We frequently talk about Toastmasters as a learning experience. We stress speech evaluation, the opportunity to fail in a friendly environment, and mastering leadership. However, there is another area that has the potential to be the most valuable—mentoring.
As experienced Toastmasters, we assign a mentor to each new member, but all too often the mentoring process is treated as a minor role—simply a requirement in the Competent Leadership manual. As Pathways rolls out in each district, more emphasis will be placed on this important role. Why? What is its value? And how do you go about finding a good mentor?
I have found that many times a concept or process is best learned by looking at a similar situation in a different context. My recent experience outside of Toastmasters may show the answers to those questions.
A few months ago I passed a test required for an amateur radio license. I am fascinated by the communication aspects of the field, but the real driving force in amateur radio is electronics technology. Unfortunately for me, the limit of my electronics knowledge is reached when I plug in a device and turn it on.
To learn more, I joined a local amateur radio club that meets every week for an educational presentation. That sounds a lot like a Toastmasters meeting, doesn’t it? This helps me to a point, but I still have many questions—very basic ones.
During the first meeting, Earl immediately handed me his card and said, “Call me anytime with your questions.” That is a mentor—someone with expertise who is willing to help. I have his number on speed dial. I also met Shane. Our personalities click, so we chat during every meeting. The club is working on a “homebrew” radio project to build a device, but I didn’t have the skills to participate. Shane invited, “Come on over to my place and I will teach you how to solder.” James offered, “I’ll help you get the right components.” While, Jaime added, “When you get your device built, let me know. I’ll help you program it.” Those are mentors.
Mentors are everywhere. You just have to look, and ask.
I am also interested in learning Morse Code, a method of transmitting text. That is Robert’s topic. Every week at the radio club he runs a code practice. He is one of the quieter members, but I made a point to get to know him. He gives me tips to get up to speed quickly. He, too, is a mentor.
What does this show us? That mentors are everywhere. You just have to look, and ask. And you can have more than one. Mentoring, though, is not just a role to play. It is a partnership. It has two requirements—a person who wants to learn, and a person who wants to help. Mentors like to work with people who are willing to do what it takes to grow. The first step, then, in finding a good mentor is to become the type of person that someone wants to work with.
In Toastmasters, you will start out with one mentor who will help you learn the basics: how to be a timer, how to write your first few speeches and how to work in Pathways. The mentor is assigned to you. Your vice president education may offer you a choice of mentors—talk with each one. Do your personalities click? Do they seem interested in being truly helpful?
As you attend more meetings, you will see how each member has unique strengths. Make a note of this, and when you need help in a particular area, seek out the member who has the strongest skills in that area. I am strong in speech delivery and wordsmithing. Another member will be strong in speech organization. Someone else may be strong in body language. Decide which members have the skills that you need today and put together a mentoring team for yourself.
How do you know where you need to improve? Listen to your evaluators. Do you frequently hear the same comments or suggestions?
The question remains: What is the value of a mentor? In a nutshell, it is targeted, accelerated learning. The Toastmasters program is great—it offers customized learning. Take advantage of it. Sometimes you will need help to move forward. And sometimes you will need someone to hold you accountable. A mentor can help you in all of these ways.
One final thought—mentoring goes two ways. We all have something to share. Be willing to help someone else learn, even if you are new. That is, after all, part of being a Toastmaster.