Mentorship – Destination to Growth

“We are going to Joburg!”

Earlier this year, I had no idea that this exciting declaration would have a profound impact on my Toastmasters experience. Today, as I share my personal journey towards the 2019 Speech Competitions, I am still in awe that I can now personally attest to the transformative powers of Toastmasters, one that I had heard many others share at various Club meetings. This journey is one that I owe entirely to my phenomenal Toastmasters Mentor and Coach, Kage Kgobero (Division L Director elect).

It all began early February 2019, at a Gaborone Toastmasters Club Meeting. I was on the Agenda as an Evaluator- a role I had become accustomed to and quite enjoyed (mostly because it also protected me from having to give a prepared speech, or being selected for the dreaded Table Topics). Up until that day, I also thought I brought a unique ability to Toastmasters’ meetings: how to be invisible (in plain sight)! For some reason that day, my magic potion must have failed me.

Not long after the Club Meeting ended, I received a message from Kage saying, “Hello Gorata, I was really impressed with your evaluation, so much that I challenge you to compete in your Club Speech competition this year (Evaluations category)”. I froze. After a few hours of reflection and introspection, I eventually said yes. No sooner was my reply delivered, the ever-enthusiastic Kage responded, “Great! You officially have a coach and mentor in me, and… we are going to Joburg!” Overnight, I had a coach, a goal and a timeframe.

We began with me submitting a draft Training Plan with daily activities, for my coach’s approval. After it got the green light, the training commenced immediately. It consisted of a combination of (1) reviewing to my proposed outline/ structure; and (2) receiving feedback of my delivery though voice notes. A large part of my training also involved being an Evaluator at every possible club meeting before the Speech Competitions.

When my coach was in the audience, I knew that I was bound to receive my own detailed and constructive evaluation after the meeting. The feedback was a difficult pill to swallow at times. However, it was always provided in a specific and encouraging manner. Humor also played a key role. Another thing that kept me going was how my coach genuinely cared about my personal growth as a speaker. When I felt low or overwhelmed, that is what encouraged me to continue.

The training paid off. I won the Speech Competition Evaluation Category at Club Level, then at Area Level. Next stop… Division. Where? You guessed it – Joburg! The prophesy was being fulfilled! On 15 May 2019 I competed for the first time on the Division L Stage. I knew that ‘rookie me’ was up against some of the most seasoned and celebrated Toastmasters in the Division. My name was called, and it was my turn to enter the stage. I gave it my all, I felt the growth that resulted from those few short but intense months of training.

Little did I know that at the very back of the room, I faced my greatest enemy that day – Time. Flashing, blinking, smirking RED. I noticed the red light indicator, and tried to fast-track to my 100x rehearsed conclusion. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, and I was disqualified for time. I was CRUSHED! I felt robbed, but with no one to blame but myself. I felt like a disappointment… like I had wasted my coach’s valuable time only to be knocked out of the race on a technicality.

In my tsunami of emotions, I remember my coach coming up to me to give me a big hug. He told me how proud he was of me. He then reminded me, “What was our objective?”, I answered “to go to Joburg”. He asked again, “and where are we now?”. I replied (with saturated eyes), “in Joburg”. In that moment, I realized just how far I had come in such a short period of time, and I allowed myself to celebrate my growth.

I have experienced the positive impact of having a Toastmasters Coach and/or Mentor. Kage embodies the spirit of the Toastmasters’ vision and purpose through his passion for uplifting others. I have learnt that a phenomenal coach is one that:

  1. Unearths that which is already deep inside of you;
  2. Shows you exactly how to improve your skills. It may start with spoon-feeding, then holding your hand, then pushing you off a cliff and telling you to fly!
  3. Is honest, authentic and passionate about the craft.
    I believe we all have a phenomenal coach waiting to guide down our own developmental paths, if we only have the courage to just say YES (fear, tears and all), and to trust in the process.
    My journey, continues…

Gorata Hlope

Gaborone Toastmasters Club Botswana