Thursday, May 19, 2011

Toastmasters Friday : Are You About to Get Burned?

(Since I am now officially in 'contest mode' in preparation for the District 26 Conference tonight and tomorrow, today's Speak & Deliver post is by my friend and fellow Toastmaster Dwayne Windham, a Past District Governor in District 55. If you would like to become a guest blogger, please email me with your thoughts!)

In any volunteer organization, there is inevitably a core group of people that are knowledgeable, reliable, and easy to work with. Whether you are working with a Toastmasters club, church, or PTA group – we all have that tendency to lean on our “go to people”  because you know they will get the job done, get it done right, and with minimal drama. The problem is that this often results in members of that core group being massively over-used and becoming burned out. As the Toastmasters year reaches the final stretch, and our new officers are developing their plans for the upcoming year, it seems appropriate for us to delve into the subject of Burned-Out Toast(masters).

Who has a potential to become burned toast?

…a person, who judged 23 contests this past contest season, serves as two club officers, a District officer, and holds a full time job
…spending 4 days of the past week at church events, including all day Sunday and the next and the next…
…spending three of four Saturdays in a row with day-long Toastmasters events….

I personally see this happen with excited new Area Governors that end up taking on much more than perhaps they intended to. Now of course, the easy response is to tell people to “learn to say No”.  While that is certainly part of the equation, as part of a volunteer organization we need to help create events and structures that support a diverse group being involved and carrying the load.

Are we encouraging people to take time off when needed?

While it is always nice to fill in slots for your next slate of candidates early or easily by carrying over people – take the time to really look at your “roster depth”. Make a genuine effort to be looking out for potential new volunteers and avoid carrying over people for year after year. Let them have some time off to recharge, get some perspective and pursue other projects.

Do we make a full effort to properly train additional people for roles requiring specific knowledge?

Especially for technical roles involving sound, video, or websites – it becomes very easy to fall into a pattern of leaving one person to fulfill the role until the end of time. Each of these areas has crucial knowledge they can lose in the event the person becomes suddenly unavailable. Make sure there are apprentices or backup people involved in each of these areas to ensure that your primary person can take time off when needed, and preserve the tribal knowledge gained from experience.

Are we consolidating sparsely attended events that require heavy staffing and support?

Often tradition can be exhausting, and we continue putting on events that have poor attendance and heavy staffing requirements because no one ever wants to “let go”. We don’t want to be the one that says “it’s OK to let go now”. Be the one willing to give permission – to let people stop carrying around burdens if they are not truly being effective in fulfilling the purpose of your organization.

Do we value our volunteer’s time by being efficient with meetings, training, and avoid “meeting for the sake of meeting?”

One of running office jokes is about changing the standard meeting length from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, or from 1 hour to 50 minutes. Consider how much these little things can cut down on stress for those running from one meeting to another. Very rarely has someone convinced me that all of the items on their agenda for a 1 hour meeting could not be accomplished in 50 minutes.  How would this apply for your group? Toastmasters International has wonderful material about How to Conduct Product Meetings.

When surveyed about job benefits, people over and over again cite the desire for more time to spend with their families. For many of us with busy lives, the greatest thing we are giving you is our time – treat it as a treasured possession and we will feel rewarded. You won’t have to buy so many thank you trinkets, because you will be showing me how much you value me by valuing my time.

Our guest blogger, Dwayne Windham is a past Division Governor from District 55 Toastmasters in Austin, TX. He has worked as part of Dell support for the past 13 years. Dwayne enjoys helping people understand technology and address problems in a realistic, straightforward manner.

Contact info: is the best email address,
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  1. I'm a burned out Area Governor. I'm also a club coach, District webmaster and hold 2 officer positions.

    The district I serve in thrives on "make work" meetings: If TI requires 2 area governor visits, they will require 4. If TI demands one new club to make Presidential distinguished are, let's raise the bar to two.

    I came into the year brimming with enthusiasm, determined to improve the District's visibility (we had an awful, absentee area governor the year before)

    I can pinpoint the exact moment when I ceased caring about the district's goals:

    The district had a chronic shortage of club coaches and an appalling number of the district's clubs were in need of one. I sat down one evening with the district LGM and brainstormed a number of new ways to convince people to volunteer to be club coaches.

    I was disgusted when these innovative ideas were instead used as incentives....for Toastmasters to open new clubs. A new club reflected positively on a senior district officer's evaluation by TI, whereas they conversely gained no personal glory doing the mundane heavy lifting of recruiting club coaches.

    I candidly admit I'm now going through the motions between now and June 30th.

    I promised my division governor my area would receive the coveted "Distinguished" rating and I delivered on that promise....and I have no interest in pursuing the "Select Distinguished" or "Presidential Distinguished" area level.

    Loss of motivation plus disillusionment = Burn Out.

    Am I a team player? Quite honestly, no, not anymore...

    but I'm of the opinion that my district leadership team ceased playing the game I signed up to play.

  2. In District 30, it seemed more the norm to see current Area and Division Governors taking other major roles such as Conference Chair, TLI Dean or committee chairs for these events. I could see two reasons for this:
    1) They want to show everyone how enthusiastic they are and build on their CV if they want to run for another TM office.
    2) Use their chair or committee roles for their High Performance Leadership so they could get their DTMs early.

    The worst example of this was last year's Spring Conference in which the Conference Chair and 3 of the committee chairs were sitting AGs who also ran for Division Governor. All of them used that for their HPL and 3 got their DTMs right after the AG term was up. As for the conference, the rest of D30 suffered from a poorly executed event partly for that reason and as a result I vowed never to attend a conference again (see for more). During their terms as DivG, they also took on several club building and coaching roles, in addition to their DivG role and be an active club member for several clubs.

    If they and others who take such a route get burned out, I honestly have no sympathy for them as they diluted the quality of the events they were involved in.



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