchi once said "If you want to be a World Champion of Public Speaking, every speech of yours should be a world championship speech". I would strongly urge mentees to get help from their mentors for every speech and for every role in Toastmasters It will help them accelerate their learning.
  • Other than just reviewing speech scripts, in what other ways can a Mentor add value to the Mentee?
  • How do you add value as a mentor?
Toastmasters mentoring process begins with mentoring a new member for their speeches and for performing various roles at the club meetings. Unlike coaching, mentoring is a long lasting relationship. You can add value as a mentor by encouraging your mentees to push their limits - and help them discover their hidden potential. For example, you can encourage them to participate in contests or sign up for club-level/district level leadership roles. You can also add value as a mentor by helping your mentee excel in their professional career - in addition to excelling in Toastmasters.  
  • What are the qualities of good leaders and mentors?
  • What are the traits of a good mentor?
One of the dimensions of leadership is mentoring. Some of the qualities in a good mentor are:
     1. Sensitive to the needs of their protege. Shows maturity and has a broad mind - doesn't fight / argue for petty things.  
     2. Patience in listening to their protege's view points and the difference in perspectives. 
     3. Available to their protege - especially, to guide them with their Toastmasters journey
     4. Treats the protege with Respect
     5. Possesses Knowledge/skills to help the protege

As a mentor, you should possess qualities that IGNITE the SPARK in your mentees. 
  • Difference between toastmaster under guidance of mentor and without mentor ??

  • Having a mentor vs not having a mentor in Toastmasters is like driving your car in a new city with the Google map vs. without the Google map.  A mentor would accelerate your learning and shorten the time it takes you to acquire a new skill. A mentor would guide you to take the most optimal path to reach your goal / objectives (destination!). A mentor would give you feedback to course correct, if you are traversing the wrong path. You would be missing these benefits, if you are not having a mentor. 

  • Can one self mentor and not reach out to anyone?
  • Your take on folks, who choose to call themselves as "self mentored"?
"Self mentoring" shows arrogance and ego. Even the World Champions of Public Speaking gets mentored by someone. Folks who call themselves as "Self Mentored" are losing an excellent opportunity to learn from others.
  • How do we keep members motivated for consistent participation, not just for the sake of club growth but for themselves.
Members leave a club because
- they are not learning (i.e., the club is not providing enough learning opportunities to them) or 
- they are not finding enough value in the membership (i.e., it is not worth the money / time they invest in the Toastmasters program). 

However, members who leave the club will not explicitly say this. Probably, they are saying "I couldn't find time for Toastmasters" - which means, they are not able to prioritise Toastmasters program in their life. 

When a club (especially, the VP Education) provides a personal attention to each of its members, understand their needs and help them by providing learning opportunities, the participation of members would increase dramatically. Assigning a mentor who inspires the member would also help the member to improve their participation.
  • How to figure out what is best for you while delivering a speech?
I don't understand this question. If you are wondering how to pick the right speech topic, you can refer to my blog
  • How is coaching and mentoring different?
  • How to know that you are shifting from being mentor to coach in the process? And how to stop your self in that situation.
  • In many cases, mentees expect to be coached rather than mentored. Where does a mentor make the distinction?
Mentoring is a long lasting relationship, while coaching is time-bound and is for addressing a specific problem / skill gap. In mentoring, the mentee asks questions and the mentor provides answers based on their experience/knowledge/skills. In coaching, the coach probes the coachee to help him/her discover answers/solutions to their problems. 

I feel that the boundaries between a mentor and a coach aren't very distinct. So, if your intention is to help your mentee, don't worry about whether you are playing the role of a mentor or a coach.   There are situations in Toastmasters where being a mentor helps - for ex., reviewing speech scripts, preparing a mentee for a club meeting role etc., However, there are situations where being a coach would help - for ex., when the mentee is playing a leadership role and has a conflict with someone in their team. The techniques that you might've used when you ran into a similar crisis wouldn't help your mentee. So, probing them to discover options / alternatives that they can try on their own would help.  

Shifting from one mode to another isn't an issue, as far as your intention is to genuinely help them.
  • Your blog is a great source for information for any toastmaster, did writing blogs helped you in your professional life?
I'm glad that you liked my blog. Yes! Writing blogs indeed helped me in my professional life too. I'm working in the software industry and I get the task of writing software requirements document, functional / design specifications and user guides / software release documentation. Writing blogs helped me to organize my thoughts and present information in a very clear, structured and crisp manner. At work, I became the most sought after person for writing customer facing release note documentation and user guides. Being multi-faceted helped me to grow fast in my career. 
  • Should mentor be a good speaker?
A mentor brings both knowledge and experience. Knowledge can be acquired by learning, but experience can be achieved only by doing. If your job as a mentor is to help new members get familiarized with the Toastmasters roles & responsibilities, the program structure and with the initial few speeches, you don't have to be a good speaker. Having knowledge on speaking itself would do. However, if you have to mentor someone with their advance speaking journey - especially in developing their delivery skills such as voice modulation, eye contact, stage usage, facial expressions - you've to be a good speaker. So, you need to have the experience of delivering good speeches to mentor someone in the speaking journey. 

Alternatively, if you are mentoring someone on writing blogs or in preparing for a technical certification, you don't have to be a great "public" speaker. However, being a good communicator always helps you to be a good mentor. An average speaker informs, a good speaker communicates and a great speaker inspires. If you want to be a mentor who inspires his/her mentees, you've to be a great speaker. 
  • How to mange our time because before mentoring we should know how to handle?
Allocating a fixed time for mentoring, helps you to manage your schedule effectively. For example, I use the early morning time to review speech scripts or speech videos to provide feedback. I take calls from my mentees during my commute time in the evening. 
  • How do you choose your pathway?
The best way to chose your learning path / pathways program is to go through the online questionnaire provided by Toastmasters International. However, if you are someone who is just starting your Toastmasters journey and if you have joined Toastmasters to learn communication skills, I would recommend you to start with Presentation Mastery program.
  • Sometimes mentees are preparing the speech and delivering it on their own(mostly because of VPE forcing them to give speech or their urge to complete the level). how to make the mentees realise the importance of mentoring?
If this happens rarely it is ok. However, if it is consistently happening, you can even have a word with the VPE. As a best practice recommend our mentee to start working on their next speech, as soon as they finish delivering a speech. This would give ample time to both of you.
  • What can you do if your mentee is not ready to listen to you or listens to you but doesn't seem to put what he has learnt into practice?
  • How to mentor a member if the member is not showing interest to learn from mentor?
  • What if in a mentor mentee relationship the mentee does not show much interest in seeking help for educational development. How does the mentor handle such a situation?
You can have an open conversation with the member to understand their needs/objectives. Identify areas where they would need help and how you can help them. If you don't find an alignment of your skills/experiences with the member's needs, you can help them find an alternative mentor. 

I've seen instances where the mentor is not disciplined enough to respond to mentee's calls or speech script review requests. If this continues for a while, the mentee naturally loses interest in continuing the mentor-mentee relationship. 

There may be instances where your mentee would need help in areas where you may not be an expert. During such instances, refer them to the right expert for help. For ex., if your mentee needs help with humorous speeches and if you are not a humorous person, you can recommend them to get help from a mentor who is good in humor. 

Staying in regular touch with the mentee would help them in sustaining their interest with both the Toastmasters program and in the mentoring process. Create a proper structure for the mentoring process - work with your mentee to jot down their goals/objectives and timelines for achieving their goals, schedule your sync-up meetings, properly follow through action items, help your mentees when they are stuck, keep them motivated regularly by appreciating their achievements.

At the end of the mentoring process helps you to develop your persuasion skills. Imagine that you are trying to convince a customer to buy your product or service and it is a million dollar deal. Would you try once and just give up.. or would you try different ways of convincing the customer. Wouldn't you ask the customer, "what is their expectations from the product or service, for them to make a purchase decision". Assume that your mentee is your customer and your perspective would completely change. You may find creative ways of persuading your mentee.

Also, read the response to "How to establish trust with the mentees?" question and follow those suggestions. 
  • How to establish trust with the mentees?
  • How do we maintain and sustain emotional bond between the mentor and mentee..these sometimes get into problems
It's hard. It comes with practice. The core area to focus is "establishing trust". You can establish trust with your mentees by doing some of the following:
1. Genuinely show interest in helping them to develop and improve
2. Periodically appreciate their performance and motivate them to aim high
3. Keep secrets as secrets 
4. Do not back bite... share honest/open feedback with your mentee, directly to him/her
5. Review their speech scripts promptly and share feedback. If you couldn't review due to some constraints tell them in advance... and preferably recommend them to get help from another mentor. Or, better yet... arrange a different mentor yourself.
6. Help them when they run into a difficult problem / situation.
7. Agree upon a fixed time for your regular sync-ups
8. Keep up the promises
  • There was this one time when a mentee said that the mentor doesn't ask him to give his next speech.Is it then job of the mentor to push the mentee to come forward or the mentee's job to approach the mentor?
No. It is not the job of a mentor to periodically remind the mentees about things that they should be doing on their own. Mentor is just an enabler, and not a driver. However, an occasional nudge always helps. For example, if the mentee hasn't delivered speeches in a long time, you can ask them "Hey! It has been a while since I heard your speech. When are you delivering your next speech?"
  • What is the purpose of pathways mentor program?
Pathways mentor program provides a structure for helping you to discover and develop your mentoring skills. The program involves completing 4 assignments:
     1. Completing the Level 2 "Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring" project
     2. Complete a self-assessment to check your readiness for being a mentor by completing the "Prepare to Mentor" form
     3. Mentor a person from your club with their project (a speech or role in the club meeting)
     4. Mentor someone in Toastmasters (or outside) for a period of six months. 

At the end of completing the Pathways mentor program, you get a certificate from Toastmasters International.
  • How to keep motivation on toastmaster club high during these tougher days?
COVID-19 has impacted the world, in ways that you could not imagine. The easiest thing to do for the club leadership team is to cancel the club meetings. However, that would not help members to sustain their interest in the Toastmasters program. Many enthusiastic clubs have leveraged technology to continue their club meetings, by taking the meetings online. I recommend the clubs to conduct their meetings online, to keep the members motivated during this period. 
  • Does age matter for mentoring?
No. But, experience/knowledge/skills do matter for mentoring. 
  • Benefits of toastmasters received towards career
Toastmasters directly helps members to build a successful career. For example, we've 3 distinct sections in any Toastmaster meetings - the prepared speech, the table topics and the evaluation sections.
1. Prepared speeches help you acquire skills that enables to you deliver effective presentations at workplace, in front of clients and team members
2. Table Topics speeches helps you to acquire skills that you can use to organize your thoughts and express yourself effectively. This skill will be very useful when a customer asks you a question in a conference call "Why is the quality of this release bad?"? Table Topics skills can also help you when you are facing interviews. I look at interviews as a series of Table Topics questions.
3. Evaluations help you to develop skills to provide constructive feedback to your team members at work. We do activities such as functional specification reviews, code reviews and even performance reviews of our team members regularly. Being a Toastmaster, your feedback will always be Constructive, Relevant, Motivating, Specific and Personal to the person receiving the feedback.
  • How does one know it's time to move on to another mentor?
  • How do we know if we are plugged with the right mentor if not what should we do
When your mentor is consistently not available, lacks capability in the area where you want to develop skills or not showing genuine interest to help you, it's time for you to move on to another mentor.  
  • How do you deal with a mentee who believes you are not as good as they are or has an ego problem to being coached
I don't know how you landed up to be the mentor for that person - if he/she has an ego problem of being coached. If it is like an arranged marriage done by the VP Education, talk to the VP Education and ask him/her to reassign the mentee to some-other mentor. It is not worth wasting your energy in trying to change their perspective on you. 

However, it is an opportunity for your self-introspection. Ask yourself, why is Mr.X or Ms.Y, not looking up to you. Probably, they are not sharing their contest scripts with you for review because they think you have neither participated in contests nor done the role of a judge. When you establish your worth by demonstrating your skills - either by participating in contests, or by conducting educational sessions on acing the contests, or by doing contest judge role ... you can earn their trust. Along the way, you would've also acquired new skills, that you can be proud of. 
  • How to mentor a senior Member in a corporate club who is higher in position in corporate ladder?
When you are mentoring a senior member in corporate world, Keep your ego away and be humble all the times. During your first meeting / interaction, tell your mentee "I'm privileged to mentor you. I look up to you in the professional world. Hopefully, I can also learn from you on leadership skills that will help me in my corporate career". These statements will ensure that "ego" is out of the equation. Regularly, appreciate them for all of their achievements / milestones in Toastmasters. 

While giving feedback ensure that you are constructive and sincere. Refer to CRISP evaluations on how to share feedback, effectively. 
  • How to make online toastmaster meeting effective?
  • What are your suggestions for conducting a successful online webinar? Its challenges and benefits compared to an in person conference?
Online webinars are equally challenging when compared to in-person conference. In addition to remembering the content and focusing on the delivery, you'll have to also handle "technology". 

- Be prepared for things to go wrong - for ex., the laptop may freeze, your Internet may go down, your mike or speakers may stop working. Have sufficient backups identified and keep them ready. 
- Keeping audience engaged in an online webinar is always a challenge. In an in-person meeting, they don't have an option other than listening to you. However, in an online webinar, audience can get distracted with their pop-ups / beeps from their messengers / emails etc., As a speaker, you'll have to keep your content crisp, run polls, ask questions to the audience to keep them engaged. 
- Ensure that you are regularly repeating your key points throughout your presentation, as the audience might've momentarily moved out to take a phone call or a bio break in-between. 
- It is always recommended to dial from a phone, as opposed to taking the call from a computer speaker/mike. The quality of the voice over Internet will fluctuate based on the available bandwidth. However, in a traditional phone call, the voice quality is always constant and good. 
- Online meetings help you to save time, as members don't have to spend a lot of time in getting ready for the meeting and driving to the meeting place. However, online meetings do not provide opportunity to members to network with each other. 
  • How to encourage, some time mentee is not wanting more
- Highlight their key achievements in the journey so far. 
- Tell them the benefits of having stretched goals and aiming high. Tell them stories / examples of Toastmasters who aimed high and achieved more in their professional life
- Be a role model to them, by continuously challenging yourself with more complex roles/responsibilities in Toastmasters
  • Why do some of the mentors become obsolete with time.
There is a famous quote - “Five years from now, you're the same person except for the people you've met and the books you've read.”. If mentors don't keep them up-to-date with the latest technologies, tools and processes, they become outdated. For example, if you want to mentor someone today, you'll have to familiarize yourself with the Pathways program - for which, you need to enroll in the Pathways program and go through that experience, yourself. 
  • As a mentor how can we ensure our mentee is getting what he/she is expected ? Like What regular checks we can do as Mentor ?
During your regular sync-ups, you can ask your mentee feedback about his/her mentorship journey. You can identify specific action items based on the feedback and track progress regularly. If your mentee hasn't reached out to you in a while, there is no harm in dropping a "Hi! How are you" message to them. It is always good to identify your mentee's goals/aspirations/objectives in advance. Once you have an understanding of their goals, make them identify interim milestones with specific timelines. This will help you to regularly check with them on the progress they've made against their own goals and plans. 
  • What do you do to constantly challenge your underlying beliefs and assumptions?
I believe in "Change Small! Change Often” I have the habit of reading new books regularly. I allocate at least 30 minutes a day to learn new things. Reading helps me to develop newer perspectives on topics that I am already familiar with. For example, though leadership is a time tested concept and I might've already read a dozen books on leadership a decade ago... I continue to read newer books on leadership. Leadership skills needed in a manufacturing world, is very different from the leadership skills needed in a digital world. So, it is very important to regularly read books to challenge your beliefs and assumptions.  

Also, I continuously learn new things and new perspectives from my mentees and from my social circle. Attending meet-ups, events and conferences will help you to widen your social circle and develop newer perspectives.
  • How can we gain the most learnings from our mentors?
You can get the most learnings from your mentor, by clearly communicating your expectations/goals to the mentor and by periodically staying in touch with them. Ensure that you are getting in touch with them before doing any role in Toastmasters. Actively, seek feedback from your mentor after performing the role and incorporate the feedback.
  • What is your message to budding toastmasters?
Follow the 3Rs - Be Regular to the meetings, Do Research (by reading manuals or referring to online materials) before doing any role and Rehearse adequately before performing the role in Toastmasters. Read my blog 3Rs of a Successful Toastmaster for more tips.
  • Is this helpful in the field of advertising!?
Yes. Toastmasters program teaches you to brand yourself and also to brand your organization in the community. Sign-up to be a VP Public Relations and you'll learn techniques to brand yourself and your organization in the community.
  • How has your mentoring styled evolved over the years?
Some notice-able aspects of my mentoring that has changed over the years are:

- During the initial days, I used to spend hours and hours to modify my mentee's scripts. At the end of the marathon review and edits, the speech script would look like "my script". I would've totally altered the style of the speech. Having evolved as a mentor, today I help my mentees discover their own style, as opposed to imposing my style on them. 
- In the past, I used to do a lot of in-person rehearsals with my mentees. Today, with technology, my mentees record a video at their home and send me via Whatsapp. I review it offline and provide feedback. 
- I have developed more patience and listening skills, by being a mentor for several Toastmasters for over a decade. I let the mentees talk more and I listen more.
- I don't try to enforce my view points on them. I broaden my perspective my listening to their view points. Instead of giving them a specific solution, I help them discover solutions on their own and make them come up with an action plan.  
  • I am scared that sometimes, when I mentor some mentees, some of my styles will go to that speaker and they might lose the originality. so how can we handle those situation
1. Mentoring isn't cloning, it is creating. Whenever you are sharing feedback with your mentees - either for their content or for their speaking style or for their leadership journey, be conscious that the objective is not to make them sound like you on the stage (or) make them do what you do. When you are conscious about this, you'll naturally discover THEIR style and polish it.... instead of pushing your style on them. 

2. While reviewing speech scripts, I try to edit the scripts to show them, 'how differently certain thoughts/ideas can be presented'. I give them multiple options... or multiple ways of expressing an idea. 

3. At the end of the day, you'll also have to continuously develop yourself, so that you reach a stage, where you are able to suggest multiple techniques / multiple delivery styles or multiple ways of solving a problem/challenge to your mentee. 
  • How do you enlist volunteers for mentoring?
You cannot force someone to be a mentor. However, you can inspire members to sign up to be a mentor. Training and imparting knowledge on mentoring to more members will help you to mobilise more volunteers for mentoring. When you are looking for mentors, don't restrict to just your club, try to find mentors from outside your club too. 
  • How do you know when it's the right time to become a mentor?
There is no perfect time to be a mentor. However, in India, Toastmasters follow some guideline, which I think are apt. In the traditional program, someone who has completed 6 projects in their Competent Communication manual and someone who has played all the club meeting roles are qualified to be a mentor. In the new Pathways program, someone who has completed their Level 2 in Pathways and played the various meeting roles in the club, would be qualified to be a mentor for a new Toastmaster. 
  • Mentoring in critical times
When you are mentoring someone during critical times, you should completely understand the situation / experience that they are going through. For example, I was mentoring a Toastmaster who had lost his job recently and he was trying to get back to work. In addition to helping the Toastmaster with his Toastmasters speeches and roles, I also referred him to job opportunities that I know of. There were instances where I was able to help them with polishing their resumes and even conduct mock interviews. I'm not recommending all mentors to do these things (especially, when you don't have the skill to help them with mock interviews or polishing their resume). However, a small act of kindness from you will go a long way in building a strong relationship with your mentees. 

I know of mentees who separate their Toastmasters career from their professional career/personal life. It will not be appropriate for me to peek my nose into their professional/personal life - unless they bring the topic on their own. 
  • What kind of change do you see in the way business operates post the current global crisis?
Businesses will embrace more technology to do the day to day work. Now that most employees are comfortable in working remotely and trained to use collaborative tools such as Zoom, Webex and GoToMeeting, remote working will gain more traction. 

In all the previous crises, we moved work from one (impacted) geography to another (non-impacted) geography to ensure business continuity. However, in this crisis, the entire world is impacted. So, it is not possible to move work from an impacted geography to a non-impacted geography. So, executives will focus on creating more infrastructure for remote working and collaboration among team members. There will be lesser travel across continents and countries and employees would be encouraged to use collaboration tools. 
  • What are key for Club Mentoring ?
I'm sharing this based on my first experience in being a mentor for a Toastmasters club. In my urge to help the club, I ended up doing all the speech evaluations myself. Slowly, they dumped the General Evaluator role also on me. Eventually, I started doing the Timer, AH Counter and Grammarian roles too. All they did was delivering speeches. I made them very irresponsible and they slowly started losing interest on the Toastmasters program. I realized later, that, as a Club Mentor, your job is to train the club officers and members to effectively do their roles. Here are some key tasks to be done as a Club mentor:
- Ensure that the club officers are trained by the district officers on their roles and responsibilities (encourage the club officers to attend the district sponsored Offices Training Program)
- Develop a Club Success Plan (if required and if appropriate, make the Club officers complete the moments of truth exercise with their club members)
- Persuade the club officers to assign a mentor for each of the club members - either from within the club or from outside. 
- Help the club officers find mentors from the community
- Work with the club officers in identifying specific challenges and help them come up with a solution.
- Periodically review the club's progress against the Distinguished Club Program (DCP) goals.
  • How one can become better as a mentor?
You can be a better mentor by continuously learning and acquiring new skills.  Also, the more people that you mentor, the better you'll become. You are indirectly learning from each of your mentees. 
  • What is tough to mentor and get mentored
Both are equally tough :)
  • How often and how deeply should you be involved in a mentees individual speech?
For a novice Toastmaster, I try to edit their speech scripts to show them how they can improve their introduction and make it more interesting / engaging.

For an advanced Toastmaster, I give them the feedback and make them do the changes on their own. There are instances where there will be multiple edits and multiple back 'n forths. There are instances where I've said "Looks perfect!" in the first iteration itself. 

Your involvement in your mentee's speech should be dependant on your mentee's knowledge/experience level, project complexity and based on your mentee's expectations. 
  • What is the most effective way to mentor, in your opinion?
  • How can mentoring be made effective both for mentor and mentee?
A mentee should clearly spell out his/her expectations and goals to the mentor. 
A mentor should provide timely and constructive feedback to the mentee. 

In addition, you can agree upon a fixed schedule / time for your regular interactions. Both the mentor/mentee should value each other's time and make the conversations crisp.

All of these will help in making the mentoring process very effective. 
  • What inspires you on a daily basis?
When you have a well-defined "goals program" you get automatically inspired every day. Identify your personal/professional/social goals and incorporate actions towards those goals in your everyday life. That will inspire you everyday.

In Abdul Kalam's words "Dream is not what you see in sleep. Dream is the thing that doesn't let you sleep".  
  • What things you keep in mind before giving advice to your mentee?
Ensure that you are giving advice in a constructive tone (similar to how we give feedback during evaluations)
Don't just give them one option - give them multiple options and encourage them to pick one. Better yet, help them discover the options on their own. 
Instead of telling them "what not to do", help them understand "what to do"
  • What are my top 3 responsibilities as a mentor?
1. Help the mentee understand the Toastmasters program format and the various roles/responsibilities
2. Help the mentee in preparing for their roles (for ex., speech scripts review, dry runs / rehearse of their speech, sharing with them checklists/tips for leadership roles etc.,)
3. Periodically share feedback about their performance and keep them motivated to push their boundaries
  • What is the 1 important thing which needs to be kept in mind while mentoring
You should keep in mind that your goal is not to change your mentee to become like you, but your goal should be to change your mentee to become the better version of himself/herself. 

Mentoring is not the process of cloning, but the process of creating. 
  • How to manage Conflicts during mentoring?
Conflict management is an art - not in just mentoring, but in all aspects of life. Some tips for effectively managing conflicts are:
- hear both the sides of the story (for ex., have a open conversation with your mentee and express your view points, in addition to listening to their view points)
- genuinely show interest in listening to their view points
- appreciate the other person's view points 
- keep emotions out and objectively evaluate facts/figures (definitely don't try to manage conflicts through whatsapp messages. It will aggravate the problem).
- weigh in pros/cons of each other's view points 
- identify optimal solutions / action plan and implement them
- finally, if nothing works, agree to disagree and move on.
  • How can I start inspiring people ?
You can inspire people around you by doing the following things:
- Be bound to your principles (for ex., if punctuality is your principle, ensure that you are punctual 100% of the times)
- Be a role model (Walk the talk, follow what you preach)
- Be sincere in helping people around you - without expecting returns 
- Talk less, listen more 
- By regularly delivering speeches at your club and taking various roles at the club. For example, if you deliver 1 speech a month consistently, you'll automatically inspire many of the new joiners in the club. 
  • How to add value to the speech
As a mentor it is very tempting to modify the speech to match your own style. However, you should resist that temptation and help your mentees to discover their own unique style. You can add value to the speech by ensuring that it meets the project objectives and by incorporating content such as stories, quotes, rhetorical devices and humor.  All of this, would improve the effectiveness of the speech. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Compete with yourself - and be a winner !

I enrolled in a gym a few years back, with a goal of becoming fit and build stamina. During my first day at the gym, I was super excited to see many body builders training their muscles. They were all bulky and lifting heavy weights. I was so passionate to become like them... soon! I met a man, a Malayaleee, whom I thought was in his mid 30s. I had more reasons to envy him - he was super fit, looked like an athlete and had thick black hair on his head. I introduced myself to him and he responded by saying "Hi! I'm Jacob and I work for a logistics company". We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. I asked him "Are you married?!" He said "Yes! I'm married and I have two daughters". He continued "My elder daughter is doing her final year at SRM and my younger one is doing her 12th standard". I was shocked when I heard that. I immediately asked his age. He smiled and said "Saro! I'm 50 years old". I was awestruck. He laughed and said "Saro! I've been exercising regularly since I was a teenager. I even won some state level body builders competition when I was young. That's the secret of my youthfulness". 

Since I met Jacob, I thought I also wanted to be like him. I started competing with him. I told myself "Saro! If a 50 years old man can do it, why can't you?". I started doing whatever he did at the gym. I started lifting some heavy weights on the first week itself. My trainer warned me that it is not wise to lift heavy weights too soon. But, I ignored the warnings from my trainer. In a few days, I sprained my elbow and I couldn't go to gym for more than two weeks. During those two weeks, I wasn't even able to lift a computer mouse, let alone any heavy weights. I had set a high bar for myself, and was pushing myself too hard. 

Instead of competing with Jacob, I should've kept him as my role model and a source of inspiration. That would've helped me to slowly make progress towards my goals. This experience taught me a very valuable lesson - "In life I shouldn't be competing with others - but with myself". Since that time, I changed my goal at the gym. I told myself "Saro! Every visit to the gym, should take you one step closer to your goal of becoming fit. You don't have to beat anyone's record. All that you've to break, is your own record from yesterday". So, I started taking one step at a time and gradually increased the weights. While I admired other body builders, I tried not to treat them as my competitors. I tried to have them as my role models. With continuous practice, today, I can lift heavy weights with ease. 

Dear friends, treat your life as a one man race. All that you've to do, is just outpace your previous performance. All that you've to do, is just break your own past record. All that you've to do, is just keep raising the bar for yourself, one step at a time. When you do that, you're surely going to be a winner. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Pathways - Negotiate the best outcome - Getting to "Yes"

Pathways - Negotiate the best outcome - Getting to "Yes" (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 3 / Project 1)

“I have been working in this organization for 4 years and I am still not promoted to the next level. Ram has the same experience like me. Anitha has the same experience like me. All of them are promoted. But, I am not. It is very demotivating for me to do my job”. My Group Project Manager who was sitting in front of me smiled and said “Saro! You’ll get promoted at the right time”. I asked him immediately “Give me a timeline”. He said “I cannot give you a timeline”. I immediately got up from my chair, walked away from the discussion and the next day, I submitted my resignation papers.

Good morning Toastmasters and Guests,

That’s how I negotiated for a promotion, with my Group Project Manager, way back in the year 2002. And obviously that was a disaster. How many of you have had an experience like this in your career?

Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 percent of your financial success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge. Negotiation is a critical skill that all of us must have to become successful in life. Due to the absence of  negotiation skills,

  1. I used to always look at any problem only from my viewpoint, instead of trying to look at it from the other's viewpoint. For ex., I would say “I am working really hard and you need to reward me for that”. 
  2. During the negotiation process, my brain will be actively thinking how I can shoot down the other person, instead of trying to focus on the conversation. For ex., I would say things like “You guys don’t understand the value that I’m adding to the business. My hardwork and loyalty is of no use here”. 
  3. I’ll always take a fight or flight approach. For ex., I would say “I’ll quit my job if you don’t give me the promotion” 

I read a number of books on negotiation style. I learned that there are three techniques that successful people use in their negotiation. They,

  1. Seek facts
  2. Ask questions
  3. Bake positivity

Years passed. I again landed up in a situation where I had to negotiate for a salary rise. I started my conversation on a positive tone, with my VP of Engineering, Dave. Dave “I love my job, I love my team and I love this organization. If there is one thing that is bothering me today, it is my salary. It not competitive and it does not enable me to deliver my best. I would like to build a long career here and hence I’m requesting for a salary rise”. Dave immediately said, “Saro! I’m surprised to hear that you aren’t motivated. You are already paid on par with the industry”.

I smiled and told Dave “Dave… I bench-marked my salary with some of my peers in the industry who are doing similar work and I’m paid 30% less than what the industry pays for someone with my experience”.

Dave immediately reacted “I don’t think so”. Dave being a smart negotiator, asked me a question, “Why should I give you a hike now, out of the regular cycle. It’s absolutely impossible”. I told him

  1. “Dave... I have tested and reported 250 defects in the software, improving the quality of software by 25%. This helped us to win a major deal from a large service provider in Europe. 
  2. I have automated testing and eliminated manual work, bringing $100K savings year on year to the organization. 
  3. I’ve been consistently ranked high in my performance reviews. It is easy for me to walk away and find another job with a 30% pay hike. But, like I said before… I love my job, I love my team and I love this organization.
  4. Moreover, I’ve signed up for a part time MBA program and I need some extra cash to pay for my tuition fees. That’s why I have come to you now”. 

Dave thought for a moment and asked me to send some of this information in writing via email. He said “Saro! I’ll try my best. But, I can’t promise you anything now”. I asked him “Dave… when can I get an update from you on this?”. He said, “Give me two weeks time and I’ll get back to you”. In a week, I got a call from Dave “Saro! Can you come to my cabin”. When I walked to his cabin, Dave handed over a letter to me. I thought, it is going to be my termination letter. When I opened the cover, I was positively surprised - “I got a 20% pay hike”. Dave said “Saro! We value your contributions to the organization and we want you to continue to deliver your best”. I was happy to receive a pay hike.

Friends… all successful people are good at negotiation. If you want to be successful, you should be good at negotiation too. In your corporate career, you can negotiate many things such as a project change, salary hike or getting funding for an idea. In Toastmasters, our VP Education can negotiate to make members sign up for a role. Our VP Membership can negotiate to convert a guest into a member. Negotiation can help TM Selvan too… when he deals with his wife. Sir… next time when you are negotiating with your wife… try these 3 things seek facts, ask questions and bake positivity. Will you?

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pathways - Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring - Step Out to Step Up

Pathways - Introduction to Toastmasters Mentoring  - Step Out to Step Up (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 2 / Project 2)


If playing a role at the club meeting is like swimming in a pond; stepping out of the club, is like swimming in the ocean, and our mentors in Toastmasters are our oxygen tanks, who help us to sail through. 

In my speech today, I’m going to talk about how I got pulled out from the pond to the ocean by my mentor, DTM Lalitha Giridhar. 

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and Guests,

I joined Toastmasters in the year 2006. But, up until the year 2009, I was just sticking to the pond. But, I never Stepped Out of the walls of the club and always operated in my comfort zone, until I received that call… in the year 2010.

1st Phone Call

It was a call from my mentor DTM Lalitha Giridhar, who was then an Area Governor. 

She said “Saro! I’ve a friend who is hospitalised. Unfortunately, there is no one to take care of her. I’ve to be in the hospital for the next 2 weeks, to help her out. Coincidentally, our Area Contests is coming up in 2 weeks. As an Area Director, I’m responsible for organising it. Since I’m not going to be available, would you be able to organize it as a Contest Chairman”. 

I told her “Lalitha! I have not organised any events in the past. I don’t even know what to do for an Area Contest.”. Lalitha in her usual tone said “Don’t worry Kanna. I’ll support you over the phone. I’ll email you all the templates and checklists. I know you’ll do a great show”. 

With some hesitancy, I signed up for the role. But, when I got into it, I really enjoyed the experience of forming a team, planning for various tasks, getting props like certificates/trophies, promoting the contest to the members/guests and last but not the least… putting together a great contest. Signing up for the Contest Chairman role, instilled the confidence in me that I can also work with a team … and influence people without a formal authority. That was the first ever role that I played outside of the club.

2nd Phone Call

Months moved on. It was the year 2011, right after I finished my Presidential term. I didn’t know what to do next. 

One fine afternoon, Lalitha called me and asked “Hey Saro! We are starting a new Toastmasters club in Amazon. Would you be able to mentor the club? The club meets on Thursdays in the evenings”. Until that time all of my Toastmasters activities were confined only to the weekends. So, I was a little hesitant to take up the role. 

I told her “Lalitha! I’m not sure if I would be able to take time off from the work every week. It will be hard Lalitha…”. 

Lalitha, without giving me any additional time interrupted my conversation and said “Don’t worry Saro. I have identified 2 mentors and 2 sponsors for the club. You don’t have to go there every week. The 4 of you can take turns. All that you’ve to do is visit the club once a month and support them”. 

I told my boss that I have to leave a little early from the office on Thursdays and he said “As far as you can take care of the deliverables, I don’t mind”. That’s how my club mentoring journey started.

After a couple of weeks, I got a call again from Lalitha … “Saro! I don’t know what magic you did. Amazon Toastmasters are amazed by your leadership. They are very impressed by your evaluations. They admire your coaching style”. 

Lalitha said “By the way… Saro! The other 3 idiots who signed up for mentoring the club, they dropped out. Can you please go there every week?”. Hesitantly, I said “Yes!” to her…. With an urge to help my poor mentor. That coaching experience enabled me to learn how to motivate a group of people to deliver their best.  


Dear Toastmasters and Guests,

With all of the skills that I developed by stepping out of the club, 

  • I was able to able to work with large teams at work place,
  • I was able to keep them motivated, 
  • I was able to influence them, get things done and produce superior results 

As a result, from just a Technical Marketing Engineer in 2009, I grew up in career to be the Delivery Head in a Fortune 15 company, managing a team of 300 employees… in 2015.

  • Like a sculptor who discovers the statue hidden in a stone …
  • Like an alchemist who transforms soil into gold … 
  • Mentors help you to form, reform and transform
  • Mentors help you to step out of your comfort zone, standout from the crowd and step up in life.

I’ve stepped out… and stepped up… how about you TMOD?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Pathways - Understanding your Communication Style - It's renewal time

Pathways - Understanding your Communication Style - It's renewal time (Dynamic Leadership Path / Level 2 / Project 2)

March 31st is the last date for renewing your Membership dues in Toastmasters. I know our VP Membership Annamalai is trying very hard to get the dues from us.  I’ve been a VP Membership multiple times in the past. Friends… trust me… it is easy to propose to a girl and make her your lover. But, it is very hard to persuade members to renew their membership. 

Good morning fellow Toastmasters and Guests, 

In my speech today, I am going to talk about my experiments with the different communication styles during my VP Membership roles.

When I was a novice VP Membership, I tried the 3Bs… 

Begging: Sir… pls renew Sir… Mme… pls renew Mme” 
Bullying: Nikhil… How many times should I tell you that you’ve to renew in time. If you don’t renew now, I’ll not allow you to enter this club again. 
Borrowing: Rahul… if you don’t have money now… no problem… you can borrow it from me… and pay me back later

But, none of the 3Bs helped me to move the needle.  Then, I started experimenting with the different styles of communication.

At first, I tried the Initiating Communication style

Initiating communication style values interacting with others and sharing stories. For example, I would go to the stage and say, 

Imagine it is 24th Aug 2019… a bright sunny day… you are attending the Toastmasters International convention at Denver, Colorado…. the finals of the World Champion of Public Speaking Contest… the hall is filled with people… people are busy talking to each other … you can smell the coffee brewing … your name gets called on the stage… Contestant #1, Farhan Ahmed… Farhan Ahmed, Contestant #1… the crowd starts to cheer… Farhan… Farhan. All of a sudden, the Chief Judge walks to the stage and stops you from talking “Farhan… You are not eligible to contest. You haven’t paid your membership dues for this term”. Fellow members, if you don’t want to lose an amazing opportunity to participate in WCPS contest, pay your membership dues now

After listening to my pitch, members told me “Saro! What a nice tale!”. But, the tale didn’t make any sale.

Then, I tried the Supportive Communication style 

Using, supportive communication style, you can earn the audience’ trust by providing them with plenty of reassurance. For example, I tried this.. 

Hello team… I know you have been working hard to develop your communication and leadership skills. We, the club officers are here to serve you and support you. We’ll assure you that you get the value of the $45 that you are spending for Toastmasters.  I know some of you didn’t like the hot tea served after the meeting… and that too, during hot summer. After this renewal season, we promise to change the hot tea to butter milk or fresh juice. I trust that all of you will pay the renewal fees by this week

Members appreciated the trust, but, my dream of getting renewals on time, went bust. 

Later-on, I experimented with the Analytical Communication style

Analytical communication style uses facts and figures. So I made my sales pitch with statistics. 

Dear folks… only one in every 200 members who join Toastmasters achieve their Distinguished Toastmasters award. If you want to be such a rarest of the rare Toastmaster… pay your club membership fees now. Toastmasters’ average retention rate is just 55%. Who knows … the person sitting near to you, may not see you, after the renewal season. So, better renew your membership now, to replenish your commitment towards becoming a DTM

I was expecting some pats for the stats, but all that I got were brickbats. 

Finally, I decided to experiment with the Direct Communication style

Direct communication style helps you to get to the point very quickly. You don’t have to beat around the bush and you can be very specific. 

Folks… It’s renewal time again. There are 3 reasons why you should renew now:
You can continue to make uninterrupted progress in your communication and leadership journey
You would continue to get the unmatchable support from your mentors and club officers 
Most importantly, you’ll be able to represent our club in the World Champion of Public Speaking contests 

The renewal fees is $45 for 6 months. Will you pay the dues on time? Please help me to help you

To my surprise, dollars kept ringing and that made me singing. I managed to complete more than 80% of the renewals, in time. I discovered that “direct communication” is my real and authentic style. 

Dear Toastmasters, communication style is like the vehicle on the road, that takes you to your destination. You’ll have to pick the right vehicle for the right destination. You don’t need a sophisticated aircraft, if the place that you’ve reach, is the shop at the corner of your street. A bicycle would do. Similarly, use the right communication style with the right people, at the right time, to get the right results. I have discovered my communication style … have you? Mr. TMOD.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

10 tips for establishing a new Toastmasters club, the "proper" way

"Saro! We are trying our best to establish this club. However, it is becoming very hard to attract guests and even harder to convert them into members. What should we do?". This is the common question that I hear from sponsors and mentors, who are trying to charter a new club in the community.

I see a lot of budding and enthusiastic Toastmasters rolling up their sleeve to start a new club. However, they need to strategize a little bit for success.  To me, establishing a new club is like "farming" - you've to plough the soil, plant seeds, water the plant, remove weeds, apply fertilizer at the right time to get a good harvest. This blog post will share some tips for establishing a new Toastmasters Club.
  1. Start the meeting on time: Starting the meeting on-time is not only critical for new clubs, but also for established clubs. When you start the meeting on time, you are indirectly conveying to the members and guests that Toastmasters meeting is a serious business. Read "How to start and end club meetings on-time"? When you delay the start of the meeting and wait for members/guests to arrive, even the members/guests who are punctual this week would come late next week. It will result in a downward spiral. 
  2. Every role player should have a proper script, well rehearsed: Imagine a SAA going to the stage and starting the meeting with sweat all over his face, hands trembling, not knowing what to speak on the stage and to top it all, not speaking good English. This is what happens in most clubs. They say "First impression is the best impression". When a SAA starts the meeting like this, it sets a wrong tone for the entire meeting. Every role player should have a proper "script" in their hand (including the SAA). A "script in hand" means that the role player is prepared. It also gives the role player a lot of confidence to speak. I would also recommend the role player to rehears properly, before the meeting starts. Role player templates for ALL roles can be downloaded from Successful Clubs Templates/Worksheets.
  3. Get all the "props" ready for the new club, even before your first meeting. Here are some props that you should have for a high-quality meeting.
    1. Create booklets for Timer, AH Counter and Grammarian roles. Download from Successful Clubs Templates/Worksheets and print those spiral bound booklets  
    2. Get a Gavel for the club. You can buy them online for $20 (Rs. 1000 or less). When you submit the Application to Organize to Toastmasters International, they would send you a kit with manuals and a Gavel. Read Steps involved in Chartering a new club.
    3. Get a "standee" or a "banner" printed for the club, with the club's name and Toastmasters International logo. 
    4. Get printed ballots for the members/guests to fill the "Best speaker/evaluator/role player/TAG role player"
    5. Get some ribbons from Toastmasters International for giving to the "Best speaker/evaluator/role player/TAG role player". If you are cash strapped, print some certificates (without the Toastmasters logo) and hand them over to the "Best speaker/evaluator/role player/TAG role player", at the end of the meeting. 
    6. Pamphlets that give details regarding Toastmasters and regarding the club (benefits of joining the club, membership fee details etc.,). Search Google for "Toastmasters new members kit", you'll find a lot of samples. You can also reach out to your District for some brochures. 
    7. New Membership form - It is very important to have this document printed and available during "every club meeting". When a guest says "I'm interested to join this club", immediately ask them to fill this form and ask them to bring the cash/cheque next week (better yet, you can make them to do an instant money transfer via mobile apps like Paypal or PayTM).  
  4. Print an agenda for every meeting and hand it over to the members / guests. I know we want to "Go Green". These days, many Toastmasters who are not so organized / disciplined are covering themselves with the "Go Green" blanket. Some clubs use a board to write the meeting agenda - but, according to me, that should complement a printed agenda ... and not replace it. Having a printed agenda is very critical to show members/guests that "Toastmasters is serious business". If your agenda doesn't change much, you are indirectly conveying to them that this club is super organized and sticks to the plan. 
  5. Display signs to the meeting venue - Clearly display sign-boards or posters that help the guests to find the meeting location / venue. At times, Toastmasters meetings happen in buildings that have multiple floors or buildings with multiple meeting rooms. Display a poster near the building entrance which guides the guests to the meeting venue
  6. Identify "temporary" club officers from "day one" - In most clubs, I see that either the club sponsors or the Area directors, who run from pillar to post to get the meeting going. I can understand them doing it for the first meeting. However, they should start identifying club officers soon enough. At times, you may have to just appoint temporary club officers for critical roles such as President, VP Public Relations (VP PR) and VP Education. These officers can in-turn wear multiple hats, by taking over other roles such as VP Membership, Secretary, Treasurer, and SAA. Club Sponsors / Club Mentors / Area Directors can train / coach these members to effectively do their roles. When you get closer to chartering the new club, you can finalize ALL of the club officer roles and make them permanent role players. 
  7. Kick start the PR engine, which works non-stop: VP PR plays a very crucial role in bringing members/guests to the new club. He/She should find creative ways to bring guests to the club. Some new clubs have the habit of inviting educational speakers for their club meetings. However, ensure that the VP PR adequately promotes the educational session / speaker to entice members/guests to attend the club meeting. If you are not promoting the educational session / speaker in advance, you will not be able to reap the benefit of bringing the educational speaker to the club. 
  8. Conduct a high-quality meeting, every week - VP Education should conduct a "high quality" meeting every week. Do not conduct half-baked meetings. Ensure that you give the guests a flavor of the prepared speeches, table topics and speech evaluations. Do not skip any segment of the meeting. It is OK to conduct a 1 hour meeting - instead of a 2 hours meeting. However, it is important to cover all of the segments and give speaking opportunities to all of the members/guests. VP Education . Read "How to identify role players for your club meeting".  Ensure that you are picking a set of new + experienced people for playing roles, to increase the quality of the meeting. 
  9. All role players have to be "coached" - Ensure that every role player is coached in advance, before the meeting. More importantly, you'll have to coach role players like the Table Topicsmaster - who plays a critical role in retaining the current members and persuading the guests to become members. Read "How a Table Topics master can hurt your club membership". 
  10. Stay in touch with the guests - Create a whatsapp group and add guests (with their consent) Share a crisp summary of the meeting to members/guests who attended (or not-attended) the meeting. In addition, you can also circulate the agenda for the next week's meeting when it is ready. It is important that one of the club officers reach out to every guest who attended the previous week's meetings. It increases your guest to members conversion rate. In today's digital world, you can also drop a quick Whatsapp note to them... thanking them for attending this week's meeting and requesting them to attend the next week's meeting. 
Zig Ziglar, a famous author and motivational speaker says "You can achieve everything that you want in life, if you can help others achieve what they want". Establishing a new club provides a lot of leadership and inter-personal skills development opportunities to all of the Toastmasters involved (Club Mentors / Sponsors / Members / Area Directors etc.,). If you follow all of these tips, you'll be able to charter your club in less than 25 weeks time. The club should be able to develop roots and start sustaining on its own, there afterwards. Along the way, you would've also gone through a tremendous transformation. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests

Cracking the World Championship of Public Speaking (WCPS) Contest requires lots and lots of preparation, planning, practice and performance. During the contest season, our speakers scramble to find the "winning formula" to ace the International Speech Contests. The truth is "There is no winning formula". I always feel that the winning formula continuously changes or evolves, with time. We've quite a diverse set of speakers, who have won the WCPS contests in the last decade. If you find it difficult to come up with a speech topic for WCPS, you can look at the International Speech Contest Topics Selection Ideas or look at the past WCPS winning speeches. In this blog post, I've captured some techniques used by most WCPS champions to ace the WCPS contests.
  1. Tell Stories - They say "Facts Tell, Stories Sell". Telling stories is the most powerful technique to keep your audience engaged. Almost ALL world championship speeches include stories or incidents from the speaker's life. It is easier for a speaker to include the story of Barack Obama or Mahatma Gandhi. However, those stories are heard by people 1000s of times and they wouldn't be as engaging as your personal stories. Also, do not pick any stories from the Internet. Thanks to social media - in today's connected world, people get to read most popular Internet stories via Whatsapp forwards. So, it is highly recommended to include a personal story. A personal story would be "fresh" - most people in the audience wouldn't have heard your personal story. So, they would be curious to listen to you. A story well told has 3Cs - Characters, Conflicts and Climax. So, spend adequate time in your speech to describe the characters, the settings, the conflict and the climax. If you don't have a story, you don't have a speech.  
  2. Create a "foundational phrase" - The first time I heard this term "foundational phrase" was during Ovation 2011. Craig Valentine was one of our educational speakers and he shared with us a number of speaking tips. He told us about the importance of having a "foundational phrase" in our speeches. Foundational phrase is a crisp one line summary of the speech. It has typically less than 10 words and can be written in large fonts behind a business card (i.e., visiting card). For example, Dananjaya Hettiarachchi's "I see something in you",  Ed Tate's "One of those days", Ramona Smith's "Still standing" are good "catchy" foundational phrases. These phrases get used again and again during the 5 - 7 minutes speech and helps in reiterating your "core message" to the audience. 
  3. Add rhetorical devices - Rhetorical devices add more color to the speech. They help audience to visualize your thoughts. Rhetorical devices are also powerful tools for increasing the memorability of your speech. There are different rhetorical devices such as similes, metaphors, alliterations and triads. Once you are done writing your speech, see how / where you can add rhetorical devices in the speech, to maximize the impact. Read "Rhetorical Devices (Ideas & Examples" to learn more about rhetorical devices. 
  4. Add Quotes - Brendan Behan, an Irish poet once said "A quotation in a speech, article or book is like a rifle in the hands of an infantryman. It speaks with authority". Quotes would spice up your speech, and it can explain what 1000 words cannot. Do not try to fill your speech with quotes. Add one or two quotes maximum for a 5 - 7 minutes speech. It is best to add them either at the Introduction or at the Conclusion of your speech. You can find quotes for any topic at
  5. Include "conversations" in the speech - Having conversations and dialogues in your speech add variety to the speech. Conversations and dialogues also help you to recreate the incident / story from your life, thereby enabling the audience to visualize the incident/story, better. Having conversations in the speech also would help you to demonstrate some vocal variety. It is easy to bring-in some natural voice modulation during conversations than during third person narrations. For example, during a regular narration of an incident you would say "I scolded my friend nicely for taking my bike keys without asking me". You can recreate the incident through conversations. For example, you can say ... When my friend entered the house, I looked at him and shouted "How dare you take my bike keys without asking me? My friend looked at me and said "Sorry pal ! I wouldn't do it again". Refer to Vocal Variety - 4Ps of Voice for additional information on voice modulation. 
  6. Add Humor - Most people think, WCPS speeches are serious speeches. However, if you watch the past WCPS speeches, almost ALL the world champions include humor generously in their speeches. Adding humor to the speech, is like the icing on the cake. It increases the engagement and connect with the audience. However, it is not an easy task to add humor in the speech. Don't worry! There are some techniques available to inject humor into the speech script. You can find them at Humorous Speech Writing Techniques. Ensure that you are making the audience laugh out loud at least 3 or 4 times in your 5 - 7 minutes speech. Be a little cautious when adding humor to your script - stay away from common pitfalls such as the ones captured in the blogpost 11 mistakes to avoid in a Humorous Speech Contest.

International Speech Contests - What's your message?

“If you want to be a World Champion of Public Speaking, every speech of yours should be a world champion speech” said Dhananjay, District 82 winner of International Speech Contest. Isn't that true? You are not in the World Championship race, with a one trick pony approach. You are participating in the contest because you want to master the art of perfecting your speech. World Championship journey helps you to learn the art of perfecting your speech so that - your ordinary speech becomes an extraordinary speech, your simple speech becomes a star speech, your club class speech becomes a world class speech. The core of any World Championship speech is the "Message". This blogpost provides some tips about coming up with a message for your International Speech.

A few years back, I attended a workshop conducted by a fellow Toastmaster on "How to come up with topics for International Speech Contests". During the workshop the Toastmaster said, “If you are going to die tomorrow, what is that ONE message that you want to tell the world?” I thought it is an interesting tip. So, I noted it down immediately and used it in my next workshop. After the workshop, a 18 year old young Toastmaster came to me and said “Saro! Why are you talking so negatively? I’m still young and I don’t want to think about dying tomorrow… and I also don’t have any message to tell the world. What should I do?” That young Toastmaster added “I have not lost crores in business... I don’t have a mother or sister in wheel chair... and most of all, I haven’t gone through any alcohol rehabilitation". Now tell me, what should I talk about?

The moment you ask somebody to come up with a speech idea which has a message, they pick serious topics... like "Stop drinking alcohol", "Economic divide between the rich and poor", or "Why you should attend your club meetings regularly". Well, the last one was introduced to bring humor. Don't take it seriously.

You don't have to talk about serious subjects and make audience look for a kerchief when you finish your speech. I believe that if you can make the audience laugh and cry in the same speech, you've made the sale. The incidents need not be "larger than life" incidents. The incidents in your speech can be simple ones. However, the message that comes out of those examples should be powerful.

  1. Presiyan Vasilev, WCPS 2013 delivered a speech on “Reach out”. He told us how he wasted a lot of time pretending that he knew everything to fix a punctured tire. Finally, he was able to fix the tyre only by reaching out to a man in the nearby gas station. His message to the audience was to "Reach out" to people around them for help. 
  2. Dananjaya Hettiarachchi, WCPS 2014  gave a speech on the topic "I see something". He shared examples from his life where great mentors discovered his true potential and transformed his life. His message to the audience was "Discover your true potential".
  3. Ramona Smith, WCPS 2018 gave a speech on the topic “Still Standing”. She told us how she faced setbacks in life and how she got up, bounced back into action and achieved success. Her message to the audience was to bounce back and stand up, when something knocks you down in life. 
The good thing about International Speech Contests is, they don't give you a topic and force you to speak on that. They allow the participants to come up with their own speech topics. This provides a lot of flexibility to speakers, to pick any speech topic of their choice. Read: International Speech Contests - Topic Selection Ideas

When you are preparing for International Speech Contests, try to identify an interesting story or incident from your life, first. When you have the story ready, ask yourself... what message does the story bring out. Great speakers can do the opposite - you give them a topic or a message, and they can easily come up with a story or example to convey that message. However, for novice speakers, it is easier to come up with a story first and then look for the message.

A story without a message is like a car without wheels. It will not take you anywhere. If you are doubtful, deliver the story as a speech in front of your club members and ask them "What message do you infer from this story?" You would be surprised to hear their feedback. The same story can at times, convey more than one message. So, you'll have the option of picking the best message to share with the audience. Preferably, pick a message which most people in the audience can connect with or relate to. As a general practice, it is good to revise your script as you move from club to area to division to district to International - as the audience demographics change.

Mehmet Murat ildan, a famous author once said "There is no message valid for all times! Each message has a life span, sometimes a hundred years sometimes five thousand years, but ultimately the mission of each message ends! When you give people a message, you should know that even if your message is as bright as a sun, one day, like the sun, it will fade away!”. So, don't squeeze your brain and push yourself too hard to share a message that lasts forever. Look for a message which is relevant to share, today!.

[Also read: Speech Crafting Checklist for International Speech Contests]