Officer Training – Again! What's In It For You?

Photo Caption: Past International Director Tammy Miller leads a district leader training session at the 2008 International Convention in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Are you a club officer in Toastmasters? If so, are you planning to attend midyear officer training in January or February?

No? Think the training won’t benefit you? Please think again – and read on to see what unexpected benefits training can offer. Even for veteran officers, there are surprisingly numerous reasons to go.

And if you’re already planning to be there – great! To help maximize your experience, read about what you can gain from this enlightening and helpful event. 

Learn Something New
The initial benefits of midyear training – or “second training” to some – should be obvious to anyone assuming an officer role for the first time in January. You attend to learn about your role. Such training also provides a venue to learn about and understand any changes or new opportunities at the international or district level of Toastmasters. In addition, there’s the chance to discover how other clubs are handling changes and then to incorporate their methods into your own group.

Philani Ncube, past president of District 74’s Honeydew Toastmasters in Johannesburg, South Africa, notes that training provides “clarity on [the] role as a club officer, leadership, and [an] overall objective of what Toastmasters is all about and the benefits thereof.”

Clarity can be essential, especially for members who accept officer roles early on in their Toastmasters career. Even for veteran members or those who have served in other officer roles, midyear training serves as a reminder of all the aspects involved in their current role.

As technology and resources change, officer roles can be affected. So even veterans of the same role might need to learn new procedures, functions or processes. For example, officers of clubs using have seen their responsibilities adjust to the increasing functionality offered by the free online Web site. At times, Toastmasters International institutes new rules or processes, such as the updated and expanded Toastmasters education program, which includes the Competent Leadership manual.

Furthermore, an idea might not be new, but it could be new to you. While Toastmasters meetings share basic elements – prepared and extemporaneous speeches, and evaluations – each club structures its meetings differently; hearing inventive ideas from others can kick-start your own creative thinking. 

Remember and Reflect
Officer roles are multifaceted. Many times, these positions involve behind-the-scenes work seldom realized or appreciated by members. Rarely do we do everything we’re supposed to during our first six months in a role – maybe not even in a whole year. Midyear training allows you to check in with others about all the duties involved in your position and to think about ways to handle them.

It can also be an opportunity to reflect on the first six months. How did you do? What went well, and what could be improved? Our lives are so busy – who isn’t multitasking these days? This session offers that time to focus on your officer contribution and process what’s happened so far.

Ann King, a member of Clonakilty Toastmasters in County Cork, Ireland, and Area 11 Governor in District 71, notes, “If a new officer is given certain information at the beginning of the year, it may or may not ‘take,’ as often he or she has not a solid base against which to apply it. By midyear, the officer likely has a strong need to clarify issues and methods. (Stated another way: You have to understand the system before you can ask questions about it.)” 

Share Challenges and Successes
For club officers gathered at the training event, the group dynamic is very useful. Edward Chen, District 67 Parliamentarian in Taipei, Taiwan, says, “The main purpose is to share what they have experienced in the past half-year and find solutions for the problem or difficulties they are facing.”

What are some best practices employed by clubs? What activities or approaches have other clubs tried? What are some lessons learned that could benefit you or others? By hearing about best practices or activities that didn’t work, officers can quickly add to their portfolio of initiatives. And it’s nice to know that you’re not alone in some of the challenges you’re facing.

Debbie Roes, Area 8 Governor in District 5 and immediate past president of Pacific Beach Toastmasters in San Diego, California, notes that “meeting the other officers is one of the best parts of the training experience, as I learn from their experiences.” 

Socialize and Network
Many people go for the social aspect of training. It’s an opportunity to meet new people or connect with other members in a new way.

When Ian Hamilton, immediate past president of District 73’s North Adelaide Toastmasters in South Australia, attends, he expects “to learn and to meet officers from other clubs, and to get answers to questions I might have.”

King, the Irish Toastmaster, says, “Many of our clubs are in rural areas. Contact with other clubs may be limited due to distance, so training sessions may be eagerly attended as a means of obtaining support. For these same reasons, they may be seen as anticipated social occasions.”

                    "Midyear training allows you to check in with others about all the duties
                    involved in your position and to think about ways to handle them."

In addition to socializing, you can also network to help recruit participants for your club meetings. Chen says, “Both the first and the second officer trainings also serve as fellowship meetings for district and club officers. The meetings offer them opportunities to make friends with the officers from all over the country. This is very helpful in fulfilling their jobs, as they may [then] know many capable and experienced Toastmasters from other clubs who they can invite to their clubs to serve…in the regular meetings or as judges in their speech contests.”

There are indeed many reasons why you should talk to the other members in your district. You might hear about other speaking opportunities or recruit speakers for meetings and contests. You might even learn about something beyond Toastmasters, such as a job opportunity. 

Help Others
Is your club thriving? Do you have creative meetings or successful membership drives? Is your group on the cutting edge of technology? If so, you have a lot to share with other officers.

Some officers have attended trainings for years. Their institutional knowledge can be invaluable. If you’re one of these veterans and feel like you’ve been at training more than necessary, remember that you might have a lot to offer new officers. Help them by sharing your experience and insights. Or maybe volunteer to be a trainer. 

Review Materials
What advanced manual interests you? Are there club training modules that could benefit your fellow club members? What recognition items can you incorporate into your club program for speaking and leadership milestones? If your midyear training includes a “bookstore” or any setup that offers the chance to buy new manuals or other Toastmasters items, you’ll have the opportunity to review the materials before making a selection. 

Midyear training also provides inspiration, as you hear about amazingly inventive and successful clubs and their leaders. When you are open to learning new things, it’s hard not to be re-energized by the ideas, accomplishments and perseverance of others.

Get Credit
Like most officers, Hamilton, the Australian Toastmaster, attends midyear officer training “because it is of benefit to me and the club, and it counts toward the Distinguished Club awards.” While officers should attend training because of the value received, getting credit is an added bonus.

If DCP credit has been your main reason in the past, consider all the other benefits. It might make the time you invest in training more enjoyable, interesting and productive. 

It’s Up to the District
Not all midyear training sessions offer all these opportunities. Some might offer very few. In addition, as Debbie Roes points out, “The level of benefits gained varies widely depending upon the trainer.”

Not everyone believes that club officer training – or district leader training, either – is worthwhile. If your district doesn’t provide the training you or your officers need, send the district leaders some constructive feedback. What would help? Toastmasters are trained in evaluation; use those skills to let your district leadership know what you need to be successful. Share your ideas.

For example, Roes suggests, “Perhaps [Toastmasters International] could do ‘train the trainer’ sessions for officer trainers, or provide training materials so that the individual districts can put on more effective trainings... I find I learn a lot when I visit other that type of experience could be leveraged in a sort of ‘advanced training’ for second-term (or however many terms beyond one) officers.”

A lot of time, energy and resources are put into organizing midyear training. The coordinators and trainers want to make training the best possible experience for all. Give them an opportunity to consider your needs and see what they can do. You may have something great to gain. As Ncube from South Africa notes, “Like anything else in life, you only get out of it as much as you put in.” 

Jennifer L. Blanck, ACS, AL, is a charter member and current officer of Georgetown Toastmasters in Washington, D.C. She has been a member of Toastmasters since 1995 and has served as a trainer for District 36 since 2003.