Meet The Area Director Of The Year, a DOUBLE DTM of D108 – MUHAMMAD ZAIN UL ABIDIN

Few Toastmasters Districts in the world can be as proud of their Area Directors Of The Year as our District 108 is!

Muhammad Zain Ul Abidin, twice a Distinguished Toastmaster, gained this leadership title in 2018 leading many of us by example: building 4 new clubs in Division D, being a successful mentor, coach, an inspirer to hundreds of Toastmasters!

Valeria, D108 PRM, spoke with Zain asking him to share his best practices, tips and tricks, lessons that he learnt during his Toastmasters journey and where it will bring him in the future.

Do enjoy reading, learn from and welcome The Area Director Of The Year 2018-2019 of D108 – ZAIN!


Q1. Zain, you are a “DOUBLE DTM” which is really a rare case in Toastmasters. HOW come? How long did it take you? And, what’s more interesting, WHY? Is there life after DTM? What’s it like?

I did both at the same time after 2 years and 11 months. The first one was planned since I learned about the requirements of getting a DTM which was in my first 3 months of being a Toastmaster, I was simply waiting for my District service to be over as last requirement, everything else was already done in 2018.

Second Pathways DTM, was never really planned, I jumped into Pathways as soon as it rolled out in March 2018, simply to get ahead of everyone else so that I can guide my club members and later on my area. I found Pathways to be so engaging I continued to passionately work on it and ended up completing 4 paths. In the mean time I was supporting other clubs as sponsor, mentor and coach. So when in Jan 2019 WHQ announced that a successful club coach will also count as District service, I realized, I could also complete a 2nd DTM by July and I simply planned it and got it.

So in a nutshell the answer to HOW is Plan, Plan, Plan! ))

As to WHY? Well, initially it was simply about achieving it for the sake of achieving it, but as I went through various leadership challenges over the years, achieving DTM (or for that matter any educational award) became more of side benefit then the main goal. Main goal became to work on my skills and help other members with their skills. Of course getting recognized is always a big motivational boost and whenever someone introduces me as a double DTM before I go on stage, it always brings a smile on my face and it also helps to motivate others to aim for DTM when I explain how easy it is.

Life after DTM is more of the same. Continuing to work on my skills, both in speaking and leadership. Currently I plan to focus a bit on contests, now that I can compete as I am not officially serving as District officer, but at the same time I am already helping my new District’s CGD as Club Extension Chair. So more of the same, improving myself and helping others.

Q2. Thanx, Zain. There is another word that means pretty much the same as what you do when helping others in Toastmasters – MENTORING. If you have ever had a mentor yourself, can you please share what has this relationship brought to you?

In Toastmasters, I never really had a formal mentor, I was on my own from Day 1. But in retrospective, there were many who brought me forward, and most of the time it was simply recognizing my effort and skill. Few top one come to mind.

Michal Byrczek after my area humorous speech in 2017, told me, “Zain, this is a district level speech”, until that point, I couldn’t imagine reaching district level in a contest, but coming from Michal (who has seen many contests), it gave such a massive boost in confidence and self belief that I did indeed reach district finals.

I once applied to be Pathways Ambassador, I wasn’t selected, but then after the rejection email, I got another email from Piotr Chimko, telling me that I should go for Area Director position as I would be great for that role. I was already planning to go for that position but when I heard it from the leader of such caliber, I knew I was on the right track. Later on it was a pleasure to work with Piotr, Elena, Gabriela, Olga as leaders in my AD terms, all of them were mentors and sources of inspiration in different ways.

Finally Lukas Liebich once introduced me to Florian Mueck (another inspiration of mine), as star of the future (or something of that sort, I don’t recall the exact words, just the meaning and feeling). That was based on the speech he heard me deliver few months earlier in Warsaw. That was such a massive boost in confidence, that still brings me forward every day.

So in a way, in my Toastmaster’s journey there were many mentors and one thing they did more than anything else, was simply recognize and appreciate. That has been one of the biggest learning I have taken out of Toastmaster, recognition is such a huge motivator and I have successfully used it myself both inside and outside Toastmasters.

Q3. Amazing! Now let’s get a bit more personal. Recently you got married to a girl you met at Toastmasters, right? How did it all work out for you and are there any hidden advantages in marrying a fellow Toastmaster? ))

I met Sonya in May 2016 at a training we did for high school students in Poland about cross cultural competency as part of a voluntary program. It was my first time doing it and Sonya simply bossed me around for 3 hours.

I fell in love that day, but she didn’t really like me.

Few months later I joined Toastmaster, and who do I see in my 3rd meeting, Sonya sitting in the audience. She joined at the same time as me. That gave us a chance to get to know each other a bit better.

And once I got elected President of our club, she knew this guy has ambition and skills, so we started dating. That was May 2017. We got engaged in August 2018 and married in August 2019.

Without Toastmasters, we most likely won’t have met after that first meeting.

There are many benefits to marrying a Toastmaster, first of all, I don’t have to explain to her what is it about, she doesn’t really mind me spending so much of my time in the organization as she sees the value and she understands why I do it and what I get out of it. So over the years as I faced different leadership challenges, I could always count on her feedback and support. And she is a wise woman, so I try to listen to her. 

Plus being a Toastmaster, we both know how to give constructive feedback to each other, which is bedrock of a successful relationship ))

Q4. Thanx for the tips ) Now back to toastmastering again. Zain, could you please share your best initiatives as an Area director?

#1. Visiting clubs more often then just 2 times a year, the weaker the club, the more visits I gave them. It is all about building relationship, before you can help someone, they must first feel that they can come to you for help and that you will do your best. That is not possible until you actually get to know them. My weakest club that I was coaching as well, I must have visited about 15-20 times in a 6 month period and I didn’t even speak the language (it was a Polish speaking club). They ended with President’s Distinguished status at the end of the year.

#2. Friendly competition. First, I introduced a Tostek (a dwarf statue, as Wroclaw has many dwarfs all around the city), which I gave to one of the weaker clubs in the beginning of the year. Any club could come and take it by visiting host club and taking 2 roles in their meeting. Tostek moved around the whole area many-many-many times and in the process connected members from different clubs. It was very beneficial. 

Second, for the March renewals, I announced a 50$ prize for the club that would do the highest percentage of renewals by 20th March (10 days before deadline). I did updates regularly and shared with Treasures, VP-Ms and Presidents. Clubs really tried hard, and for a change almost all the renewals were done by 20th March instead of last minute running around. It also gave me and all the club leaders a unique chance to ask those members who weren’t renewing, why they weren’t. Great exercise. 50$ is not a lot, but even a little reward in friendly competition is a great motivator to do things.

#3. Setting the goal upfront. 7th July 2018 I did the first club officer training and I announced that, by the end of the toastmaster year I want to double the clubs from 6 to 12 (we ended with 10), to have all clubs with 30 or members (3 out of 10 had it) and that I will not let any club die (and we rescued both weak clubs). 

I repeatedly shared this vision and goals with the whole area through club visits, emails etc. When people know the vision/strategy, and they see you working hard towards it, they by themselves come and help you to make it a reality. 

If there is no clear vision/strategy, then we all just walk like headless chickens ))


Q5. WOW! Great tips!! Well, a tricky question now) Was there anything that you failed in completing while serving in the Area Director’s role? Can you share?

Corporate Summit. It was a great idea, but execution was not that great. It was my fault, I chose to do it end of January, date was decided 3 months earlier. But I didn’t take into account how busy I will be. In January I was visiting 9 clubs and doing area visits, I was helping charter 2 clubs, I was helping to restart a dying club that I was coaching on top of that I had some personal stuff going on. I was completely overwhelmed and burned out and as a result wasn’t able to focus on the summit properly. 

It wasn’t a total failure and team did their best, but it simply didn’t match my expectation and I feel if it had been a month later, I could have contributed much more and made it a bigger success. 

Lesson learned, never do too many things at the same time.

Q6. Thanx for sharing!  Now let’s shift to the professional life. Were there any situations when experiences gained at Toastmasters helped you out of any tricky situation at work/in relationship?

I work as a Product Manager professionally, which essentially means I have to create a vision/strategy for my product and I have to lead people to deliver it. Only issue is, those people don’t directly report to me, I don’t pay their salaries, I don’t decide their performance reviews. So I can’t simply order them around or offer more money, I have to actually use all my persuasive and influencing skills to get them aligned to my vision and then deliver on it.

Toastmasters leadership is exactly the same. Just because you are President of the club, there is no obligation on any member to do as you say. You have to put forward a clear vision/strategy and then persuade/influence members to deliver on it. 

Product Management and Toastmasters Leadership are a match made in heaven. And I have used tactics and techniques learned from one, in the other and vice versa. 

Toastmasters Leadership track is the most important benefit that you can get out of TM, but you must be ready to give it your all, as I always say, you get out of Toastmasters as much as you put into it. So the more effort you put in, higher the reward. 

Skills learned in Toastmasters have not only helped me to find a new job in a new country, in a new industry, but also make an impact on the team inside my first 3 months of starting the job. If I hadn’t been a Toastmaster, I simply won’t be where I am both professionally and personally.

Q7. Zain, a final question now. What’s next? Any plans to share?

I moved to Dublin in May 2019 (following my Love, Sonya). Toastmasters in Ireland is different in a lot of ways from Poland and I am still getting used to it. But I can clearly see where I can contribute the most, I am already helping the District 71 CGD as Club Extension Chair for the year and I hope to start a club in Dublin sometime in next 6 months.

Professionally, I am in a new job, new company, so focus is on making an impact and learning new things. Who knew insurance could be interesting ))

Personally, things couldn’t be better, just got married and looking forward to this new adventure with the best partner I could ask for.

WrocLove Speakers, my home club in Wroclaw, Poland will always remain close to my heart, I am who I am because of the people I met there. And I am pretty sure I will be visiting both WrocLove Speakers and District 108 regularly in future.

As they say, Onwards and Upwards!

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