Division L

Mapping the District

By Monika Swiderska, Excalibur Speakers, Div L Area9


Figure 1 A map of District 91 UK South

We live in a data-driven world. In the era of social media, online collaboration and internet. The information we are surrounded with plays bigger and bigger factor on how companies and organisations operate, and individuals live their lives. And most of that information is spatial, which means it can be put on a map. When you post a fancy picture of your favourite meal, you can tag you are in the local restaurant in Twickenham. When you are visiting your relatives in the countryside, you can mention that you are in the middle of Essex. And even if you are stuck on Central Line, you can post that you are in Tottenham Court Road station.

Toastmasters is not very different in that regards. We have an enormous amount of data. Data, that is location-bound and can be put on a map. If we think about our clubs, we immediately relate them to a location. A lot of them even draw their names from a place, for example: Covent Garden Speakers, Holborn Speakers or Ludlow Toastmasters. The clubs also have addresses, so we can easily put them on a map. And then, ask some questions. Where are most of the clubs located? Are they in busy business districts like City of London? Or perhaps in a cosy neighbourhood on the border of M25? How they are doing in terms of Distinguished Club Program points and membership base? Can this data tell us a story?

Being a Geographic Information Science Specialist, I look for answers for similar questions in my day-to-day job. But I am also a keen Toastmaster and I thought that with my GIS skills, I could help District 91 understand the spatial data better.

An immediate choice was helping with district realignment. Each year District Alignment Committee is tasked with aligning existing and new clubs based on their geographic proximity in order to maintain the strength of areas and divisions. That is a long process of analysis, discussions and consultations. The final proposal is then presented to District Council and voted on. This year, for the first time, the maps used by District Alignment Committee have been created using a professional GIS software called Quantum GIS (QGIS). 

Figure 2 – A map of Division C drawn for district alignment proposals.

GIS is a powerful visualisation tool, but it can be so much more. It is capable of storing multiple layers of information. In case of our clubs, before the data was visualised spatially, the Distinguished Club Program points and membership bases were added to the software. This helped District Alignment Team to understand the situation of the clubs better, but it also started to paint a spatial story.

Figure 3 Information about the Division A clubs  from Toastmasters International dashboards stored inside GIS

The District leaders have always known that there are locations with bigger density of clubs like London (or in particular Canary Wharf) and locations where Toastmasters International is unheard of. Furthermore, there are areas where clubs do particularly well and places where they struggle. With the use of GIS we can start to quantify that information and try to spot patterns. However, that is just a step away from a colourful visualisation or a map. GIS is a science that is not far from Data Science. Thus, the analysis of clubs’ locations, population densities of towns and wards and overlaid transport links can draw an even more robust picture of our District and help us play to the advantages of our geography. This initiative is an ongoing project called “Atlas” and it is my High Performance Leadership project. As with every innovation project, it is full of trials and errors. However, so far it has been an amazing journey, in which I could link my two passions together. I am hoping that by the time I finish, I will be able to share my passion for maps and understanding of spatial data to tell a better story of clubs and members in District 91. So that, in turn, would help the District leaders to serve their members better.

Evaluation – Ace or Axe

By Sina Behbhani, HOD Speakers Club, DivL Area61

I would like to talk about a shared problem we all experience but we are too polite to talk about. Then I will explain how to support members through three stages of transformation in Toastmasters International.

Toastmasters provides a mutually supportive environment, but what does it mean and how can we practice that?

Have you ever been in a situation where you have received irrelevant evaluation or advice when you have carefully crafted your speech? You may think “So, didn’t they get it or I was not clear enough?”.  In my experience, both can be right.

There is no doubt that evaluation helps speakers, tremendously, to develop their presentations and the structures of their speeches, however, a speaker needs to be aware of the extent of adapting to the evaluations offered.

The truth is, even if you deliver a perfect speech, some evaluators will analyse and criticise you, somehow, because that’s what they are good at! There is no end to this criticism and that is completely natural because not everyone has the same taste. Also, it is not practical to take all advice and ideas on board, because evaluation may take you in a different direction every time. Accepting all evaluation can kill your style and confidence in my opinion!

In fact, many individuals may think that you must become like them and convert to their style to become perfect! They will criticise you until that happens (god forbid!) so, the question is, where should we draw that line?

If you have been long enough in Toastmasters, you know that every single person has a particular style just like yourself. The real art of mutual support is to help members find their own style and support them to achieve their own objective. Some people like to attend contests, some people like to deliver long informative workshops at their workplace and some like to become motivational and inspiring. That is why we have ten fantastic pathways to choose from. So the golden rule is to offer safety and support to each other.

I think one of the biggest mistakes in Toastmasters is that we do not emphasise an individual’s organic goals/choices and unintentionally redirect their efforts towards the contests. It is really important to understand why the individual has come to a club before starting his/her journey and how the club can serve that individual to achieve the desired goal. No one has come to Toastmasters’ to do speech contests, because before they join, they didn’t know such a thing exist! Let’s always remeber the true intention of the individual and remind them about it before converting them into contestants to make the club proud.

Such an attitude allows members to develop their style and that is exactly where members start the journey of success by going through three stages of transformation.

The three stages of transformations are gaining confidence, structuring the speeches and developing spontaneous speech. 

For the first stage, members need emotional support to be able to stand in front of the audience and perform their speech. as much as praising and compliments strengthen an individual’s confidence at this stage, technical evaluation, criticising and mentioning minor mistakes can obstruct an individual’s growth or make them back-off on the first step.

In the second stage, members start to build up a well-rounded and structured speech to impact, inform, inspire and influence the audience. As much as technical evaluation can strengthen members influential skills, diverting the individual from their main objective and offering competition centred evaluation can dishearten or confuse the member.

The final stage is when the individual has learned the techniques and is ready to talk about any desirable subject spontaneously on stage in a conversational style. Spontaneous speech provides opportunities for an authentic choice of words with the appropriate audience without rigid planning in advance. This is not an ‘unprepared’ speech, but it is the ability to present and lead with confidence.

Recognising and encouraging members unique flavour of topic and style on this final phase can strengthen the individual but pushing the individual to follow a rigid club’s structure can make the member uncomfortable and eventually leave the club. This, I saw over and over.

Experiencing fantastic support from my peers, I managed to reach the third stage. I also experienced the difficulties that unsupportive or contest centred evaluation caused in my journey.

Now, even though I happily perform my speech spontaneously, still I get the same spectrum of evaluation from members who have been inspired to members who try to make me like themselves and never satisfied!

I would like to offer one and only one piece of advice: You are unique. Become comfortable in your own skin! Speaking and leadership opportunities are presented to you in your everyday life, not only in competitions.

I am a Toastmaster

By Warren Sheng, Harrovians Speakers Club, DivL Area61

I joined Harrovian Speakers Club in February 2006 because Toastmasters had been recommended in a careers book for women that I had read. (It was “Nice girls don’t get the corner office”. And what’s wrong with being a man but reading a careers book for women?!)

My reason for joining—and for remaining as a Toastmaster for so long—was not because I needed to do speeches at work but because it was a way to make new friends. As 20% of my friends are Toastmasters, this remains a valid reason to join.

Let me summarise my journey. Firstly, I have attended nearly every meeting except if I was on holiday. This is called getting value for money. Secondly, I have served in most roles including VPE, President, backup SAA, Treasurer, Area Director. Thirdly, instead of spending 13 years in just one club, I have also been a happy member of Tube Talk and London Business School. I am making slow motion progress towards my DTM award. Fourthly, I have entered speech contests at every opportunity except when I was Area Director. For some reason, you can trust an Area Director to oversee 4 clubs but you cannot trust him to enter a speech contest! My icebreaker speech in March 2006 was about my then recent working visit to Shanghai. I rehearsed this speech 40 times (a sign of dedication and madness). This was several more times than any other contestant. I duly won but I was disqualified as it was my icebreaker.

The attached photo shows how the Area Director was seemingly more pleased that I had won. This was March 2010 when I was only 50 years old- Warren Sheng

My greatest win was runner up in the 2017 District 91 Humorous Speech contest. Although I enjoyed this speech, it was tiring delivering it around 20 times, each with subtle changes. You can see the Division and District contest versions on YouTube, by searching for “Warren Sheng”.

What have been the benefits and pitfalls?

Benefits: I am a better speaker and evaluator. I have developed my dry humour. After around 1,000 meeting hours, it would have been hard not to improve.

I have gained many friends and enjoyed many speeches. I am more confident and I cannot remember accidentally saying “er” at a Toastmaster meeting since 2009. (The only exception was when I did a humorous speech about how to erm more effectively and in different languages.)

When completing application forms that require one to demonstrate good communication skills, I just state that I have won 12 speech contests. This is better than stating “I am a really good communicator…”

I have enjoyed Toastmaster meetings in other parts of London, and also San Francisco, Shanghai and Taipei, where I was the recent VIP speaker, doing a workshop on humour.

I have also photographed some Toastmaster events and will be photographing the District Conference in May. (Photography is my other passion. It’s also a form of communication, but without words.)

Pitfalls: Some speeches and meetings have been disappointing because the speakers made fundamental, avoidable errors including a failure to prepare. Some of my evaluations, which have many recommendations, have not been appreciated. Some of the audience hated what I said, even though I believed my comments to have been truthful and helpful. Toastmasters is sometimes too nice. And I prefer to be not too nice. I would rather be remembered than loved. I would rather be unpopular for speaking the truth than popular for using more flattery than is healthy. Sometimes, we need to hear the horrible truth “It would be good if you repeated this speech…” Nearly all speeches improve after feedback and changes. Very few speeches are delivered as a one-off speech. Martin Luther King’s celebrated “I have a dream” speech was given several times in slightly different versions.

Nevertheless, overall I am happy that I am a Toastmaster. It’s a place where I can meet people less than half my age (I am an ancient 59 years old) and people from very different walks of life including a rabbi, an ambassador, Muslims and Hindus. These encounters and friendships remain my most important reason for being a Toastmaster.

My Journey

Image result for Indra toastmasters

By Indra Sikdar, Harrovians Speakers Club, DivL Area61

I joined Toastmasters in 1999.  I had been working but found it quite hard at the time to make friends at work and secondly to work in a logical and chronological manner (tackling a project step by step).

Initially, I found out about Toastmasters after reading some American self help books which implored the reader to attend and to use the organisation as a laboratory to practice public speaking.

The first club I joined was Athenians in Hammersmith and then soon I checked out another club called City of London Speakers Club which met at Liverpool Street (I transferred my membership there).

At the time City of London Speaker Club had less members and so I did not feel as initimidated to start my public speaking journey at that club.

I only spoke without notes when I gave my 10th speech (Competent Communicator).

I remember my first meeting where I was so impressed by the speakers that I felt like getting up and speaking in front of the audience myself !

I always felt that Toastmasters was a good organisation to join – as it is dedicated to self improvement and of course the self improvement generally only happens through team work.

I have tried almost all the roles including Area Governor, President, Secretary, Treasurer and many others roles as the need arose from time to time.

In 2001 I spoke to Imke Halberstadt and she mentioned that she wanted to start a club in Harrow – and as I lived in the London Borough of Harrow – I welcomed a local club.

I remember the day that we launched Harrovians in a pub in Wealdstone.  Imke was on the case assertively recruiting the requisite number of members to launch the club.

Since that day we (Harrovians) have met in a variety of locations including other pubs, Community Halls, and Churches.

We have had our ups and downs but as a club we have kept the vision alive to provide communication and leadership opportunities for the people who live in and around Harrow.

With my own personal journey I went on to receive the prestigious Distinguished Toastmasters Award (after five years).  Prior to that I met with Alan McMahon and we planned for how I would complete the DTM: what assignments were left, what speeches I would do and when.

I have in the past spoken at Speakers Corner, given a Seminar at London Metropolitan University, given a Sunday Service at a Church, spoken on radio and even given a variety of talks at Government Offices.

I now find it easy to make friends and am happy to network and talk to a variety of people, often this experience turns into team working opportunities. 

At present I am looking at an opportunity to do some voluntary work for an English Community Group and am looking at ways to modernise the organisation, make it more inclusive and to blend both my traditions Indian and English into my narrative (if asked to speak) and to understand, English history, culture and where we are today as a modern society.

The lessons I have learned from Toastmasters are:

* When you find something good – take the plunge, find out about an organisation, join and get involved.

* Be consistent in turning up and trying the roles.

* Seek opportunities and when they arise – take on those challenges.

* It is important to have a clear vision of where you want to get to and broadly to stick to that destination.

Don’t shove them in a drawer

By Lynne Cantor, Excalibur Speakers, DivL Area9

Image result for Lynne Cantor toastmasters

‘You must come’. 

‘You need to come’. 

‘You’ll love it’.

I am not sure ‘love’ was the right word back then but twelve years on and I do love Toastmasters. Initially cajoled by a friend to come along and then I was hooked.   It’s funny, we go to hundreds of meetings and often can’t remember what happened when, but we do tend to remember our first meeting.  The girl with the Australian accent, now a dear friend, the guy with the stutter who now runs comedy shows and the visiting speaker talking about body language, a topic I now present on myself.  I’ve a lot to thank my friend for. Bring a friend to your next meeting, the more who know the more we’ll grow. 

I joined the all women club, Women in Banking and Finance – City (now City Women Speakers), a year after it was founded.  I was quickly co-opted onto the committee as Vice President Public Relations.  Do take on a committee role, over time try them all. You may feel ‘how did I get here, what am I supposed to do?  PR was not exactly in my comfort zone.  I had never produced publicity material or written a newsletter. I always think that when you find yourself in that position, you just have to get stuck in.  I found I enjoyed talking to members and getting their stories, researching speaking tips and finding pictures to enhance content.  There was less social media and online activity then than there is now and our newsletters were often printed and handed out.

As I started to enjoy Toastmasters I began to look a little wider than my home club.  I would go and General Evaluate (GE) at other clubs.  There are so many wonderful clubs around each with their own unique feel but all offering the opportunity to learn, develop and grow your speaking ability.  Go visit other clubs, be a GE or simply observe, there is much to gain.   

Workshops are often on offer with great speakers sharing their skills and experiences.  I always come out motivated and buzzing. I also take loads of notes that used to end up shoved in a drawer.   I’ve since learned the hard way not to do that.  When you take notes, use them, don’t lose them.  Go to the workshops, they are usually free.  One of the workshops that interested me was how to be better at evaluations, presented by two former District Evaluation Champions.  For me, having to gather your thoughts in a few minutes, structure a speech and make the speaker feel motivated seemed a tall order. I came out bantering with my friend as to who would win the next ‘Best Evaluator’ ribbon.  My friend did……… every time for two years.   ‘How do you do that’ I asked. It turns out she had implemented all the advice from the workshop whereas I had shoved it all in a drawer.  Ouch!

It was competition time.  ‘Come on members’ declared our President.  ‘Step up.  We need contestants’.  ‘I will if you will’.  Over the years I’ve noticed that some clubs have lots of contestants whereas others have very few.  More chance of winning in the latter!  Contests are a great way to help you up your game.  Always give competitions a chance. Sign up and enter. I’ve heard speakers who have been in Toastmasters for less than six months go all the way to the International competition.  You never know how far you can go unless you try. 

I never entered the evaluation contest to become a champion.  I just wanted to beat my friend, just once.  My friend won best Speaker and I, finally, won best Evaluator.   I remember at Area, warming up my brain and getting myself into evaluation mode.  My main competitor who had won at Area for the past three years received a note from one of her friends.  ‘Lynne is evaluating everything in sight if you are not careful she’ll win’.  I did. You wouldn’t go to the gym without warming up, so why evaluate without warming up.  You can warm up evaluating other speakers or even the Toastmaster.

Audiences get bigger as you go from Club to Area to Division to District.  The Division contest was in a lecture hall with everyone not just looking at you but looking down at you.  A bit unnerving if you are not used to it.  I had been given tips to remember my evaluation so I could do it primarily without notes, one of those tips was to write the words on a mini yellow sticker and keep it in the palm of your hand.  A brilliant idea in practice but in a contest, when you are nervous, when your hands are sweaty, it doesn’t work.  I wouldn’t recommend going without notes for the first time in a contest, challenge yourself to try it in the safety of your home club.  That said, at the time it was a case of ‘I’ll just have to go for it’.  I did.  I won.  Wow.  Who would have thought putting into practice all those tips and tricks from the workshop would have made such a difference. 

When I run Evaluations workshops these days one of the first things I say is ‘Use your notes, don’t shove them in a drawer’. I actually went through the whole Evaluation competition process twice.  After the first attempt when I came second at District I swore I would never enter a contest again, way too stressful.  When I reflected though on how much I had improved in just three months I knew there was something to be gained.  The following year I came away with the UK and Ireland District Evaluation Championship title.   For the past seven years I have helped others improve their evaluation skills through mentoring and workshops. Nothing delights me more than when a new Evaluation Champion is announced.  These days I have added to my workshops, as well as evaluations I run ‘Speaking without words – the power of silent communication’ which is all about using your body to enhance your speaking. 

My Toastmasters journey still continues and every 2nd and 4th Wednesday I can be found at Excalibur Speakers, D91’s only advanced club. This May I will be at conference.  Other weeks I attend workshops, visit other clubs and absorb the shared knowledge and ideas that makes Toastmasters such a great organisation to be part of.

Lynne’s next evaluation workshop will be on Tuesday 28th May at Holborn Speakers. Rugby Tavern, 19 Great James St, London, WC1N 3ES.  Time: 6.45pm to 9pm.