Thursday, September 16, 2010

Starting a Toastmasters Club

The following is an addition I've made in LinkedIn in the District 82 Toastmasters group discussion titled "What are the best strategies to start a new club, which shall not die irrespective of circumstances ? Share your thoughts"

Hi guys! I now feel like an idiot after reading many good strategies.. we started a club in TCS Gurgaon in April 2009 and have literally lived through the phrase "Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread" ! We were just 2 junior-level employees committed to "the cause" - myself being the only one who had any working knowledge of "this TM thing" - all of 4 months and 2 or 3 speeches (!!). All I knew at the time was the roles in a meeting. Every week from April through June we held a demo meeting, and we'd get 2 people signing up and 1 backing out because of on-site or off-job (the good guys usually leave!).

After lots of stumbling and frequent guest appearances, encouragement as well as outright scolding (very helpful!) from the area, division and district governor, we accumulated a good enough number of comrades to call ourselves a "club"!. In June 2009, we told 23 people, individually, that 19 others had already signed up to be charter members and we just needed one more (everyone is so reluctant!) And it worked!!

Even after charter, it was hectic just getting the meetings on (including scraping the HR and Admin week after week for venue and having several last-minute dropouts), but once we were into one, the sheer experience just propelled us forward. I served as Vp-Ed and then President. We went through times when only 1 or 2 or 3 EC members would be around. But fortunately the intrinsic value of TM kept attracting more and more people (and sending a good number to onsite, MBA and job hops as well so it was net neutral!).

Over the course of a year, I learnt a valuable lesson as a club leader : We have to let go, put our faith in others and trust that things will work out. Planning helps a lot but it can never cover all the corners as effectively as faith, optimism and on-the-spot thinking can.

I'm proud to say that we've come a long way and achieved many awesome things out of sheer trial and error even though they seemed impossible at the outset. We've even hosted area and division level events and were able to give back to the fraternity. After an year+, I am now an un-involved past member, have left TCS and our club is being run by brand-new TM's who are taking on the leadership roles enthusiastically. In fact, club performance has improved AFTER I've left. (which proves the argument that governments and diapers should be changed frequently, and for the same reason!)

I'm not sure if what we did would work elsewhere, but for me, here's the strategy to start and run a club that won't die out:

1. Lead by example.
2. Learn by doing.
3. Learn from others' examples. Attend other clubs.
4. Take baby steps and then the occasional leap of faith.
5. Be persistent and optimistic with tasks, but patient and neutral with people.
6. Any idiot can do whatever you're doing, so delegate away!
7. Planning helps, but never get religious about sticking to it. Let things be dynamic.
8. Never discriminate between members. There is no difference between a novice and an advanced speaker/leader during a meeting. Treat everyone equally.
9. Share all knowledge and decisions with everybody. Don't keep a critical dependency with any 1 person, including yourself.
10. Enjoy the journey with all its roadblocks. Don't worry about the destination.
11. Believe that the Toastmasters concept can carry itself forward, you just have to pass the baton and get out of the way.
12. Do not let permissions, authority or limitations hinder the club. (esp for corporate clubs!). You can always find a workaround.
13. There is always a plan B, even if you haven't thought of it yet.

1 comment:

Nikhil Sheth said...

A really nice rejoinder in the same LinkedIn discussion:

Hi Nikhil and Others,
Thanks for the true detailing of your experiences turned strategies. Many of these strategies apply way beyond setting up a successful Toastmasters Club.. may be these are good for setting up a 'successful' anything!!!

I am the past president of TCS Maitree Toastmasters Club: Kochi. We have experienced almost all of the scenarios above, especially with very dynamic members and EC. There is still that thread of Toastmasters that keeps things together. Keeping the fire buring within each toastmaster and making them feel the benefit of toastmasters, connecting with each of them - all these will help.

Main challenge within a corporate club is that, members attend the meeting with a "AT WORK" mode than "AFTER WORK" mode. They are in a hurry to attend the meeting and rush back to finish off something urgent. Club meetings become just another meeting. Networking and bonding within the club, during every meeting is critical too.

Hope to see more clubs around

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