Get ready for your area director visits now.
Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization. We are seeing massive growth outside of the United States, where Toastmasters is based. Do you ever wonder how they manage over 300 thousand members and thousands of clubs? Do they know what’s happening in the clubs? How do they know what’s going on in the clubs – and where there are problems, how can they help?
In today’s episode, we’re talking about area director visits: what the area director is doing, what the visit looks like to the club, and what they can do for you.
Do you want to develop your leadership and public speaking skills? Then Toastmasters is for you. In one hour a week, we’ll teach you the skills and give you the opportunities to practice them. This is Toastmasters 101 and I’m your host, Kim Krajci.
Toastmasters Area Directors
If you’re a member of a Toastmasters club, you might not know how the Toastmasters International organization is run.
Toastmasters International is a big organization – 300 thousand plus members to help to achieve their goals means that there must be some levels of management inserted into the program.
For an organization that teaches leadership – this gives thousands of people the opportunity to build up their skills in a hands-on way, instead of just reading a book or taking a class. As a club officer or a district officer, you’re going to deal with the problems that leaders face – managing an on-going program that’s just updated its basic product and delivery system, personnel turnover, and confused new members who don’t know what’s going on.
That’s in a healthy club. But what if you’re in a club with issues?
- losing members and not replacing them
- problems adjusting to new education program
- lack of training for new club officers
And that’s just grouping together a lot of different problems into three descriptions.
Toastmasters clubs face many challenges and if you’re new to leadership, you might be struggling with some oppressive problems.
Then the district tells you that someone is coming to evaluate your club.
Well, that’s unsettling, isn’t it?
Area Director Visits
Who is an area director and what are they going to do?
Toastmasters districts have 3 levels – district, division, and area. Each of these levels is an opportunity for a Toastmaster to build leadership skills such as organization and project management.
The area director is a member of a club in your district who is tasked with checking in on your club and making a report to Toastmasters International about your status – good or bad.
This report has a lot of value for Toastmasters International. This is the data they need to understand what problems clubs are facing and what they’re doing to be successful.
That means this area director is required to attend two meetings per year of your club and probably 4 or 5 other clubs. These should be your normal meetings so the area director can see what you’re doing.
Presumably, the area director can observe your club and serve as an evaluator, just like a speech evaluator: an outside perspective with some points of growth along with appreciation of what’s been done well.
Telling the Area Director Truth
Here’s the truth: when I was appointed to be an area director, I’d been a Toastmaster for less than 2 years. I knew that there was an international organization of some kind for about 3 months because I was asked to give a speech when the International Board President was visiting our district and came to our club. That may have been all I knew about Toastmasters outside of my club experience. I hadn’t even visited that many other clubs – maybe 2 or 3.
An area director does receive training, but to be honest, I didn’t get much of what I was told. Too much new stuff for me to process before my first major task – organize an area contest!
I probably learned more from being an area director from my area’s club officers and my division director than I did through the training.
So what’s the value of the area director and their visits?
The area director visits and reports collect a lot of data back to the district – And that data can be used to see trends – often news that the district leaders know means potential trouble for a club. If a club that consistently was getting new members and the membership was earning education awards – and that starts to slow down, the district can reach out to the club and offer some help.
Alternatively, a club might be doing something really good – and the area director can share that with other clubs.
What do area director visits look like?
Not to be too generic, but the average area director visit that I made started with a contact with the club president to confirm a good time for me to come by. That’s often important for corporate clubs – I had two and both were government contractors who had strict visitation rules. I had to be cleared to go in.
One club had never had an area visit before in their knowledge – because of the company restrictions. So I walked in and – I didn’t have a clue what this club’s purpose or history was.
Corporate Club Visit
It turns out that this club – at this time – was using the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual to train some sales reps. The company paid for a 6-month membership for their new hires and got them to complete the manual and then sent them out into the world.
There’s nothing wrong with this. I personally thought it was a pretty smart act on the part of the company to use a proven training program that didn’t require them to develop materials or metrics. It was just another item on their training checklists.
The rub was – the members weren’t finishing their education awards in the 6 month membership period that the company paid for. They were finishing the 10 speeches, but long after their membership expired. Therefore, the club never reported any education awards, which made this club look really bad to Toastmasters International and to the district as well.
A few years later, and this club became one of our greatest successes, including completing 8 of the 10 distinguished club goals only 3 months into the Toastmasters year.
The Double Meeting Club
Then there was this other club – that survived on paper memberships. I think I dropped the average age of the members to below 70 when I walked into the room, but not by much. While the club was reporting the minimum number of members required – they were buying memberships for family members who never attended a meeting. To top it off, the club had some big issues that weren’t really noticed by the district because nobody realized that the club was running two meetings in different locations – one in a member’s business office with local college students, and the other, about 30 miles away, in the location that Toastmasters International had listed on their records. Even with 2 meetings, they still had membership issues? I never quite sorted that out. As area director, I reported it to the district leadership and they… never addressed it. I guessed at the time that there were other issues that were more important than this club.
That club’s membership has changed and the leaders now are working hard to turn it around.
I also saw 2 clubs in my area chartered, one club close, and tried to keep track of all the tasks I was expected to do – including reporting the data I’d collected to Toastmasters.
I didn’t know I was supposed to fill out the forms online. I had them all printed out and filled out – and found out after the deadline that I should have just copied the info into the website form… Live and learn.
What’s on those area director visits reports, anyway?
In a nutshell – the reports are filled with questions about how the club meetings go:
- are they following the Toastmasters protocols?
- do they have officers who are handling the responsibilities of their roles?
- are the members getting a satisfactory Toastmasters experience?
These reports are also useful because they identify potential leaders for future district service.
If I recall correctly – and I pray this has been changed – there were about 5 pages of questions the area director was supposed to answer. What was really frustrating at the time was I never found a save button (it may have been there, I just never could see it) so I had to complete the entire report in one sitting. I found a lot of the questions redundant.
I tried to take the printout to my meeting and ask the club president the questions, and my ignorance was truly evident then. They didn’t have time for that. Then I tried to call later to get more information – they didn’t have time for that either. Those reports were hard to complete.
Second Visits Next Year
When I did my second set of visits, I had a stronger idea of what I wanted to know and I got very concise in how I asked questions. That’s because I finally knew enough to understand the background of these questions and what Toastmasters really wanted to know.
However much training you get to be an area director, nothing beats boots on the ground – and a much better grounding in how Toastmasters works.
What does an area director visit look like to a club?
Essentially, an area director club visit looks like a normal meeting. Or – it should look like a normal meeting. The AD can be invited to speak – or not. Club presidents may want to schedule a bit of extra time to talk with the area director to answer questions or to ask their own.
I suspect that every district has at least one club that declines all district visits, all the time. I’m not sure what they’re concerned about.
I was about to say afraid, but maybe that’s not the right interpretation of their reluctance to have an area director visit. I don’t know why clubs turn down area director visits, but I know of a few. Some corporate clubs are just not going to permit visitors of any kind at any time and for good reasons.
But in general, I think that for most new club presidents, it may be seen as intrusive and judgemental, which is sad, because Toastmasters is not about either.
I think there are two ways to look at the area director visit:
- The district don’t have no place sticking their noses in our club
2. We’ve got nothing to hide.
I’ve seen that “don’t come in here tellin’ me what to do” mindset of a president. Unfortunately, I was a member of that club at the time and the area director was a friend of mine. This was a club in crisis and I don’t know what he thought – did he expect the district to come in and take over the club from him?
What could have been a very helpful meeting with assistance to make the club successful turned out to be a very difficult meeting with a lot of frustration on both sides.
Come On In
I’ve also seen the doors swing open in welcome to district officers of all ranks. These club presidents were open to new ideas and invited me to speak at the meetings.
Guess which club folded? Yep, the first one. That club had a lot of potential, but they didn’t take advantage of what Toastmasters – International organization and district – had to offer to help them overcome some barriers.
A good area director visit is like a good speech evaluation. They see what the club is doing well. But they also can see some blind spots that need attention, they can offer assistance from the district or from Toastmasters International or from their own experience.
People are often surprised at what’s available from TI. Marketing materials that can help you promote your club and an open house to recruit new members.
Free Materials to Toastmasters
If you want, you can get some materials from Toastmasters International for free. These marketing materials can help you share about Toastmasters – I take mine to local libraries and leave them there. Well – I did. Now I can download them and share with people in my club guest packets.
Toastmasters International also provides some data analysis – information that might help you market your club in social media. Do you know the details of the most common Toastmaster member? You might be surprised.
All districts have a sense of the culture of Toastmasters in their communities. My fellow Toastmaster Michele has visited clubs around the world and she says she’s always welcome. But the cultures vary so much, which is to be expected. In some places she’s visited, the members are highly motivated to learn English and this is a place for them to practice their speaking skills.
That difference in culture would be hard for Toastmasters International to manage. But by having districts, divisions, and areas, club culture is respected and conformity to a certain pattern or political stand would not be welcome is prevented.
So welcome your area director and ask your questions – and answer theirs, please. They probably need the help doing their job right, and they can help your club. Regardless of how much experience they personally have (or in my case, how little) they do have access to resources and expertise to help your club overcome challenges.
Ultimately, that’s what the area director’s primary job is to do: to help you make your club successful.
Serving as an area director is often the first job a Toastmaster takes on outside of their club – it’s a big step into more leadership than just being a club officer. If you’re interested, you should contact your district leadership. If you don’t know how to reach them, you can find out who your area director is and ask them!
Wrap it up, Kim
Our music is from incompetech.filmmusic.io
Toastmasters 101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.
When you want to be a leader, you have to have the opportunities to try out those leadership skills. That’s why being a club officer is the start – but there are plenty of other opportunities to step up in leadership in your district. Right now, your district may be starting their planning for upcoming events, such as the winter officer training sessions or next year’s conference. Contact your district leadership now if you’re interested in learning leadership on a bigger scale.