Over the past year I have interviewed our District 91 speech winners and the rest of the District Leadership Team (DLT), so this month it is my turn as your D91 PR Manager. I therefore don my schizophrenic hat and interview myself.
Can you tell me a little about your background?
I was raised in the “Black Country” in the West Midlands; I did okay at school but had little educational ambition so I left school to work and train with the NHS as a Physiological Measurement Technician. After working with psychologists I secured a place at Keele University then went on to do a Masters in Environmental Psychology at Surrey and a PhD at Cranfield (like the sixties group, I have Three Degrees). Education and learning new stuff is my fundamental motivation, and this extends to carrying out research, travelling and meeting new people – every day is a school day.
Where do you live and which club(s) are you a member of?
I now live in Berkhamsted in the glorious Chilterns. I am member of, and held several officer roles at, Berkhamsted Speakers, and I am also a member of Cornerstone Communicators, an advanced club just over the border in District 71. I am currently looking to sponsor or mentor a club.
How did you find out about Toastmasters?
I used to run a networking club called “Afternoon in the Pub” because we met in the pub on a Friday afternoon (we later changed the name to prevent calendar embarrassment). A couple of Berkhamsted speakers came along and I liked what I heard – more networking opportunity whilst honing my presentation skills!
Why did you join Toastmasters and have your expectations been met?
Since I graduated and worked as a Government researcher I have had to present my work at conferences. But I know my presentations were data heavy and I usually bored and lost most my audience. My ambition when joining Toastmasters was to get invited to conferences and paid to speak, and to present a TED Talk. Since joining, I have been invited to many conferences around the world (including Cape Town and Delhi) as a paid speaker, and I recently made a TEDx Talk at Surrey University. So my expectations have actually been exceeded.
What do you enjoy most about Toastmasters?
Toastmasters is the most supportive environment I have come across. I enjoy seeing new members, terrified when making their first speech, go on to become competent and confident presenters. I also enjoy hearing about subjects I would not normally be exposed to. Furthermore, I have become good friends with the people I have met through Toastmasters and even won and delivered work projects with some of them.
What are you currently focussing on at Toastmasters and what are your ambitions for the future?
The D91 PR Manager role takes up quite a bit of my spare time (but much less than when I first started). I am looking to see how we can extend our communications channels to engage current members and attract new ones – social and visual media is the way forward. Personally, I need to conduct more speeches to finish my Advanced Communicator Gold, so I can then quickly move onto Pathways.
Any views on how we can improve Toastmasters in District 91?
We have one of the best districts in the world. We have a good DLT, they are organised, highly motivated and we have loyal members. I find that some of the clubs are inward looking and would benefit from being involved in the wider district activities and membership. But its my job to ensure they know what is going on beyond their own club.
How did you learn about Marketing, PR and Communications?
Members often ask if I have my own PR company – the answer is no and I’m self-taught. When I worked for corporates, as I a director my role included business development and marketing, and since setting up on my own seven years ago I have had to market my own business Workplace Unlimited. But I actually learned more about branding and PR when I set up Haresfoot Brewery. I have also organised and chaired conferences on social media, where I learned lots of useful tips. They say “behind every great man, there’s a great woman” – my wife is a marketing genius and always in the background offering support and advice.
How do you spend your time when you are not at Toastmasters, what are your hobbies and interests?
I SCUBA dive but just annually on holiday – British waters are too cold for me now. I used to be a key mountain biker but injuries (and old age) aren’t helping. So my current “sport” is yoga and walking the dog. As mentioned, I helped set up Haresfoot Brewery; I am a sleeping partner now but still organise the town’s beer festival – BerkoBeerFest, and I am training to be a beer sommelier or cicerone. As well as speaking at conferences (both a hobby and work) I also organise conferences with the help of my wife Maggie.
So, who are you favourite musicians and bands?
There are so many bands I like – new an old. My comfort zone is prog rock and I have seen Pink Floyd, Yes, Mike Oldfield, Supertramp, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel and Steve Hacket (both from Genesis) a number of times. After waiting nearly 40 years I also got to see Kate Bush in concert. New bands I have seen include Muse, Elbow, Black Cab for Cutie, Gorillaz and Biffy Clyro. My friend’s 90s band Slowdive had a reunion gig a few years ago and I have become a big fan and been to a number of their gigs.
Any final words for our District 91 members?
It’s exciting times in Toastmasters – we now have Pathways which offers even better learning opportunities. If you are a newbie then get involved – take every opportunity to speak at you own club and others (prepared speeches, roles, Table Topics, contests and target speaker etc). You will improve your speaking skills, gain confidence and one day become a professional speaker.