I thought a lot about it before sharing my plan with the six Area Directors and club mentors in July 2019. I wanted to visit all clubs, first existing 18 and thereafter every new club as they opened. Learning from the AD role I took up two years ago, I wanted to understand directly from the members their problems, challenges, and what ails in their journey to become a quality member of a quality club.
Many questions snaked up my mind cluttering it with many thoughts. Would the ADs feel undermined that I am reaching out to their clubs directly? Would the members be alarmed that the Division Director is coming on an official visit? What if a member points out that the visit is not mandatory, so not required? Will the members attend in numbers? What if they realized I was not getting any credit either, so why bother?
My conscience was clear. It was my choice. If I was to engineer a beautiful Toastmasters experience for members to spread the good word, attract more members, and expand the numbers of clubs, I had to embark on this journey and work with the members directly. I had to sense their pulse so that the members feel empowered, stay motivated, and provide helpful feedback to improve club experience.
Area Directors were alerted and the Division Secretary Neha Amatya actively took upon herself to coordinate the meetings throughout the year. After visiting all 36 clubs in Nepal (some virtually during Covid-19 pandemic lockdown), I can say that it has been undeniably worthwhile. I received feedback and insights that I would otherwise be ignorant of. An important real-time leadership lesson learned – through one reads about it in books, the difference in practice is startling.
There are numerous instances and understanding I have received from the visits. It is not possible to list them all. However, I shall highlight a few insights that can be useful for future leaders and members to consider.
- Members felt there were sold on a wonderful dream. Once they paid their membership fee, they were forgotten. More care is required once they join. A practice of handholding the new member must be developed.
- New club members wondered where did their club sponsors and mentors, who get credit, disappeared. They felt ignored. A robust system of managing new clubs has to be put in place.
- While mentor-mentee pairing is encouraged, there is a lack of interactions between the two. The mentee is reluctant to reach out, the mind clouded with multiple trepidations. The mentor feels they are yet to be contacted. A void develops. Some mechanism to bridge the gap becomes a priority.
- The direct encouragement of making a new member take up Table Topics acts as a deterrent instead of encouragement and has led to absence in later meetings. The very fear a member wanted to address was unknowingly being fueled instead. Go slow with the new members (and potential guests) on them taking up Table Topics.
- A majority of members were found struggling to craft a speech the ‘Toastmasters way’ as they heard many good speeches given. They were stuck at the basics. They felt uncomfortable and awkward to mention it. It was psychologically draining for them and they slowly started to skip meetings. Just wearing a Toastmasters pin after becoming a member does not suddenly reduce their fears, inhibitions, and social perceptions of who they are. Proper mentoring support, that Toastmasters espouses, must truly be followed.
- New clubs suddenly have an Executive Committee who have little idea of managing the club. Beyond the initial euphoria, clubs have shown signs of struggle. If TLI is far away, it is advised for the Area Director to conduct a Club Officers’ training (CoTP) within a month of the charter. This exercise, many may not know, gets official credit as one of the DCP goals, whenever it is done.
- Many clubs were found lacking in planning their year. Most depended on a few mentors to guide and run the club on as and when required basis. As a result, there was no cohesive effort that glued the members together. Moments of Truth (MoT) must follow right after CoTP and a yearly plan for the club must be the output of the MoT session.
- To meet DCP goals, few clubs encouraged members to finish their projects quickly without looking at whether the member has met the objectives and improved as a speaker. This practice has to be discouraged. It does Toastmasters no service if someone becomes a DTM and still struggles to put a sentence together.
- Toastmasters in Nepal has always prided over proper evaluation to speakers that dissects speeches on merit with appropriate feedback. To encourage members, there has been an increase in ‘positive evaluations only’ that has been patchy at best. Clubs must create a benchmark of evaluations that include proper elements of critical feedback, as required.
After listening to their stories, I instinctively changed the format of my 60-75 min interactions to address their genuine requirements. If I did a short session on crafting a speech in one, I switched to making a yearly club plan for another, and put new members at ease about table topics in a third. I realized every session became more dynamic responding to member needs rather than a structured one.
At the end of every club visit, the members had thanked me for inspiring, motivating, and encouraging them with my talk and repartee to their questions. I am thankful to them for being at ease, trusting me, and providing candid, constructive, and open feedback that enriched each discussion.
I enjoyed every visit and I am thankful to all the clubs for making me wiser, more reflective, and more ready to put on different pairs of lenses with every different group. I agree that as a General you are far removed from what is happening on the battlefield, and it is worthwhile to visit the frontlines yourself and feel their pulse once in a while.
Suman Shakya, DTM
Division A Director
Published in Inkspire Issue 4. Click here for the full newsletter.