Since July of last year (2017) I have been a Toastmasters Area Director. I am serving Area 57 (Region1, District 2, Division E, Area 57.) There are still about 4 months to go along with contests and club visits and handing off of roles to next year’s officers. While my term is not yet complete, I want to share my experiences as an Area Director now, because the selection process for the next officers will begin soon. You may find this post useful if you are a Toastmaster who is ready to step up and take your turn at a leadership role outside of your own club. Whether you are pursuing Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) under the legacy program or the new Pathways program, this is one of the requirements in your journey.
Pro Tip1: You must serve a full 1-year term as a district officer of some sort. All terms run from July 1 to June 30. If you intend to earn DTM under the legacy requirements, this July will be the last opportunity you will have to complete this requirement before the legacy program is retired in May 2020. Don’t count on Toastmasters International to push it out that extra month to accommodate people seeking July 2019-June 2020 terms for legacy DTM awards. They aren’t known for adapting rules, no matter how logical. So it’s now or never!
Transition from outgoing to incoming Directors
The first thing was taking over the role from the previous Area Director. Division E has 7 Areas. So there were 8 of us new people stepping in to take over the Area Director and Division Director roles. All of the directors within the division work together throughout the year starting with a meeting where the outgoing directors tell the incoming directors what to expect from each of the clubs they support. I offered to hold the transition meeting at my house. We had a potluck meal on my deck on a beautiful July afternoon where the outgoing Directors gave us the inside scoop on what was happening in their areas.
Fall Contest Season
Pro Tip 2: The very first lesson I learned was to reserve a location for your area speech contest immediately, maybe even before July. Places like the library meeting rooms get booked 3 months in advance. In Toastmasters, August thru November is called “Contest Season”. Club contests are held in August, area contests are in September, division contests are in October and district contests are in November. That means in less than 3 months from when we became directors we would be running our area contests. Those of us who had never been an Area Director before were all scrambling to learn what it takes to run a contest. Fortunately, someone shared with me this document with a checklist.
Pro Tip 3: The next tip I learned about doing contests is that it is easier to partner with another Area Director to run both contests at the same event. This makes it much easier to share the load for hosting a contest and you get a bigger audience of at least 50 people. It was fun to partner with Xiahua who was the Area 55 Director. She crafted the agenda, printed all the certificates, and purchased the thank you cards and gifts for the volunteers while I handled the communications with the contestants, judges and volunteers, handled the room setup and snacks. We both recruited volunteers and judges.
This made it much easier to share the load for hosting a contest. In the end, running a contest isn’t so hard, especially when you get a seasoned Chief Judge as we did with Michael Hayden.
Pro Tip 4: Do not under estimate the size of room you will need. The meeting rooms at some libraries, like Woodinville or Bothell library are too small. On the other hand, Redmond and Bellevue are good venues. City Halls and churches are also good options. If you are in Bellevue, then Bellevue City Hall’s Council Chambers might work well for you if the library isn’t available. When the contest is over, take the time to debrief and document the lessons you learned. For example, one lesson I learned was to make certain the Contest Toastmaster reads the Table Topic question from a card (not memory) for each contestant to ensure everyone gets asked the same way. By the Spring contest we were experts so it was much easier.
Before contest season is over we had to focus on completing our official Club Visit forms.
Pro Tip 5: Visit all of your clubs early and often. I had already visited all of my clubs several times by the time Club Visit forms were due, so I had gotten to know the clubs and their officers already. That really helped.
Pro tip 6: Put each of the club meetings on your calendar so you remember when each one meets. Each area typically has 5 clubs. My area has 2 corporate clubs at Microsoft, 1 community club and 1 advanced club. Having worked at Microsoft before, I already knew the routine for visiting and the building locations. I generally tried to dedicate one week each month toward visiting all 5 clubs. The advanced club only meets once a month, so it made it easy to decide what week to pick.
Talk with them regulalry and get to know the officers of your clubs, especially the presidents.
Pro Tip 7: Gather your area’s club presidents for a meeting in August and repeat several times throughout the year. We found it very helpful to have a presidents’ meeting every few months. (I haven’t done this as often as I would have liked.) This gives the presidents a chance to share what was going on in their club and to help each other out. That goes a long way toward making successful club presidents and by extension, successful clubs.
You will find yourself communicating often with the club officers as you are the path of communication from the district and division officers.
Pro Tip 8: Ask the officers what the best way is to reach them and write it down. Put the club presidents’ phone numbers into your cell phone. I created email lists for the officers of each club, a list of just the presidents; and a list of the all the directors in my division. I commonly BCC’d the other directors on emails I sent to the club officers so the other directors knew what we were up to.
Each club has its own style and culture. Not all clubs or officers are alike and not everyone wants involvement by Area Directors. I realized I had to figure out how they work and then adapt my support style to fit their needs. Some clubs are strong and I found myself learning a lot from them that I took back to my own club. Others are struggling and your input is essential to strengthen their program and grow their membership. That is where the president round tables are so helpful.
Pro Tip 9: Make sure they understand your role as Area Director. You are not “some big wig from the corporate office coming to spy on them.” You’re just another Toastmaster from another club nearby who has stepped up to facilitate communications with the district, to be a resource for other clubs be successful, and to organize the area contests.
As an Area Director, we run the Fall contest (Humorous Speech and Table Topics) and the Spring contest (International Speech and Speech Evaluations). We also attended additional training events specifically for the Directors 4 times during our year of service, typically it is a 3 hour breakfast on a Saturday morning. I have found this to be a great way to gain leadership skills and meet new friends.
As an Area Director, it felt like I was a member of 5 more clubs. They were all very welcoming and appreciative when I visited.
Pro Tip 10: If you are considering becoming an Area Director, I recommend doing it for an area that your club is NOT in. While not a requirement, you already know your own club and you can’t bring the same value and unbiased insight to your own club that an outsider will bring. There will be other areas close by that you could serve. It also makes it easier to recruit people from your own club to serve as judges at your Area contest. (They will not be able to judge in their own club’s area contest.) Also, you get to meet 5 new clubs instead of just 4. Over the course of the year, I have gotten to know many other Toastmasters: the officers and members of my Area clubs; my fellow Area Directors within our Division; Directors of other Areas and Divisions; and the District leadership trio, Omar, Molly, and Kathryn. I also learned much more about how to lead a successful volunteer-driven organization.
When it comes to following rules, Toastmasters people can sometimes be obsessive to a fault. Don’t fall into this trap and lose sight of the mission. Focus on the opportunity to build relationships and expand your leadership and communications skills. What you learn as a district officer does not exist in any Toastmasters manual, yet has the potential to be far more valuable in developing as a leader than any speech project or club role. As with anything, you will get out of it as much as you put into it. I personally found it very rewarding and valuable in growing as a leader. Toastmasters is a safe place to fail and that is true in your role as an area director as well. I expect there will be a high demand for filling those district officer roles this July as people commit to completing their DTM in the legacy program. So if you are at all interested, now is the time to talk with an area director and get on the list for the next term of officers.