Being a Mentor

Who can be a mentor?

Any experienced Agora member can be a mentor, regardless of whether that experience has been acquired within Agora or somewhere else.  There isn't a clear-cut boundary in terms of how long you must have been an Agora member, or how many speeches you have delivered, or how many projects you have lead in order to be able to provide mentorship.

It may happen that a 16-year old girl is vastly more proficient with computers than a 60-old new member that just joined Agora. She can perfectly well be his mentor in terms f navigating his way in the Agora Platform or Wiki or related services.

It may happen that you just joined Agora because you panic at speaking in front of a huge crowd, but that in your day-to-day job you're a stellar manager and thus have invaluable experience in bringing projects to success. As such, you can perfectly well be a mentor for someone's community project.

Mentorship is not about artificially imposed constraints, but about the experience, about "having walked that path" and about sharing.

Just as in the case of mentees, you need to ask yourself whether you have the time, dedication and commitment necessary to be a mentor.

How to be an effective mentor

Again according to research, the top mentor-attributable reasons for the failure of the mentorship process are:

  • Lack of mentoring skills
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of experience
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of understanding of the problems of the mentee
  • Constantly giving negative feedback.

In order to be a good mentor, you have to regularly work on the following skills:

Listen. A good mentor is above all a good and active listener. A listener not as in "waiting for the other person to finish talking so that I can talk myself", but a listener as in someone that focuses all his attention and senses on what the other person is trying to express. Try to go beyond the specific words and techniques used, and focus on the core message, and see if that can be improved or expressed better.

Be Open-Minded. Accept that your mentee and you are different people. Don't try to impose your own public speaking or leadership style on him. See if his approach is working (whether his projects are succeeding or not, how the audience is reacting to his speeches,etc. ) and try to fix only the objective issues that you think are the reason. Don't just say "it's not working because he should be using this particular technique that works so well for me".

Be Proactive. If you sense that something is not right (for example, the mentee isn't attending club meetings or isn't contacting you for a long time), be proactive and reach out. Ask if everything is ok, offer help. Remind him/her/them that practice makes perfect and that consistency is the only way to achieve results.

Be Supportive and encouraging. In a way similar to evaluators, as a mentor, you also have the goal of motivating and encouraging your mentee. People that are very nervous with their first speeches, debate or project are especially in need of encouragement.!! Don't merely wave away their fears - acknowledge them and address them.
"Listen, I know you're super nervous. That's normal, and it's good because you're on alert. Consider this: all the members that you see, even Peter that now seems so confident stood once where you're standing now. If they can do it, so can you. It just takes practice, and you’ll learn to channel that energy in a positive way.

Be Patient.  Needless to say, people learn at different rates, and they are also born with different characteristics that give them a head start in some areas and a stall out in some others.  You need to be patient with your mentee and aware of his personal circumstances.  However, do not confuse being patient with tolerating lack of discipline. It's one thing when a mentee is not constant due to some serious health situation in his family and a completely different thing when he is not constant due to "having a lot of work".

Be Curious. Learn about your mentee - what drives the person, what are the expectations, what he/she wants to achieve, why is he/she doing things that way.  If you're mentoring him for a community project (especially when the mentoring is remote and not in person), try to understand what problem he's trying to address in his community. If your mentee is from a different socio-economic layer, or a different culture, or a different geographical area, he and his community might be facing problems that you wouldn't even have imagined, or lack things you take for granted in your environment.
Being curious also means researching on your own. Don't just take what the mentee is saying for granted, especially when it's the "only" or the "best" solution for a community need. We're all products of our environment and develop a "cultural tunnel vision" in terms of how to approach problems. Doing your own research allows you to provide alternatives that the mentee couldn't have even imagined.

Be Aware of cultural differences and context. Agora spans the whole world and welcomes diversity. Even within a single club, there may be members from many, many different cultures. As such, always be respectful of cultural differences and the context in which the mentee will be developing his activities.
Strive for excellence and constant improvement. Even if your mentee just wants to be "good enough", your goal as a mentor should be crafting your mentee into a diamond.  Don't accept an "I only need a basic skill level to be able to live through that project/speech" attitude.

As Oscar Wilde used to say "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll still end among the stars"

This doesn't mean that you should focus exclusively on one problem (e.g.: eye contact) and never touch anything else until eye contact is perfect. Instead, focus on the most salient issues and work on them until they become less visible than other issues.

Be Honest and thorough. A mentor-mentee relationship is based on trust. There's nothing more damaging to the process than you withholding honest feedback that the mentee will learn anyway in the "real world". If you see something is wrong or the mentee is not doing something correctly, it's your duty to tell him. Sometimes correcting that capability will be beyond his skill level at a particular point of time, or there may be too many other problems to solve first, but that doesn’t mean the issue shouldn’t be noted as something to work on in the future.

For example, a mentee may be fond of telling jokes during his speeches (a poor man’s version of humor), but if he's still using notes or memorizing speeches, he has bigger problems to solve. Politely tell him that you'd need to work on the humor part of speeches later on, once the more pressing issues are fixed.  If instead, the only feedback you express is that he needs to work on being natural and not using notes, he might think that his poor jokes are appropriate.

Allow the mentee to develop their own natural style. One of the cornerstones of the Agora educational program is that each one has to develop their own natural style - both in public speaking and in leadership. As such, don't try to impose on the mentee a particular way of doing things. Maybe you like very paused speeches while your mentee likes to talk fast. Maybe you like to begin with a prop while your mentee likes to begin with a quote.  As long as the speech or the project doesn't have a serious objective shortcoming (i.e.: the mentee speaks so fast that he fuses words and it's difficult to follow), you should let that be. If anything, you might draw the attention of the mentee to the fact and let him decide:

"Marta, you speak super fast but you have a very clear enunciation so that I can clearly understand and follow you despite the speed. Please be aware of it, and think if you want to change it, or make it part of your style. "

Set a schedule and an agenda for each meeting. Regardless of whether it's an online meeting or a meeting in person, each meeting should have a clearly defined goal, agenda, and duration. Depending on the agenda, the meeting can last anywhere from 15 min (for example, for simply clarifying the process of asking for roles in the club) to one hour (for rehearsing a contest speech). The agenda may be something as simple as "Q&As regarding contests", but there should always be one.

Do not do the work of the mentee. Mentees should bear the bulk of the work.  The mentor shouldn't be writing speeches or doing the homework of the mentee. This is especially true for short, simple tasks, where there's a temptation to "show" the mentee how to do the task by doing it yourself instead of simply guiding him.
For example, imagine that the mentee is asking how to register on the Agora platform. Instead of saying "I'll do it for you, give me your username and EMail", guide him through the process so that all the tasks are performed by him.

Remember the old saying by Confucius:
"I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand"

Sometimes the mentees can ask for more serious tasks, like rewriting the beginning or end of a speech or even writing a speech altogether. There's no benefit to either of you if you do that. Instead, you can offer some suggestions and ideas, but the mentee should be the one that implements them. For example, you could say "In this speech, you started by telling the story of that bus accident in your childhood. It would be great if you could finish the speech by somehow linking to the beginning ". You might even give a couple of ideas. However, the actual thinking and writing should be done by the mentee.

Cross only the bridge ahead.  Mentees may be overwhelmed by the number of options, possibilities, and tasks, and may start to worry about hypothetical problems or issues they will face in the future. Focus on the immediate task ahead, and address only the present-time, actual problems, starting with the most pressing ones.

The Mentor Badge

Once you've completed successfully a mentorship within Agora, you'll be awarded a Mentor Badge that will be shown on your personal Agora profile page.
To gain this recognition, you will need to fill in a survey indicating:


  • Your Agora username and EMail
  • The Agora username and EMail of your mentee
  • The club name and number in which the mentoring took place.
  • A brief description of the mentoring activities.

Note: Badges are only awarded for members in officially registered clubs that follow all the branding guidelines.

How long should mentorship last?

Mentorship usually lasts until you feel fully integrated into the club, fluent with all the tools of the Agora platform and comfortable asking for roles and performing them. There's no fixed hard limit though, and it's up to mentor and mentee decide when to end the relationship.

As with any other relationship, don't let it simply "ghost out". A sense of closure is always welcome from both sides, even if that closure comes as a result of challenging hard reasons.

Both mentor and mentee should agree in advance to evaluate their relationship periodically.

Contributors to this page: agora .
Page last modified on Thursday December 5, 2019 00:15:04 CET by agora.