As new mentors swell our ranks at VVM, they wonder how to give the best support they can at the meetings. Rick Plaut has been both a mentor and a facilitator, so we took advantage of his inside knowledge:
What sort of experience do I need to be a mentor?
Whatever your experience, whether specifically as an entrepreneur or not, it can be of use to a mentee. You may have had experience in dealing with a particular issue that someone is dealing with, or you may have developed problem solving techniques that could be applied to the situation. The key to being helpful is to listen carefully and empathetically so that you can see the issue and its potential solutions through the lens of the mentee. Then you can address your question to the mentee in a manner that is respectful of their position and doesn’t assume resources they don’t have.
How do I get better at asking questions?
Listen. Instead of just waiting your turn or thinking about how to phrase your question, listen to other mentors’ questions and note the response from the mentee: is the mentee engaged? Did they become defensive? Did they appear to make notes? Is the mentee thinking about the question or just answering it? Remember to address your questions to any specific requests for help during the presentation.
The mentee missed a big potential issue in their presentation, should I bring it up in the break-out session?
The mentee came to the session with a specific set of concerns for which they requested help. Unless those issues have all been completely addressed and the mentee has opened it up, better to approach the mentee outside of the break-out session. If a mentee really has not thought about that big issue, is sitting in a circle of relative strangers really the right place for them to fairly consider it?
What is the difference between a mentor and a facilitator?
Timing! Facilitators function very similarly to mentors in that they bring their experience to issues by asking good questions. But they don’t do it during the break-out sessions.
Between VVM meetings, the facilitators are asking a lot of questions of the mentee, among the more generic of them:
How are you keeping your presentation fresh and attracting mentors to your cause?
What have you been working on and how have things changed since the last meeting?
Are the goals you had had at the beginning of the process still the same today?
What do you need to get out of the next meeting?
Are there specific mentors or types of mentors that we need to invite to meet with you?
Is there other networking we should try to arrange?
However, during the breakout sessions, the facilitator’s role is less to ask questions and more to actively manage the group of mentors – some of whom may be having their first introduction to the mentee – keeping them on task and limiting distractions, allowing the mentee to focus on the questions and the help they are receiving that addresses their specified needs.
Rick has 30 years’ experience in sales and marketing management for paper manufacturers, specializing in new product/market development and introduction. He is currently an independent consultant.