Toastmaster Mentoring Programs
One of the duties of the Vice President Education is running a mentoring program for people in the club. Here are some tips and answers to common questions on running an effective, high-quality mentoring program.
The value of mentors lies, not just in providing expert guidance to help people learn, but in providing a friendly, encouraging connection that keeps people happy to come back to the club… and someone who keeps gently prodding the new member to encourage them to give speeches and sign up for meeting roles when otherwise they may be tempted to postpone their self-improvement. When people feel they have a friend in the club, especially one ready and willing to answer questions, they are more likely to be active and remain members.
The VPE doesn’t have to be the one running the mentoring program. The Vice President Education has a very large area of responsibility—consider recruiting a club volunteer to be a mentor program coordinator under the guidance of the VPE.
What do you call the mentored Toastmasters? There are three main options, and a great deal of arguing about which should be used.
The word protégé has been around for centuries. It is sophisticated and grammatically accurate. Or is it? Age is a part of many definitions; either that the guide is older, or that a protégé is a young person. That would not seem to suit many mentoring relationships, where the mentor may be younger, but more experienced in the given topic area, then the person they are helping. In addition, it is harder to spell and may confuse some. Technically, mentored female would then be a “protégée,” making matters even more confusing.
“Mentee” has boomed in popularity recently. Many grammarians find it a made-up, cringe-worthy word. After all, a mentee is mentored, not mented. In this case the “-ee” suffix makes no sense. However, it has become so common that it is accepted in most dictionaries now. This type of construct is being used elsewhere too: some dictionaries list “tutee” with “tutor.”
In response to “mentee,” some claim “mentoree” is a better option. A mentor doesn’t ment a mentee; a mentor mentors a mentoree. However, this word is less common and familiar than the other two. Few dictionaries have accepted it.
Originally I stuck by “protégé.” However, doing more research caused me to waver. Then I see Toastmasters International uses “mentee” in their published materials. That settles it for me. “Mentee” may not have been correct before, but it is now.
How long should new Toastmasters be mentored? Some say through the first three speeches. Others say that speakers and leaders of all skill levels benefit from mentors (this is absolutely correct, but it’s often not feasible to run a program managing mentors for every members, including the most skilled). My recommendation: after 3-6 speeches, encourage the mentor and protegé to continue the relationship, but consider the protegé “graduated,” tracking the mentor as being available for mentor other new people, and possibly adding the protegé to the list of mentors. Although more experienced Toastmasters can benefit from being mentored, they can generally manage those connections themselves. That being said, if you are energetic enough to arrange and record mentoring connections for all the members of your club, wonderful! That’s really going above and beyond.
When can a Toastmaster mentor? One guideline is that a Toastmaster needs to give at least three speeches. Obviously, the more experienced the Toastmaster, the better guidance they can give. Three-six speeches is good as a rule of thumb, but this is really a judgment call. Some Competent Communicators may not be well suited for mentoring others, whereas some brand-new Toastmasters may already have experience with public speaking and quickly be valuable mentors.
How many protegés can an experienced Toastmaster mentor? I recommend asking the mentor their preference, as different mentors may have more or less availability, and many may only want to work with one protegé at a time. I discourage working with more than four protegés at a time; the mentor is unlikely to be able to give enough attention to them. Consider group mentoring sessions instead.
What do mentors do? The primary duties of a mentor to a brand-new Toastmaster are to explain the basics of Toastmasters and public speaking (not in an overwhelming way—a little at a time), to get to know them and be a friendly face in the club, to answer their questions and provide guidance as they plan speeches, to provide encouragement to keep stepping out of their comfort zone, and to help them work on improving their skills across multiple speeches. A speech evaluator can give guidance on one speech, but a mentor can provide guidance on how the protegé is doing in a succession of speeches.
What does the VPE do? The Vice President Education (or mentoring program coordinator) recruits mentors, tracks their “workload” (how many active protegés they have versus how many they say they can handle), reassigns mentors if necessary and follows up with mentors and protegés on a regular basis (every week for the first few weeks and then every month thereafter) to ensure the mentoring connection is active and copacetic.
What do protegés do? The new member should be introduced to the mentor and made aware that the mentor is a resource for them to go to for any Toastmasters or public speaking questions. They should also be informed that if there is any problem with the mentoring connection, they should request change of mentor from the VPE rather then let things get worse. No matter how great everyone in your club is, some individuals are just not the best match for each other.
How are mentors matched with protegés? you can do this randomly, but it’s best to consider preferences and skills. At the very least, ask the new member if they have any general preferences (gender, location, speech specialties) or specific preferences (anyone in the club they specifically want to be a mentor). If you get to know them a little more, you may be able to make a better mentor assignment. You may discover they work at the same company (or department, if you’re in a corporate club) as one of your mentors, or perhaps they joined Toastmasters to work on a particular skill or to prepare for a situation one of your mentors is very helpful with. Also, it’s easier to talk members into becoming mentors when you can describe how you absolutely need them because they are the perfect match for a new member.
Do you have questions about running a mentoring program that aren’t a part of this list yet? Add them in the comments.