I loath missed opportunities to engage captivating speakers after presentations, especially when I have burning questions. It is like the lingering aftertaste you get from drinking something foul that doesn’t wash away until the next morning. So I tend to admire people who never skip a beat, such as the fellow that accosted me after an elaborate training session in Ethiopia.
He is a club president from one of the young and vibrant Rotary clubs in Addis Ababa, and he had a series of questions penned in long hand on a piece of hotel stationery. He handed them over and asked me to respond at my convenience; ‘Take your time and send me your thoughts if ever you have a moment,’ he said.
I intended to jot down my responses on the flight back home, but I didn’t get to it. And over the year this piece of paper has traveled with me, unanswered, to every club visit since, transversing the entire district. I have finally found a moment to prepare my thoughts and I think they, like fine wine, have matured over time and particularly as I come to the end of my club visits. I have used my experiences to address the questions.
Q: I want to be an excellent speaker; what should I do?
A: It’s taken me a several years to gain confidence in public speaking. When I became aware that inspired speeches could change the destiny of my Rotary Club and the company I worked for, I chose to improve my vocabulary and idea development by reading a wide variety of books. I read every day and over the last three years I have read 54 books with topics that range from philosophy, fiction, business and current affairs.
I’ve cut down the time I spend reading the dailies so that I can have more time with books. Also, before each presentation I spend a considerable amount of time, locked away, preparing the message and rehearsing alone.
Q: What do we lack that high performance Rotary countries have?
A: Mentoring new clubs is critical and it is taken seriously in thriving Rotary countries. Clubs that are mentored tend to have high membership engagement, deliver growth and implement outstanding projects. When new clubs are built on strong foundations they maintain a membership of 25 and above, and we have found that this is the minimum number for effective capacity building, delegation and succession.
Club presidents are also encouraged to view themselves as inspirational leaders, who understand their member’s interests and values so that they can develop programs that keep them motivated.
Q: How can we make fellowships interesting?
A: It’s always a good approach to start with your members aspirations in mind. Think of yourself as a talk show host who has to keep the flow of each episode interesting by continuously inviting compelling guest speakers, incorporating thought provoking content and holding attention with jokes and fillers in between. The speakers should not only cover interesting topics but they should also be good presenters, and sometimes they should be the movers-and-shakers that your members want to rub shoulders with.
Finally, the late Sam Owori drove incredible growth of Rotary in Uganda by ensuring that all the new clubs, however far flung or modest, would share a meal, or snacks, and a drink during the meeting. Whether it is a handful of peanuts and a soda, or a more elaborate meal accompanied with refreshments, it is generally believed that eating together strengthens bonds and makes the meeting more appealing and enjoyable.
Q: What can I do to engage members more?
A: The fundamental part of membership engagement is the meaningful work Rotarians do within committees, and assigning motivated directors to lead them. The club leaders then oversee the work of the committees and hold them accountable at the monthly board meetings. Over and above that it is necessary to create a plan that the members develop together and which they are committed to bring to life. It is an exciting journey and it really helps to build your overall leadership ability.
Q: How can I complete at least two service projects this year?
A: You have several opportunities to build service projects from the ground up. Your members could propose straight forward concepts to the service projects committee and then have the team review the ideas and select two using set criteria. The criteria may state that the projects should be completed within a few months, such as supplying furniture to a school, or buying sewing machines for a vocational training institution, or planting trees. The ground up projects are the best type because they have the most relevant and sustainable impact in society.
Q: How can I express to others the value that I personally see and feel in Rotary?
A: Share personal stories from your experiences in Rotary; from the types of projects that have drawn out tears of joy; about the special people who have made unimaginable sacrifices to improve lives of people that they do not know, but who need their help; and the Rotarians who have inspired you in service, family and career. I find that most of the 35 people I have personally introduced into Rotary have been convinced by the stories I have told from the heart.