Around the world, progressive corporations large and small are discovering the value that Toastmasters brings to their organizations. But it’s probably safe to say that few corporations have embraced Toastmasters as enthusiastically as has Bank of America.
Bank of America’s history with Toastmasters spans more than two decades. It started when some bank associates joined a local club in their community. Impressed with the experience, they built interest within the company and approached management to suggest a club be chartered in their workplace. That first club was chartered in Brea, California, in August 1983 – and it is still active!
Today, Bank of America is home to 63 active Toastmasters clubs worldwide, collectively forming the Team Bank of America Speaking Network.
Team Bank of America
Team Bank of America was established in 1921 as a network for bank associates and their families. In its early stages, its goal was simply to organize sporting and social activities outside the workplace. Over the years, it has evolved into five distinct networks supporting individual and community development. One of these, the Speaking Network, consists of Bank of America’s 63 Toastmasters clubs. Its goal is to help associates develop communication, presentation and leadership skills.
The Value of Toastmasters
It’s clear that Bank of America leaders recognize the value of Toastmasters. Bob Mandala, of Celebration, Florida, is national program director for Team Bank of America. “In our business, communication skills are essential to succes,” he says. “We are constantly dealing with the public, and every interaction is an opportunity for us to impress. Toastmasters helps us increase the likelihood of having a successful outcome.”
Those same benefits are carried over into the Bank’s internal operations. “Improved communication and leadership skills are helping our associates interact better with their peers and supervisors,” says Mandala. “They are able to present and sell their ideas more effectively. They have become better problem solvers.”
Another attractive advantage is simplicity. “Clubs are easy to start and operate – all you really need is a room and a group of interested associates,” says Mandala. Toastmasters’ simple “turnkey” approach to chartering and supporting new clubs has been a key to expanding the Team Bank of America Speaking Network.
Finally, Bank of America is sold on the cost-effectiveness of the Toastmasters program. As Mandala explains, “It’s an efficient and inexpensive way for us to develop our most important asset, our human resources.”
And results are apparent. Managers are seeing improved productivity and quality of work. Associates are communicating better and more confidently. One manager, Maurice Coleman, was able to put his Toastmasters skills to use as a guest on NBC’s Today Show. He said: “Toastmasters provided the basic communication skills I needed to appear on a national program, as well as a concrete foundation in my development as a public speaker.”
Some members attribute their promotions to the training they’ve received through Toastmasters. One member, Deborah Joyner, of Charlotte, North Carolina, says: “To have enough confidence in ourselves to assist and motivate others is a dream we can all accomplish through the great communication skills obtained through Team Bank of America Speaking Networks.”
Secrets to Success
It’s no coincidence that Team Bank of America’s Speaking Network is so successful for both the company and its members. The bank supports its network in three key ways:
• Clear support from senior management: Bank of America makes a point of promoting Toastmasters actively across the entire organization. The bank’s Web site proactively highlights the Speaking Network, and associates everywhere are invited to join. (You can Google “Team Bank of America Speaking Network” to see for yourself.)
Perhaps the most striking example of Bank of America’s support for its Toastmasters clubs was a DVD unveiled in December 2006. Bill Kennedy, President of Voices of Bank of America Club, explains, “The DVD is an in-house tool that focuses on the value and benefits of managers and associates belonging to the Toastmasters Speaking Network.” In the DVD, three senior executives who report directly to Bank CEO Kenneth D. Lewis speak highly about the Toastmasters program and emphasize how important communication skills are to the Bank and its associates. (See their comments in sidebar above.) Mandala says the DVD was developed “to emphasize senior management’s support for the Speaking Network and to invite all associates to join one of our Toastmasters clubs.”
• Doing what it takes to make the Speaking Network work: Bank of America’s commitment to its Toastmasters clubs is clear from the way it strives to accommodate club and member success. Clubs are encouraged to meet at whatever time is most suitable to members, and everyone is welcome, regardless of their position within the corporation. The Speaking Network includes morning, noon, evening and Saturday clubs; one club even meets at 3 a.m., when a shift changes!
New club leads can be initiated by management or interested individual associates. Member participation is supported inside and outside of working hours. As in any corporate situation, customers and business must come first. “But we try to accommodate wherever possible,” says Bob Mandala, and “find a balance between the needs of the company and the objectives of the member.”
• Recognition: Bank of America recognizes its associates who achieve Toastmasters communication and leadership designations. The company actively promotes the Distinguished Club Program: last year, 22 clubs were commended for achieving Distinguished, Select Distinguished or President’s Distinguished status. As well, members are offered the opportunity to shine by serving as emcees or chairpersons at company events.
But Bank of America goes even further, offering its own recognition programs and activities. For example, the “Network of the Year” award recognizes the top club in the network; in 2006, it was awarded to Voices of Bank of America Club, located in New York.
And Bank of America holds its own National Speaking Competition, using its in-house TV broadcast system to simulate a live, national audience. Last December 13, five finalists competed in Boston in front of a studio audience of 100 people, as thousands more watched across the country. “Competing was an experience I will never forget,” said finalist Bill Kennedy. “To me, the event was a way for Team Bank of America to show that they appreciated my efforts and dedication. And it has motivated me to become a serious student of public speaking, with a goal of improving constantly.”
Bank of America also encourages members to go beyond the club through its community outreach program. After competing in last year’s speaking competition final, Bill Kennedy has gone on to speak to local grade 8 intermediate school classes about the basics of banking.
Secrets at the Club Level
President’s Distinguished Voices of Bank of America Club uses several key strategies to motivate, retain and develop members:
- The club provides a supportive and non-judgmental environment where members can develop skills and receive valuable feedback.
- The meeting atmosphere is fun and positive.
- After every meeting, a short recap is e-mailed to every member so every member has an overview of what happened and stays connected to the club.
- Phone calls are made to members who have missed several meetings, to invite them back and help them refocus on their Toastmasters goals.
- “Speakouts” are held periodically to clear up schedule backlogs.
- Everyone is involved in every meeting in one role or other – even guests.
In part because of these strategies, “Voices” has grown by more than 40 members this year. “We rotate our meetings between four locations, all within a 15-minute radius, so that all members have an opportunity to participate, regardless of their location,” adds Kennedy.
With 63 thriving clubs, Bank of America is in itself an impressive testimonial to the benefits Toastmasters can bring to any corporation.
Carl Duivenvoorden, DTM, served as District 45’s Governor in 2004-2005. He lives in Upper Kingsclear, New Brunswick, Canada.
Bank of America executives support the Toastmasters program
President, Global Consumer & Small Business Banking
“With improved verbal skills, you’ll find yourself participating more fully in all the formal and informal brainstorming so essential for problem-solving and good decision making in our company. In addition, it enables you to inspire and motivate other teammates, oftentimes to do things that they don’t think are possible.”
Global Technology, Service & Fulfillment Executive
“Communication skills are foundational to success – individual success and the success of our enterprise...We all need to be even more effective at communicating what we do, communicating our own objectives and how we can help others achieve theirs...The Speaking Networks are a great way to grow and to have fun along the way.”
President, Global Wealth and Investment Management
“Strong communication skills are what we use to build credibility and trust with our clients. The more trust we have with our clients, the further we’re going to succeed in our business.”