Our Speaking club is its own boss in that we appoint a committee to run it and decide the direction in which we want to advance.
But every Toastmasters club (there are over 16,500 throughout the world) is part of a much bigger organisation – Toastmasters International. The head office in Colorado USA divides the organisation of this vast network into regions, districts, divisions, and areas.
Our district – District 91 – holds a conference each year. In recent years they have been held online, opening the presentations and learning to a much wider range of members. This year our District’s conference was hybrid, with some of the events being held in-person.
Sussex Online members were key
We are very proud that several members of our club were heavily involved in the organisation this year. For a young club to participate in this way demonstrates its phenomenal success. Congratulations to Amy, Dil, Tom, Paddy, and Jean, all of whom willingly gave their time and expertise to act in various roles to serve their district.
The theme of the conference, held on the weekend of 6-8 May 2022, was “Everything is Possible”, and delegates’ eyes were opened to just that. Whatever you want to do – you can. Whether it is to compete in a speech contest, become a leader in your club or your job, or whether you wanted to try kick-boxing or salsa, get a grip with gripping vocabulary, or maybe act to save the planet – there were talks and sessions to show us how.
I was inspired by Anthony Bennett’s keynote speech on the Saturday morning. As a teen, he fell gravely ill with an infection and almost lost his life a whopping twelve times. It took months and years, but slowly, slowly he recovered. Somehow, despite being so ill for so long, he did well at his school exams and graduated from university. On emerging from education, he was approached by the hospital that had cared for him – Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital – to raise funds for their work.
We were enthralled by the way he grasped the task, by the astounding work he did, and how he has gone on to build an extraordinary career as a speaker. But most of all, I was struck by what he said about saying “yes”. If someone asks you to do something and you say “no, I cannot do that”, your life goes on in much the same monotonous way. But if you say “yes, I’d like to do that”, many fabulous possibilities become available. And I relate to that, because I find myself saying “yes”, perhaps a little too often. But my life truly has become enriched with Toastmasters.
In all, there were three keynote speeches. Sadly, I missed one of them. The District organisers also arranged the quarter-finals of the four contests (International Speech contest, Table Topics, Evaluation, and Humorous Speaking) that every club may enter. Winners from clubs go to the area contest, the winner there moves to Division level, and the Division winner competes at the annual conference. I managed to see three of the four and witnessed some truly remarkable performances by Toastmasters from all over the south of England and South Wales, which is the geographical area covered by our district. It is worth mentioning here that our own Paddy progressed as far as Division level in the International speech contest.
The winners can be seen at this link.
The organisers used an app called Whova for access to the entire conference. This was a little strange to many members who are more used to being sent Zoom links and paper agendas. Whova, once you get familiar with how it works, is the answer to online conferences with multiple events. It integrates with Zoom, but all events are accessed via the app which works on mobile devices and, more importantly in my view, on the desktop computer.
Each session was ably led by a master of ceremonies– one of a team of MCs for the conference – and the organisers managed to keep everything perfectly on time. This is something every club aspires to: timekeeping is so important to us.
It wasn’t all work and contests. There was a huge amount of entertainment: social sessions, chats, exercise, salsa lessons, groups formed on the app to discuss different subjects, and a gala evening streamed from a smart hotel to those of us who were still at home.
If I had a tiny criticism to make, it is that the agendas on Whova did not give any information about what one might learn in a speech or presentation. A simple title is not enough to have an idea of what we will be hearing. A couple of sentences of introduction to the subject and the speaker would have been very helpful.
But all in all, the conference was very ably organised. It is salutary to remember that every single one of the organisers volunteers their time and works incredibly hard to achieve success. They gain from the experience too by growing their leadership and communication skills.
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