Do you want to be a Toastmasters Area Director?
Our District 10 annual meeting is this Saturday morning. While we’re there, we’ll be electing our district leaders for the year – affectionately called the Trio – District Director, Program Quality Director, and Club Growth Director. Then the division directors are elected – in District 10, we have 5 divisions. But the most important member of the leadership team, the area directors, are not elected here. They are appointed by the District Director. Does that sound right to you? The most important members of the district executive committee are appointed?
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What is the role of the Area Director?
The role of area director is rarely obvious to the normal Toastmasters member. Honestly, when I joined Toastmasters, I didn’t know there was an “International” or even a district aspect to the club. But I learned about Toastmasters from a sign on a wall about 50 years ago. When I went looking for a club, it was because I’d seen a notice in my local paper’s business calendar. Still no internet and no idea how the club was supported.
I probably learned about the role of Toastmasters area director when I first served as a club officer at Stark Community Toastmasters, the area director came and evaluated our club. I had no idea what this person did – but my mentors were telling me that I needed to do this to get my Distinguished Toastmaster award. So I did.
It was a crazy year for me. I had no idea what I’d agreed to do – so today’s podcast is about the role of area director from the District 10 experience. I don’t know what other districts do, but I’m talking to people who do know and I’ll try to include their experiences as well. If you know someone who is thinking about taking on this role – or wants to get a Distinguished Toastmaster award – make sure you share this podcast with them!
The Most Important Role in the District
When I say that the Toastmasters Area Director is the most important member of the district exec council, I’m quoting a former District 10 director, Jenilee Taylor. That’s because the most important person in Toastmasters is the member and everything the administration of TI does is to support that member. The district and even the club officers exist to make the Toastmasters experience best for that member to learn public speaking and or leadership skills. The area director is the person at the district level who is most involved with the clubs.
Toastmasters has standards that apply to clubs. We want clubs to have a minimum number of members. We want clubs to achieve distinguished club goals.
Why? Because those are the signposts that the clubs are serving the members the best that we can. The person watching the clubs is the area director.
Now, the Toastmasters area director is not the manager of the club. In this role, there is no authority to impose any restrictions or constraints, and no power to enforce any rules. It’s quite the opposite. The role of the area director is to support the clubs to give the club members the best possible experience.
Sometimes, that means pointing out what a club can to do to improve. If a club struggles with a member problem, the area director may have suggestions how to resolve it. Let’s emphasize that word “suggestions” because there’s no authority to impose anything on the club.
I’ve been in the position that I wished I had the authority – but I didn’t. I could only make some suggestions and try to help the club see that they were doing some things that weren’t technically wrong, but had a very bad effect on their club’s reputation.
In some ways, the area director’s most important task is to stay out of the club’s way. It’s not a boss-employee relationship, although it seems to be. The area director is definitely a leadership role, but the primary task isn’t management – it’s reporting.
Toastmasters Area Director Visits
As an area director, you’re expected to visit each of your clubs twice per year. This is going to be a lot easier now that we’re online, especially for some clubs that might be a distance away. At that meeting, the area director watches. They may participate, if invited, but in general, the task is to observe and then report back what the club is doing.
The area director report is PAGES long. PAGES, I tell you. And the chances that you’ll randomly get all the answers you need in a 10 minute conversation after a visit is about nil. You’ll need names, awards, the membership numbers – it’s not just a matter of the all the details. It’s about your perceptions of the club.
It’s effectively a club evaluation, just like we do speech evaluations!
But not as subjective as a speech evaluation – several of the details are numeric.
When I was area director, I’d barely been in Toastmasters two years. There was a lot for me to learn and I did what the good area director should do – be quiet and watch – instead of telling people what to do – because I was clueless. I had little understanding of the importance to the clubs that a good area director has – and I did it anyway because I just didn’t know any better!
The visits are fun, usually. I did hear about clubs that refused to let the area director visit. I now know that’s a sign of trouble, but I never had to deal with that.
I had one corporate club that has a US Department of Defense contract, so getting in there was complicated. I liked that club – it made sense to me that they were using Toastmasters materials to teach their sales trainees how to make a sales presentation. It didn’t make sense to me that they weren’t maximizing on this – after all, those men and women would be sent across the country to work in new communities and knowing that they could already be a part of an established organization in that new community would be smart. Oh well. I tried to tell them!
That’s a subtle role for the area director – to bring to the club members a bigger picture of what Toastmasters is and can be in their lives.
District Exec Committee Membership
That’s what the Toastmasters area director role did for me. Instead of being familiar with the local club, and then clubs at contests, I learned about the district from a high view instead of just attending local meetings.
I didn’t know how big District 10 is (and I didn’t know how small District 10 is until later) and what our potential reach is. D10 isn’t the smallest geographical district – I’m pretty sure not, considering in some large cities, there are multiple districts. But comparatively speaking, D10 is pretty small to say, Australia’s districts.
I didn’t know that the international speech contest isn’t just a name, it’s the event that ends at the International Convention every year in August. And I couldn’t participate because I was a district officer.
I didn’t know that our district conferences (back then, we had 2 per year) and I was expected to attend. (I didn’t. Working on Saturdays.)
Getting to be known on a district-wide level, or at least by the district leadership, I was invited to participate in weekday events (remember, I worked on Saturdays) and helped charter at least 3 clubs and spoke at a couple of other kick-offs.
I finished multiple awards – every club visit included filling roles for a Competent Leadership manual or a speech for a manual. I’m pretty sure I could go back and find that I completed over 20 speeches that year.
So why should you want to be an area director?
- First, you’re taking on a year-long commitment. You will benefit from the long time in the role – I think that the first six months of any position is spent learning and getting up to speed what it is you’re doing and what you’re supposed to be doing. The long term commitment means you can learn and then implement what you understand. My second 6 months as an area director were far more successful in my mind.
A long commitment at the district – more than just taking on the role as a conference chair – exposes you to a lot more information and gives you more experience – and more presence. People got to know me and gave me more opportunities.
The area director spends time getting to know clubs and their strengths and weakness, yes, but frankly, it was familiarity that proved to be the most useful. When I met someone who was interested in Toastmasters, I could say, “When is a good time for you to commit an hour per week?” and then I’d know which club to direct them to. If they said evening versus morning, I knew which club would be a better fit and hopefully make their first impression a better one.
2. Second, there isn’t another leadership opportunity like this one.
This isn’t your average “tell them to do that” leadership experience. It’s very much the opposite. This is servant leadership. You’re here not to lead but to assist. That’s a very different experience. It’s a powerful leadership model and one that builds relationships.
Maybe in the corporate world, this isn’t thought of as important. I do know one young woman who works for a large corporation who loves her boss who exhibits this type of supportive leadership as opposed to a previous boss who… didn’t.
Learning these leadership skills in a safe environment make the lessons less painful – but also more accessible, if you’re not worrying about your paycheck at the same time. You might try something that otherwise you wouldn’t. If you’re in a situation that usually demands a hard hand in leadership, trying out the softer style of the Toastmasters area director will extend your skills.
Build New Skills as Area Director
3. Third, your opportunity to build new skills. It’s not just about visiting clubs and filling out dozens of questions. Twice.
- You’re going to learn event planning as an area director.
When you take on the area director role, you also take one a couple of tasks You will have to host an area speech contest – in person or online. You may participate in the division contest in some way as contest master or chief judge.
- Leadership does mean that you make things happen. Servant leadership makes things happen to help others achieve their goals.Project management – you may find you’ve got projects to do, such as working on the division make up officer training. It’s partially event planning, but there are several parts for the training, especially if we continue to host these online. Learn how to manage the stakeholders and their expectations and provide an entertaining and effective training for the members? You’re going to experience that.
- Finally – this is an opportunity for you to give back. Toastmasters doesn’t exist randomly. People aren’t making up Toastmasters clubs. We have guidelines and proscriptions – some of which I agree with, others I have issues with – but they are there to provide a consistent product regardless of where you are and what meeting you attend
We need you
We need Toastmasters area directors to support the clubs. They are the interface between the district and the clubs to help the members have a good experience and learn what Toastmasters has to teach. For all you get from Toastmasters, it’s because there are people in your community who are willing to voluntarily work to provide it.
In my experience, my year as area director taught me a lot about myself and about leadership that I never would have learned without stepping up. I might not have known what I was doing, but in the doing, I grew in unexpected ways.
Therefore, if you want a challenge to build your leadership skills – to grow and develop new skills – and to give back to the Toastmasters organization that has made this all possible, consider taking on the role of area director. I know my last task as an area director was to find my replacement. Now I’m recruiting you!
Appointments or Elections?
Yes, in District 10, we appoint people to this important role. Other districts have elections for area director. Either way – if you’re interested, contact your district officers – your Trio – and let them know!
District 10’s conference is this weekend, and if you’re not busy, go to District10.org and register to attend. We’ve got some great speakers and a contest on Sunday that will blow your socks off.
Share this podcast with your fellow Toastmasters – since we’re all online, you can tell them to go to Toastmasters101.net and check out our past year’s worth of podcasts.
Our music is from Incompetech.filmmusic.io.
Toastmasters101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.
Stay hopeful. Stay healthy. See you soon on Toastmasters 101.