iStars: A Division I Initiative

What starts as a spark, gives rise to a raging fire that burns inhibitions, fear and the innate sense of non-belongingness to a cause. We all hope to be a part of one such spark once in our life. Toastmasters itself began as a spark, which is now spreading across the world like wildfire. Within Toastmasters, we have examples to look up to, and one such initiative under Division I, led by the Division Director TM Santhosh Sharma, is the iStars. What is the iStars, what was its’ genesis, and what has been the story behind the rise of the iStars? Our team got in touch with Santhosh, and he led us into a freewheeling conversation about the baby of Division I.

Where did the idea of iStars take birth?

iStars found its formative seeds in the early days of Siemens Toastmasters Club. I was the founder president there and in the initial days, members from nearby clubs like Infosys and Wipro lent us a helping hand by coming and participating in our meetings. One feature of our meetings was that we used to get a General Evaluator from another club, and I noticed that these interactions helped us have high quality meetings. Each GE and role taker brought in their unique perspective, best practices and obviously, some great feedback for a nascent club like ours. This made me think and the ‘Division team’ of Division I sat and formulated the iStars programme.

What has been the core concept of iStars?

iStars serves to ensure that every club strives to have high quality meetings. Good speeches, educational sessions and high quality evaluations ensure that a good meeting happens! The program also functions on the concept that for having a continuum of high quality meetings, it is not always enough to just interact within the club. Inter-club exposure and networking helps bring out the best in Toastmasters, and foster quality. iStars aims to be a collaborative medium that looks at all aspects: Fun, Variety and Quality.

What has been a critical success factor for iStars to succeed?

A majority of the Division I clubs are centered in and around Electronics City (Bengaluru), and I feel that has really helped the program to grow leaps and bounds!

What is the one pain point you feel iStars has addressed for Toastmasters attending other clubs’ meets?

Recognition. A toastmasters club in its nascent days depends on the support of experienced Toastmasters who can help ensure quality meetings. But we often saw, that after pushing a few people continuously for meetings at a new club, they felt demotivated to go continuously to the same club. We answered the question of “What is in it for me?” We took care of the fact that efforts shall be rewarded across individuals, clubs and the ADs who often push experienced members to attend such meetings.

How has it helped Division I as a whole?

Every club has now learnt to open up and talk to other clubs. We have a process where the VP-E’s of the clubs invite other Division I club’s members to come to their meetings. The club leaders now can focus on their club’s problems, and work on it with their ADs and get resources from outside the club easily. For the members who visit, they become brand ambassadors of their clubs and perform to the best of their ability, as they have to be sensitive, careful and analytical in their approach. They also get to complete their educational awards, and that is a plus point! This has helped the ADs to help struggling/new clubs get support after the problems have been identified. It helps the division to strategize for the clubs and their meetings.

How does it help the clubs?

The clubs get good, quality meetings. I believe that meeting quality is the cornerstone of a good club, and once we achieve that, the DCP points will come by themselves. iStars is just the fuel to ignite the passion within a club and the individual members.

How do you ensure transparency in the system?

We ensure that the clubs give us their MoMs after the meeting is over. The MoM is the real moments of truth for both the club and iStars, as we get to know how many people were involved in the meeting, and who participated. The points scheme is based on that very basis.

What has kept iStars going?

The clubs and individuals have kept it going, really. The real kudos goes to the Division I team who have ensured that the participants are recognized regularly, and the team has been the backbone of the system, keeping it regularly updated and issue-free. I would say that the PR for iStars has also been a driving factor in ensuring iStars has kept going in the past 6 months.

Didn’t you face challenges implementing a whole new system?

Yes, the challenge would have been that people wouldn’t know how it works – so the ADs took special effort to present iStars in their club visits, and that really helped people adopt this system, and led to nearly 250-300 Toastmasters participating in the programme. We faced some issues with co-ordination, and the members brought it to our notice. It is heartening to see that the members of Division I are invested into iStars, and that has helped it flourish! They have gone outside of their comfort zone, networked and helped clubs – and that has helped us overcome all challenges!

What’s next in iStars? Are you going to surprise us?

Yes! iStars v2 is out soon, and we have made the system detailed and more discriminatory in order to ensure quality meetings across the Division. Our team noticed the patterns of behaviour of our members in iStars, and that has helped us build a robust system to look to the future – where we can help out new and struggling clubs to reach the heights that they were meant to reach.

 

For understanding how iStars works, login to tiny.cc/istars. We hope this interview helps the spread of new ideas across the District, thereby ensuring quality meetings and happy individuals. Cheers, Division I, keep up the good work!!

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