[Toastmasters] Mentoring your Mentors

Random Observation/Comment #448: Delegation, Trust, and Growth is key to building a successful program. One person truly can’t do it all and it would be foolish to hold all your knowledge as a security blanket on your leadership role.

see lemons mentor

Within Toastmasters, we’ve found that the mentorship program is the most customized and personable solution.  The agenda and reoccurring meetings provide a place to practice and lead meetings (and the people really love the supportive environment), but it’s the mentor that answers those specific questions and helps with individual needs.

I’ve mentored quite a few people who have learned the tricks of the trade. What did I teach them?

Questions to ask your mentor: (because you need to listen before you can advise)

  • What aspect of communication do you want to improve?
    • This is to hone perhaps specific issues they’ve reflected on with their overall communications. This could be filler words, confidence, eye contact, freezing up, memorizing facts, keeping things interesting, memorizing speeches, etc.
  • When do you have opportunities to speak in public or one-on-one with senior management?
    • If they haven’t thought about communication too much, try to help them with different day-to-day activities where any form of communication can be involved. What about social gatherings, networking, or seeing management in an elevator?
  • How do you feel when speaking in groups?
    • Everyone is nervous, but at different levels. Most people are able to maintain a one-on-one or 3-person conversation comfortably. Try to give them advice about how that’s essentially public speaking. If you want to make the speech more personal, just address smaller groups at a time with your eye contact. Zone out the rest and speak to smaller chunks at a time.
  • How are you with interviews?
    • Most people are much better answering questions when they’re given questions and less comfortable with stepping through an entire speech. Sometimes it’s just the opposite. If you’re good at interviews, but bad at public speaking, you may need to incorporate more rhetorical questions into your speech. If you’re bad at interviews, try to prepare a little bit more for certain questions by answering them honestly to different people in different ways.

FAQ with general responses and tips: (because advice is all the same until you put it into practice and try to continuously improve)

  • I want to reduce my filler words.
    • (Probably the most frequent). The best thing to do is realize that you’re using filler words. It’s actually not that big of a deal because everyone does it, but reusing the same fillers as a crutch can be distracting. I would first introduce the PAUSE. If you’re pausing for too long, try to introduce a different word instead of the filler word (like ‘giraffe’). If this doesn’t work, then try to make a game out of it with your family and friends (e.g. you get poked if you use a filler word). If that doesn’t work then try to alternate between all the filler words you know (e.g. y’know, um, ah, oo, la, li, and so, but, just, I’m thinking…, bah). Not using the same filler word twice doesn’t really make it an obvious distraction even though you’re still using the time to think.
  • I want to make my meetings more interesting.
    • Relating this to Toastmasters, for a meeting to be effective, it should always follow an agenda. Let people know how much time they should talk about a certain part and give people that summary of what they should take away from the meeting. Also always give action item summaries at the end. This applies much more when talking to other groups with gathering requirements
    • For reoccurring meetings, something like a scrum or a catch-up of BOW items, try to put a theme around it. Maybe call your meeting a combination of your team member names mashed up with movies?  It’s the PM job to not only keep things on schedule, but also keep the team motivated. Sometimes these little fun things can help keep things interesting.
  • I want to be more confident in front of the crowd.
    • Even the most experienced speakers are nervous, but they know themselves well enough to be able to think of something to say. When in doubt, go back to phrases and topics that you’re comfortable with talking about. Recall stories you’ve told to friends or advice that was given to you.
    • Know that when you’re speaking in front of people, you are already the Subject Matter Expert and your words will be weighted unless proven otherwise.
    • Also know that people don’t know what you’ve prepared so don’t get flustered if you forget to mention something or mess up saying a part of the speech different from how it was memorized.
    • Your perceived confidence comes from body language and vocal tone. Stand tall and project your voice.
    • Practice!  Take on a role of running the meeting as toastmaster and be sure to utilize your voice projection and body language. A strong stance and commanding voice goes a long way.
  • I want to think faster on my feet.
    • Not everyone is going to be good at this and those that are have a secret: they know how to maneuver a conversation to something they’re familiar with. If you look at really good Q&A, you’ll find that they’re either been prepped with all the possible questions, or they don’t answer the question fully and skew it to a similar point. It’s a deflection to the familiar.
    • Table topics is the best way to practice this because we want people to not just think about the specific question or topic, but bring up any random questions that may be related to it. This is the reason why table topics are usually not one-word answers (or if they are, it should be simple enough to follow through).
    • For example, if the table topic was about your favorite place of travel, it should be pretty simple: where is that place? Why do you like it? Why do you recommend it? What story do you have there?  Try to organize it so it’s easy to follow and summarize at the end with points.
  • I want to speak clearer/reduce my accent.
    • Articulation is important in all languages. Sometimes tonal changes mean completely different things. We pay attention to these differently with different languages. Make sure that when you speak, you speak at an easy-to-listen pace and slow down if you have a tendency to slur words.
    • I’ve heard that the vowels are the main reason why people have accents. Listen to more audiobooks and try to repeat words similarly. Maybe record yourself speaking and work on matching vowels closer to the way it’s spoken.  Reading along while listening to audiobooks also helps with pacing and understanding grammar pauses better with commas.
  • I want to make better visual presentations.
    • The corporate way of presenting uses a lot of screen real estate for jamming in as much information as possible. That’s a typical corporate deck. These are printed and read because management wants all the words there when people don’t want to listen or forgot to listen during the meetings.
    • I believe real presentations should be about the speaker/presenter. The other material should be on the side in the form of a document. However, this is not always the case because real presentations aren’t always provided as an opportunity. Very rarely do you get to exercise your public speaking, so if you’re given that privilege, I would suggest using it fully.
    • More modern technology styles of presentations include more graphs and simpler slides that compliment the presenter’s words. Use high quality photos and try to make them represent the idea clearly.
  • I want to tell jokes better.
    • Practice! Tell a joke every day to a few friends and sooner or later you’ll memorize quite a few that could be used in your everyday life. To tell a good joke, the key is to be able to execute it correctly. It’s not the words in the joke that make it funny, but the pauses and even the facial expression. The execution is certainly the best part of a good joke.
    • Start by practicing a well told joke that you can mimic for the timing and exaggeration. After that, try to practice one that’s written down. Lastly try to practice one that you’ve written.
  • I want to tell better stories.
    • Everything is a story. Telling a good story is similar to telling a good joke except a story doesn’t always have to be funny. Listening to stories helps a person tell them because a good story teller (like the ones from a long time ago before they had any visual aids) would exaggerate, emote, and act everything out.  They’d do this to capture the attention of their audience.  If you want to see where good stories are told, I suggest paying attention to talks made by great presenters. I love watching TED talks for this reason.
    • Listen to the way people utilize pauses and change of speed and tones during their story telling. They add so much more drama to it when they imitate voices, slow down during important parts, whisper and build up for scary parts, and speak faster if the story permits.  Pretend you’re telling the story to a child and you’ll find out what works better.

These are usually just the normal problems and some sample solutions. Obviously, knowing these goals are important, but it’s the practice and execution that makes the difference.  As a growing mentor group, we plan to have regular meetings to brainstorm other questions and group solutions that help conquer those areas so we can all benefit from being better mentors and overall communicators.

~See Lemons Teach Mentors