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Online Mentoring

Delivering feedback remotely goes a long way toward helping members.

By Jennifer L Blanck, DTM


Jennifer L. Blanck (left) and her mentee László (Laci) Szücs.
Soon after moving to Budapest in the fall of 2013, I started mentoring a new Hungarian Toastmaster—László (Laci) Szűcs. Today, I continue to mentor him even though I moved from Hungary to France last year and to the United States this year. 

We’re a good fit, but he has additional reasons for maintaining our mentoring relationship. “I feel like I’m on a fast track for my goals, so I really need someone who has known me from the beginning, with all the ups and downs I’ve had,” says Laci, who has earned his Advanced Communicator Bronze award. 

Our mentoring sessions include speech-content brainstorming, review and feedback; video and live performance reviews and feedback; and coaching sessions, all via email and Skype. 

In today’s world, it’s easier to connect because of the range of technologies available. We have email, instant text messaging and webcam platforms for online mentoring sessions, which afford connections with a wider variety of individuals. Not only can people stay in touch wherever they are, they can develop relationships to address even the most specific goals. 

Both traditional and online Toastmasters clubs give members opportunities for one-on-one mentoring. Even if your club doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, you can ask another Toastmaster—in your club or beyond—to be your mentor, like Laci did. The key is to find someone who will be a good fit, someone with the skills or experience you are seeking to strengthen in yourself. With online mentoring, you must be willing to engage with technology to make it work. When I knew I was moving from Hungary, Laci and I talked about our mentoring relationship and what it might look like moving forward, and we decided to continue on.


Online Dynamics

The concept of “meetings” can become blurred in online mentoring. Emailing can be even more substantive and important. Responsiveness and message tone also become more significant. For me, it helped that Laci and I had known each other for two years before moving to an online mentoring relationship. However, knowing each other well isn’t a must. Some online club members say they feel just as close, or even closer, to Toastmasters in their online club than in their traditional one. 

In addition to assigned one-on-one pairs, individuals can be mentored in peer-to-peer engagements where there are no permanent mentor-mentee relationships. “There are multiple mentor/mentee clusters,” says Svetlana Rakhimova, CC, CL, a member of the online club Firebirds Collective. “It’s still one person mentoring another person, but there are as many pairs as there are skills and needs for them.”    

Online mentoring isn’t just for individuals. It can happen with groups and clubs. Firebirds Collective hosts “after-parties” for its members, in which anyone can stay online after the meeting to talk about specific issues or exchange information. In the mentor/mentee clusters, if multiple mentees want to talk with the same mentor, it can turn into a small group talk or workshop. 


Offering Assistance to Clubs

Online mentors can also help entire clubs. When Muhammad Habibul Islam, CL, moved from the city of Chittagong in Bangladesh to Dhaka, the country capital, he established the Dhaka Toastmasters club—a challenging endeavor considering he didn’t yet know many people there. His online mentor, Shuvo Hridayesh, CC, CL, in Sri Lanka, volunteered to help get the club on firm footing. Together, they decided they needed one more strong, supportive and globally minded mentor to help build a sustainable club and determine the benchmarks for its success.

Islam posted a request via the Official Toastmasters Members Group on Facebook and Alicia Curtis, DTM, from Australia, responded. From the chartering process to regular meetings, the club has benefited from the expertise and dedication of both these mentors. 

“It creates a good impression when new members learn that the club is supported by mentors from Sri Lanka and Australia,” says Islam.

Whether done online or face to face, mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship. Mentees hone their skills and gain inspiration, motivation and moral support. Mentors benefit from the emotional rewards and skill development they receive from mentoring other members. Clubs become healthier as members grow and become more satisfied. 

In all mentoring, it’s important to establish parameters and discuss expectations at the beginning. It’s also helpful to set a time frame for the relationship and revisit it when the time comes. 

Don’t let geography limit you. If you want a mentor, find the best one for you, whether that person is next door or halfway around the world.