The ‘F’ words
Many things in life can be “four-letter words” either once or many times over. I want to share three F words that matter: fundamental, focus, and fun. If you’re not fundamental, you’ll be lacking a solid foundation and fall flat on your face. If you’re not focused, you’ll be all over the place. And if you’re not having fun, what’s the point of doing anything at all? These three words can make or break your success in life, especially in District 41.
District 41 boasts of a long rich history of exceptional members and leaders whose pioneering efforts transformed many lives, expanded territories, and included the word Toastmasters in the lexicon of South Asia. A task worth emulating and an inspiration to attempt to raise the bar.
The past couple of years have seen the aftereffects of accelerated growth and Pathways transition. These effects have been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. The loss of members and clubs was difficult to stop, even though we tried our best. As a Quintet/Trio member for the past two terms, I witnessed from close quarters how District 41 attaining the Distinguished status or above became a herculean task.
In my endeavor to make District 41 resilient, I worked with the past leaders to identify major challenges and discussed strategies that will suit the varied geography and the type of members and leaders. If it did not work, I wanted to fail fast, fail early. The three F words encapsulate the insights of my philosophy and the outlay of my plans.
The renewal rates in the past few years have been 65%. New members, who have joined Toastmasters in the past two years, now account for 75% of the total membership base of 3200. There has been a trend of an increasing number of District Officers who have joined Toastmasters recently. While the numbers reflect the robustness and dynamism, many members and leaders indeed lack basic knowledge and information about Toastmasters.
The benefits and value proposition of being a Toastmaster are not often realized. They are also not often reinforced or retained. Creating a tall structure without a proper foundation will only invite disaster. As top leaders in District 41, we must not assume that the members and leaders are knowledgeable and what is right for them. It is time to revisit the Membership Interest Survey (MIS) and Moments of Truths (MOT) and conduct them with sincerity.
In addition to providing more training and resources, leaders can also help members learn about the organization’s mission, goals, rules, and regulations. They can also create coaching and mentorship programs to help new members learn from experienced members. Joint meetings will be highly encouraged to cross-pollinate the good practices of strong clubs with weak clubs.
The fundamentals are the foundation of any successful endeavor and must be understood to progress. The fundamentals include understanding the organization’s mission and goals, conducting proper meetings and events, and being familiar with the different roles and responsibilities of members, among others. Fundamentals help to ensure that the club is sustainable. District Officers can identify and address potential problems before they become serious.
In addition to the fundamentals, it is also important to have a laser-like focus on your goals. This means setting clear and measurable goals, developing a plan of action, and then staying focused on your progress.
District 41 has been traditionally strong in achieving the Distinguished Club and Paid Clubs targets of Toastmasters International. If there is one thing that has been a constant over the past several years is to achieve District Membership Payments to become a Distinguished District at the least. It has been the Achilles’ heel. A lot of energy and resources are invested especially in the last two months of the term in a rush to achieve the targets. This has prevented lead time for the next term to work ahead as well.
This term, our focus will be on achieving membership payments by April 2024. A detailed plan to retain existing members and attract new members have been rolled out. Exciting engagement and rewards have been announced that have captured the imagination of the leaders and members. It seems to be working. The past two terms have seen membership payments of less than 5% of the target on 01 Aug 2021 and 2022 respectively. The number crossed 25% on 01 Aug 2023.
Similarly, each Division, Area, Club, and member should focus on what they want to achieve. First, it helps you to stay motivated. When you have a clear goal in mind, it is easier to stay on track and keep working towards it. Second, focus helps you to be more efficient. When you are focused on your goals, you are less likely to waste time and energy on things that are not important. Third, focus helps you to achieve your goals faster. When you are focused, you are more likely to take action and make progress.
Finally, it is important to have fun. If you are not enjoying yourself learning, then it is going to be difficult to stay motivated and engaged. Fun means enjoying the Toastmasters journey, finding something you’re passionate about, and doing it for the sheer joy of it. It also means laughing at yourself and not taking yourself too seriously.
I have heard it multiple times during my 19 years as a Toastmaster. “The meetings are too serious”, “There is no flexibility while doing projects and taking up roles”, “I don’t have time for yet another training”. What I hear is the members asking where is the element of joy and a sense of being part of a big family. No member will stick around in an environment where there is only conflict, no teamwork, and only seriousness. Many leaders fail to understand the power of informal networking, meet-and-greet programs, and a sense of bonding among a huge like-minded group.
Fun is important for several reasons. First, it helps to create a positive and productive environment. When people are having fun, they are more likely to be creative and innovative. Second, fun helps to build relationships. When people enjoy working together, they are more likely to be supportive and helpful. Third, fun helps to reduce stress. When people are relaxed and enjoying themselves, they are better able to cope with challenges.
This term, leaders are mandated to encourage informal events, team-building, and fun programs that strengthen the bond between each member and the different groups they belong to within District 41. Let’s encourage informal events, team-building activities, and fun programs that strengthen the bond between each member and the different groups they belong to within District 41. By creating an enjoyable atmosphere, we will attract and retain members who are eager to contribute to our shared vision.
The three key concepts of fundamentals, focus, and fun, in this particular order and not the other way around, are essential for success in any endeavor. By understanding the fundamentals, focusing on increasing membership, and having fun, we can achieve greatness this term and make District 41 an even more enjoyable organization. Remember, the three F words are not just words – they’re actions that will shape our path to excellence.
Suman Shakya, DTM
01 Aug 2023