Courage and Encouragement

As excitement grows for the next half of our contest season, I want to start by wishing all contestants the verry best of luck. Whether you are entering the evaluation contest, or indeed setting out on your journey to become the next World Champion of Public Speaking, I hope that you learn and grow from the experience!

I am sure that you have had this reminder given to you so often that you will find my next words incredibly boring – but please do remember the eligibility requirement for speakers and functionaries of the International Speech contest. This is especially important if you are responsible for running a contest at club, Area, Division or District level. Please do consult this year’s Speech Contest Rulebook.

Very soon the deadline for elected roles in District 91 will have passed. But what about if your next opportunity to take the next step on your leadership journey doesn’t involve an elected position? You may have noticed that I said leadership journey, and not Toastmasters leadership journey. Why? Because all too often it’s s easy to forget the very clear and powerful transferable leadership skills that an organisation like Toastmasters international can give.

Your Area Council will soon be looking to elect the next Area Director, your club will be holding elections for committee positions in the next few months, and if that doesn’t give you enough chances to put your best foot forward, the District is always looking for people to take on small and not so small tasks.

But I am not pointing this out just to try and attract you to a leadership responsibility within Toastmasters. I want to you to think about the role you can play in encouraging the next leader. Almost of all of my roles within Toastmasters, whether it be at the club or District level, happened because someone asked me, or encouraged me to think about stepping up.

Have you met someone new to your club who is curious and capable, who could be your next secretary to wet their appetite? Is there a reluctant Vice President Education in your club who really should be the next President but needs YOU to ask them to run, or for you to tell them how great you think they would be.

What about someone from another club that stands out as someone who has done all committee roles who you would like to see role model things across your area. What would they say if you asked them to be the next Area Director?

In a voluntary organisation, sometimes it just takes a direct approach, a confidence boost – a cheerleader to step forward to nudge the next leader into the spot light….. who are you going to push into the spotlight? If you don’t want the light to shine on you – imagine the feeling of being able to shine the light on someone else and then think ‘look who I found for us. Shine that light now – and make someone feel amazing.

Congratulations to all our members who have achieved educational awards this month – and thank you to all those club officers who have been attending club officer training in the previous weeks, I do hope that you found the experience worth while.

Don’t forget that conference tickets are on sale for Bristol – it is going to be such a great weekend and I hope to see you there.

I’ll let you go now, you have a spot light to plug in!


Steve Vear, DTM
Program Quality Director 2023-24

District 91 Conference 2024 announces its first panel discussion

The planning and organising for our District 91 annual conference is well underway. It is doubly special because Toastmasters International completes 100 years since its inception and our district celebrates its tenth anniversary.  The conference team is working hard to bring to you a fantastic and memorable conference. 

The first announcement by the conference team is a panel discussion by Immediate Past District Director Rupa Datta – We are District 91 Celebrating the legacy and building the future of District 91. Keep your eyes peeled for more updates on the conference agenda coming soon!

If you are only just catching up on the conference information, the D91 hybrid conference is scheduled on 3-5 May 2024 at the Engineers House in Bristol. The district contest finals and the district council meeting will also be hosted at this venue. The gala dinner will be hosted at the gorgeous and perfectly located Hotel du Vin, Bristol Avon Gorge. This is going to be the best investment for anyone looking for a weekend get-away coupled with an opportunity to network and celebrate.

There are a limited number of early bird tickets available, hurry up and get your tickets here. The conference team are looking for volunteers on several roles. You can get involved in the conference by applying to the Open roles on the   website, this is one of the best opportunities to be part of a historical celebrations. Please visit the District91 Conference website for more information. 

Oh my Dog

What do you call a world without dogs? A Cat- astrophe! Ha! Ha! I love this joke and laugh every time. Until I think about it and then it’s not so funny. Imagine a world full of cat owners? They can be so … catty! Double Ha! Ha!

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, yes, it’s a VALENTINE TRIBUTE TO OUR POOCHES! So, if you’re a cat lover you might want to stop reading and go work on your self-esteem, because as sure as heck your kitty ain’t gonna give it to you. It’s a well-known fact a cat’s main mission in life is to erode your self-worth with floods of rejection.

It’s no joke. Last year a study found that dogs’ eyes evolved to appeal to humans. Another study (mine) revealed cats’ eyes evolved to … judge you. And always find you wanting. Now I’ve been rejected by many people, the last thing I need is to be shunned by an animal.

That’s why I love dogs! Dogs are life’s answer to my lack of self-esteem. Forget stupid advice about ‘having a positive attitude’ or ‘focusing on your achievements’. Sounds like a lot of work for one futile, pointless lifetime.

In contrast, a dog will INSTANTLY make you feel like you are the SUPER-SPECIAL-MOST-IMPORTANT-HUMAN-BEING-IN-THE-UNIVERSE. No ifs, no buts and I don’t even have to ‘embrace my inner love’ or any of that idiotic malarkey. Just dangle the keys in front of your pooch and it turns into American Cheerleader:




Cats on the other hand (no offence to my Gallic cousins), cats are French.  Show them the keys and they look at you as if to say, ‘I’ll show myself out. It’s called a cat flap you imbecile’.

Now I come from a long line of dog lovers. Ever heard of ‘White Privilege’? Well, that’s dog poo compared to my family’s practice of ‘Dog Privilege’. For example, last Christmas my Dad’s Labrador got a silver-plated collar. Me? I got a shower gel. 

It doesn’t stop there. As Catholics we pray to St. Rocco, the Patron Saint of Dogs, ‘Bless our dogs and deliver us from temptation of ever having a cat’. Ever heard of a patron saint for cats? No. Because cats aren’t Catholic. They have all these lives? We suspect they might be Buddhists.  

Before you judge me as a ‘catist’, someone who believes a particular animal species (dogs) is superior to another (cats), let me tell you about my dog Maki.

Maki is a wise and wonderful ‘Water Dog’, a breed affectionately known as ‘The King of Dreadlocks’. Water Dogs became popular in the Obama administration, as the official ‘White House Dog’. It made history as the first democratically elected Rastafari!

Dog-whistle politics aside, Water dogs need a lot of space. The White House Lawn is perfect, my tiny flat in London is not. My Mum comes over from Spain, looks at the space, looks at the dog, raises her eyebrows as only Madrid mothers can, and says (OK, shouts), ‘That dog is suffering! It belongs in the ‘caserio’ (a big farmhouse). I’m taking the dog back!’ I protest, ‘You can’t do that! It’s MY dog, MY life, MY decision!’

Never disagree with a Spanish mother. It’s like when I tried to argue with the Toastmasters judges about not placing in the contest. Their look of contempt was a direct order to: ‘DROP IT’. 

So, the dog’s back in Spain. But he’s happy! Herding, hunting and enjoying life. Because dogs need to work. Hence the phrase ‘working dog’. Ever heard of a WORKING CAT? No. They’re French. They are permanently on strike.

Finally, almost 8 years into the Brexit-dog-poo-process… I might be barking up the wrong tree but don’t you think the results would have been different if the referendum had included dogs?

Imagine if they said, ‘German shepherds, French Poodles, Spanish Mastiffs – they all have to go back to where they came from!’

Even the most die-hard Brexiteer would have changed their mind and voted for the more compassionate doggy command: ‘STAY’.

Cat people still reading this?  Time to get a dog.  


Sonia Aste is a Harvard MBA, Engineer, Meng, and a Toastmaster at Riverside Communicators Club.  More from her on websiteTwitterFacebookInstagram.