Okanagan Panorama

How do I apply Design Thinking to a Toastmasters club?

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As originally answered on Quora.com ... 

Toastmasters is not a product but rather a service. I have plans to apply Design Thinking to my club through discussions among our members. Also, the Toastmasters members are the customers here. So, basically, I want to apply Design Thinking to a service with the customers in the same room.


Interesting question. I had to Google ‘design thinking’ just to see what it meant. I recognized the characteristics of the modality right away.

I would challenge your assertion that Toastmasters is a service, not a product. I would argue that it is both. Toastmasters International provides a recognizable product i.e. the Communication & Leadership Program and all of its ancillary educational material. At the club level, we promote and sell the product. The product only works if there is a service component attached to it. That’s where the club comes in. We provide service i.e. our regular club meetings, to our customers … our fellow members.

I would also take the ‘customers in the same room’ differently than you have. Our ‘customers’ can include guests and the local community. Many clubs provide programs for their local community. A guest or more precisely a prospect, is still part of the customer continuum, albeit future oriented.

I admire your enthusiasm to help your club evolve in a different direction than it apparently is currently in.

I have been down this route myself several times. I prefer to call it a business model though. I believe that Toastmasters clubs should be run like businesses. The supplying of a product and a service in a community that provides many choices of other Toastmasters clubs, requires a business mentality to be successful.

Here are some logistical concerns I have. They are not in order of priority:

  1. Are you on the club executive? If no, do you have influence with the current Club President?
  2. Is your club currently healthy i.e. 20 members or so?
  3. Is there a recognizable need for the initiative you are proposing?
  4. How is your relationship with your fellow club members? What is the likelihood of them supporting you in this initiative?
  5. How do you get a buy-in from your fellow club members?
  6. Have you created a step-by-step strategy to present to them or just a concept to share with them?
  7. How do you plan on leading this initiative?
  8. Are there any budgetary concerns?
  9. Will this be solely your project or will your fellow members be involved in the leadership aspect?
  10. Have you envisioned what the end result will look like?
  11. Let’s say that your idea works and it is successful. What about succession? What happens to the club if and when you leave? Will there be fellow members involved to keep the momentum going? If so, how do you plan to make that happen? If not, why not?

I’m not sure how long you have been a Toastmaster for or anything about you at all of course. An important lesson that I learned long ago when attempting to start a new club, was that you can’t do it alone. You need a team of like-minded individuals i.e. champions or disciples, to get out there and promote it for you.

There is an excellent program in the Advanced Leadership Program that would fit in quite well here. It is called the HPL (High Performance Leadership Project). The idea is that you find a problem to solve or a new initiative. You create your team that you will oversee in making the project come to life. And you select a leadership team to oversee you as you lead your team in your project.

There are steps that you need to take as part of the HPL. One of them is delivering a presentation to your club outlining the project and seeking their approval & support. I personally would speak to each member separately, aside from the meeting and solicit their support. That would increase the likelihood of the club as a whole supporting you and your project.

I think you have an interesting idea. Your challenge will be getting your fellow members to support you and in staying true to the Toastmasters program. That would include allowing your club officers to perform their roles and the opportunity to grow within those roles.

Thanks for the interesting question! Good luck with this initiative. 

Rae Stonehouse

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