Ana Isabel Ferreira

Ana has been a Toastmaster since 2010, ACB and ALS, rising to PQD and District Director, she is also a founding member of Invicta club in Portugal and now mentors senior members. She has some strong views on mentoring in Toastmasters.

Mentoring should be mandatory” says Ana and she should know. As a psychologist and trainer to business people in communication and stress management, she has experienced the benefits of having someone to turn to when her work needs some outside perspective. Therapists and psychiatrists are required by the profession to have supervision from a more experienced practitioner and this makes perfect sense, says Ana.
But she feels that even this does not go far enough. She shares her experiences and ideas on how Toastmaster’s mentoring could take a whole new dimension with David O’Regan, VPPR of Thessaloniki Toastmasters and member of the District 109 PRM Team 2019 to 2020.

Communication is a skill that we develop on our own, then we have to do it together.

Who was your first mentor?
“My first professional mentor was my first boss, she helped me to think out loud. Communication is a skill that we develop on our own, then we have to do it together, Mentors help you to bring these ideas out of your head and see how they impact on others. We make the mistake of thinking that others perceive things in the same way that we do, “I am normal, right? So normal people will understand the same as me.” But we are not all the same and we connect what we hear to our own life experiences and they can be very different. Speaking to a mentor can help you understand that. Mentors can help you make decisions about what to say and how to say it and this can really impact how your message is received.”

Should mentors be selected or assigned?
“My first Toastmasters mentor was assigned, I would have preferred to choose but it was more important to begin the process and learn. Mentoring should be a key part of the Toastmasters experience.”

Do you have to like your mentor?
“Yes, at least there needs to be something you can relate to or admire about the mentor. They must be a role model, at least in the Toastmasters environment. They must be someone who can bring out the best in you and help you to define and achieve some goals.”

What are the difficulties of being a mentor?
“Holding your thoughts and not being judgmental, it is important to bring the best out of your mentee and not hijack them. It’s like a parental relationship, you cannot expect them to do what you want them to do but do what is best for them. This is one of the hardest things about mentoring, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you wouldn’t do something that your mentee shouldn’t, it may be a good lesson for them or an opportunity to develop.”

Mentoring is especially important in the leadership modules.

How can the mentoring process be improved?
“Mentoring should be mandatory for all members, the experience is a crucial part of Toastmasters, especially with the new Pathways. The training that Pathways gives is a real progression on the older methods but you need someone to guide you through it to get the best from it and being a mentor will help you develop skills that will benefit other club members and the organisation as a whole. Mentors should  also be mentored, as I said communication cannot be something that develops in your own head, the more you communicate with an open mind, the better you get. Mentoring is especially important in the leadership modules, this is something that often gets overlooked. Toastmasters is all about creating leaders and yet leadership mentoring is not given the emphasis it should. I have done things in the past and only much later been told that it was appreciated by other members. With our speeches we get immediate feedback in our evaluations but for our leadership tasks we don’t get this. If I had known that what I did was valuable to other members, maybe I would have done it more often and maybe better.”

Mentors help you to bring these ideas out of your head and see how they impact on others.

How should a mentoring relationship begin?
“Mentor and mentee should begin by defining the terms of the relationship.  Goals need to be set and frequency of meetings agreed. Having a clear objective is fundamental to successful mentoring.”

Can a mentor be younger than the mentee?
“Maybe? But it is important that it is clear what the mentor is providing to the relationship. If the mentor has particular experience to offer then age is not a concern.”

Who should be responsible for communication, mentor or mentee?
They should both take responsibility for maintaining the communication and relationship. The mentee needs to learn to ask for help and the mentor needs to keep the mentee motivated to continue the process.”

How much has your professional life helped with your mentoring?
“My work has helped me a lot, I am working with people all the time in my training and my work as a psychologist gives me an insight into how people work but I think that all members have some part of their work that can be applied to Toastmasters. It is that mixture of professional experiences that give Toastmasters its value to its members.”

Thank you, Ana Isabel, for sharing your insights into Mentoring with us.