Mentor/Fellow Speed Dating by Linda London

When Steven Hess laid out a long line of A4 sheets (entitled with each class subject heading) on the floor in the Shoosmiths meeting room, I didn’t realise that he was about to get all the Fellows to leap up and grab the class of their choice. So, when Steven blew the metaphorical whistle, and everyone dashed to grab their favourite, I ended up with a choice from two remaining sheets on the floor!

However, despite feeling slightly daunted by the challenge of finding a small army of volunteer mentors for a class just 7 weeks away, I was going to largely enjoy the process. What I’ll try and do in this paper is simply lay out the runway of tasks I carried out, which may or may not help future speed dating class CEOs.

The first obvious thing to do is speak to folk who’ve been there before, done it, and got the T shirt. Wen and Steven gave me the contact details of two previous Class CEOs who I emailed straight away. Unfortunately, there was radio silence, so I then had to get Steven to send them both ‘nudge’ emails. This resulted in one responding, who I eventually managed to get a phone call with to discuss how he went about the task. When I heard his strategy of relying totally on LinkedIn and having only a 2% success rate, I knew I needed a different approach and designed my own process!

In my professional life I’ve spent many years working in the voluntary sector. I’ve even been on a three-day training programme on how to manage volunteers (I believe managing volunteers is harder than managing paid staff!). For people to contribute their time and expertise for free, there must be something in it for them – plus they must feel genuinely valued and appreciated for their input.

I needed help in generating warm leads to build my recruitment strategy, and I would need to create various communication tools i.e. information on SLP, the Fellows, the Mentors and details on how to get to the venue on the night.

At the next SLP class (after the one where we’d all ‘chosen’ our classes) I asked everyone in the room to send me at least two potential leads for volunteer mentors from their personal contacts – and this is where my first disappointment occurred. Most of my fellow Fellows didn’t respond to my request. This upset me. Thankfully the handful of Fellows who did step up to help gave me some great leads, and through hard work over the coming weeks I did manage to hit my target number (with a couple of spares waiting in the wings).

One of the previous class CEOs had produced a Mentor ‘brochure’ which gave me a template to build on. But I was shocked to see that he’d only got one female mentor amongst his group of male volunteers. I was determined to aim for gender parity – and as much diversity as possible in terms of volunteer type and professional experience.

Luckily as a group of Fellows we had all already had our individual photos taken. So, I spent time amalgamating them all into an A4 table and asked each Fellow to complete a box below summarising their start up. This ‘information product’ would be useful for Mentors to be able to quickly and easily see who was working on what. It was a time-consuming task but gave me my first communication tool (which other Fellows could then use too).

Once I had recruited my team of volunteer Mentors I did the same thing and created the Mentor version of an A4 sheet – this time with blank boxes for Fellows to make notes in if they were to prepare beforehand how to maximise their 5 minutes with each Mentor.

I believe the Mentor Brochure was the most important information product to produce. It not only started with an invitation and joining instructions – setting the tone of warm welcome and excitement. It highlighted to the Mentor volunteers that they would be part of an amazing line up of people that evening. However, it did take about 6 hours to produce because once a volunteer had agreed to attend, I then had to chase each one for their bios and photos.

Unlike my predecessor I didn’t use Canva, I just used a Word table and text boxes for the photos, so the brochure wasn’t necessarily a great piece of design, but it did generate a sense of excitement amongst the mentors who expressed to me how much they were looking forward to coming.

A word of warning – while juggling numerous lists of potential volunteers its easy to get overwhelmed by the names and all their details. This is when I inadvertently made a typo and misspelled a volunteer mentor’s surname, understandably upsetting him in the process.

Another word of warning is to not assume that all the Fellows will turn up on the night. At the start of the process in a group email to Fellows, not only did I ask for their help in finding volunteer mentors, I also stressed to them the importance of them telling me if they couldn’t make the event. Unfortunately, two Fellows didn’t have the courtesy to tell me that they weren’t coming – which resulted in me still unnecessarily chasing volunteer mentors on the morning of the event, and getting more mentors than fellows on the night.

I also spent time thinking through the logistics of getting a whole bunch of strangers to the venue, through security on the front desk, given a name badge on arrival, and being made to feel welcome from the start. Thankfully some Fellows helped me with this on the night, and I managed to get a previous class CEO to come along to help out too!

Of course, the main logistical challenge is setting up the process where two tribes of approximately 18 people spend 5 minutes with each other. Thankfully the venue sponsor Shoosmiths had kindly made 4 rooms available. Mentors were asked to take their fixed sits for the evening – scattered across all the rooms, and then Fellows were asked to circulate around the spaces regularly at the sound of Wen’s famous (and invaluable) timekeeping bells.

At the beginning and end of the evening Steven did a great job of eloquently ‘topping and tailing’ the class, and during the evening both Steven and Wen ensured the communication flowed between all three of us so that we had a tight team working behind the scenes to keep the energy flowing positively.

The feedback from the event afterwards (from both volunteer Mentors and Fellows) was largely very positive, with many Mentors saying that they’d be happy to volunteer again in the future – and some want to attend the graduation event in March 2020. Fellows gained access to advice on the night from experts in diverse areas from PR to legal and the chance to gain nuggets of advice, changes of perspective and new ideas. Plus, if they followed up with Mentors on LinkedIn afterwards, they have had the chance to expand their networks of support. No doubt Mentors will have enjoyed the chance to expand their professional networks too. I enjoyed meeting and interacting with all the Mentors – it was a real privilege to meet so many interesting people.

Thank you SLP for the opportunity.

P.S. One volunteer Mentor even posted about the Class on her LinkedIn page the following day (see below).

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